How Flex Legal helped Iliana secure a training contract
1) Could you tell us a bit about your background and education?
I grew up in Greece, completed the International Baccalaureate (IB) during the final two years of high school and moved to Bristol when I was 18 to start my LLB. Given that I always had an inclination to more practical subjects such as Maths, Physics, Economics, these were courses I chose while doing the IB together with subjects such as History and English which were compulsory for admission to a LLB at Bristol University. So I would say that it sometimes came as a surprise to people when I said I was applying to study law, yet personally I found this combination very helpful because I have been able to approach legal reasoning with a more practical and open minded focus. I got into Bristol University with a 37/45 in my IB exams and then graduated from Bristol with a 2:1. I would say that going to Law School in a different jurisdiction than my home country is a big challenge but studying abroad had an extremely good impact on me both personally and professionally and I very much enjoyed it.
2) Have you always been interested in the legal industry?
I decided I wanted to do Shipping Law quite early and so I started working towards that goal first by exposing myself to the shipping industry in Greece and then once I got into grasps with the fact that the majority of legal relations in this field are governed by English Law I was convinced that this was the jurisdiction where I wanted to study. I realised how difficult it is to qualify as a solicitor in England while I was on my second year of study where I had my first three Vac Schemes/TC applications rejected. Once I got exposed to the recruitment process and attended a few open days in Bristol I felt more confident as to what Law firms were looking for. I then decided I wanted to do an LLM in International shipping law and wanted to narrow down the places where I would see myself doing my training to only Shipping focused law firms. To that end, I completed my LLM at QMUL and graduated with a Distinction whilst applying to more firms.
3) Where did you first hear about Flex Legal?
During my LLM I pretty much knew that I had to be very proactive in order to secure a training contract and so I was one of those people who were constantly attending events, open days and presentations getting exposed to the importance of networking and commercial awareness. So I attended the presentation that Mary Bonsor did to us at CCLS and I immediately signed up to Flex and arranged for an interview to set up my profile. It wasn’t only after I graduated that through Flex I was able to find the right opportunity for me and I am grateful that my first experience with Flex has worked out so well.
4) Could you tell us a bit more about your placement with Wikborg Rein LLP?
I was actually in Greece applying for legal work experience to international law firms with local offices in Athens, when I received an email for a long term paralegal position in the Shipping Offshore litigation team at Wikborg Rein. I immediately took the opportunity to fly to London and have my first interview with them whereby my initial understanding of the firm's culture was confirmed. I was very impressed by the firm's reputation in shipping, among other areas of law and the level of expertise they are offering both through the lawyers working there and through their strategy. I was particularly interested in the fact that WR's objective is to put the clients' needs and interests first and offer high quality solutions. I was convinced that working in a firm which strongly values their clients and strive to develop internally to satisfy those needs, will be a good fit for me.
I was soon informed that WR wanted me to start as soon as possible and I had just completed an internship with Reed Smith in Athens before I moved back to London around February 2020 to start at WR. Having worked at the office for only two weeks we all switched to working from home due to the pandemic. Back then I was involved in a complex disclosure exercise and soon I started working on another big High Court Case so I was pretty much exposed to important and very interesting work early on. I can confidently say that despite the unprecedented circumstances and me being new in the firm, WR managed to help me feel that I am part of the team and I was able to work effectively with my colleagues from the very beginning. I was very happy to see that the firm is actively making efforts to help us cope through lockdown while working from home which I think is why WR has seen growth and impressive results across its practices despite the pandemic. I have been very keen to work hard and it was very rewarding to hear that this was appreciated when I was later on, offered a Training Contract. I am continuing working full time supporting the litigation team and will be starting my LPC in September 2021 before I embark on my training.
5) Would you recommend Flex Legal to others seeking paralegal positions?
I would definitely recommend Flex to anyone who is looking for paralegal work experience not only because they have the option to tailor what positions they are notified about, but also because I believe that working as a paralegal before one decides to join a firm is a very good way to gain insight to the firm and the people with whom they might be working with in the future. Students often get very absorbed in securing a training contract and neglect the importance of finding a firm which is a good fit for them too and I think that Flex is offering exactly that; opportunities for prospective trainees to gain hands on experience and evaluate which firm or what type of environment and culture they want to be working at.
6) What advice would you give to those currently applying for Training Contracts?
It took me a while to really understand how competitive the legal sector is in the UK and how proactive one has to be from a very early stage to be ahead of things so I would first of all say that researching the process and learning how the system works is the most important thing. The most effective way to do that from my experience is to attend lots of legal events, open days and presentations, try to talk to as many recruiters, solicitors and trainees and gain insight. That way one starts to distinguish between law firms and they can tailor their applications which is something you always hear from recruiters. Quality is always better than quantity. I think that securing a Training Contract is a very difficult process especially when a student starts applying as early as their second year in university and my advice is that commitment, perseverance and patience are key qualities in this journey.
7) How does it feel to have secured your training contract?
I confess that I am extremely relieved that I am now a future trainee solicitor because this marks a very important stage of my career and all the hard work throughout my studies both at Bristol University and at QMUL has paid off. I am also excited because I am confident that I have chosen the right firm to do my training and I can certainly see the importance of the firm's culture in my every day work.
8) Finally, do you have any general tips for coping with lockdown life?
I am sure we can all agree that lockdown has contributed to more working hours and so I think it is important to balance the temptation of working late with the need to take care of one's physical and mental health. My tips would be first of all to always make time for a walk/exercise, to pick up the phone and talk to family/friends/colleagues and I suppose bake loads of banana bread too.