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October 20 2020

My personal journey from law student to paralegal to newly qualified solicitor

Legal Career Tips

Ben Harris

Ben Harris

My personal journey from law student to paralegal to newly qualified solicitor

The application process for a training contract, a paralegal position or solicitor role, is challenging and disheartening at the best of times and even more with this year’s financial uncertainty, which for many firms led to a drop in external recruitment.

To provide a little inspiration and hope to anyone going through the process, I wanted to share my legal career journey and my learnings along the way:

Studying law and applying for Training Contracts

I graduated from Durham University with a BA in Philosophy and Theology in 2015 and I then completed the GDL in 2016, and the LPC/LLM in 2017 at the University of Law. I sent off few unsuccessful applications during my GDL and LPC but I wasn’t sure what sort of firm I wanted to train at and what areas I was most interested in and I think that lack of focus shone through. 

After completing the LPC, I knew what I wanted from my legal career. From this point, I sent off fewer applications because I preferred quality over quantity. My tactic paid off and I successfully secured a training contract at Leathes Prior, a leading law firm in East Anglia.

My top tips for training contract applications:

Do your research. The application and interview process is a two-way street. Ideally before applying, and certainly before accepting a role, you should be convinced that the firm you are applying to is suitable for you, that you would add value to the firm and that you will be happy there. I used lawcareers.net’s list of TC deadlines and went through each firm in order of how soon the deadline was, Googling it, reading about it and deciding whether it was one for me to apply to and then getting the application done. This helped me ensure I wouldn’t miss a deadline because I discovered the firm too late.

First impressions count. It is important to recognise that during the assessment day you are constantly being watched and assessed. Apparently the fact that I greeted and spoke to everyone I met on the day from receptionist to partner, stood out and counted in favour of me being offered a TC. In the lunch socialising session, I asked around as to which partner ran the area I was interested in (at the time) and sought that partner out and approached him even though he was not involved in the day other than joining us for the buffet lunch. 

Play to your strengths. Be aware of your strengths and what you can bring to the table and make sure that you can properly articulate this without turning this into a list of accomplishments. Think of the times you added value to a company for which you worked, which events and work experiences have shaped you, and what your unique selling points are - what you skills you have that other candidates may not have. I speak a few languages fluently, have project management experience, have written several articles, given many presentations and have been trusted to run matters whilst junior.

Working through Flex as a paralegal before starting my TC

There was a one year gap between graduation from University of Law in July 2017 and the start of my training contract in September 2018. I decided to gain some paralegal experience and successfully applied to F-LEX.

The F-LEX team helped me secure a paralegal position in the Project Management Office team at Allen & Overy which provided me with the experience of working in a global firm in London. This was not my first legal experience, but it was my first experience of working in a law firm and my first foray into project management. The six months I worked at A&O before I began my training contract were invaluable to my growth and development.

Life as a trainee

We were only two trainees in my year at Leathes Prior and we were given a lot of early responsibility and flexibility with work. The firm was not only able to accommodate our seat preferences but also gave importance to the type of work we would like to get involved in. An advantage to training in a smaller firm is that fee earners tend to work on a variety of matters within their practise area rather than having a niche focus. I appreciate that I was able to become involved with a range of matters whilst working in each department. Outside of work I joined the committee of the Norfolk Young Professionals Group and organised networking and social events in Norfolk. 

Finding a newly qualified role through Flex

I decided to move laterally to specialise in litigation on qualification for two reasons.

Firstly I enjoyed my litigation seats most. In fact, I did two seats because I asked to return to litigation when I decided in my third seat that’s where I wanted to qualify. I like that each case is different, that with each case you have to assess what the client wants, how to best make a case for the client, how to tactically approach the dispute in order to achieve the client’s result. I enjoy that you have to reach to all sorts of knowledge you may have gleaned along the way in your legal career to apply to this situation. Litigation can be the most tiresome of areas but also the most rewarding. Often you make a real difference to someone’s life or the company’s future.

Secondly, I think I am best suited to litigation. I think tactically, I deal well with stress, with tenacity and resilience and am good with staying level headed. I work very hard and am not afraid of doing so. I am able to prioritise well and yet not lose sight of the matters I’m juggling. I am good with clients, instilling confidence in them and keeping them updated.

With the help of F-LEX, I have successfully obtained an exciting new associate role at a litigation law firm specialising in group action cases. Flex Legal was the first to hear about opportunities and have insight into the law firm. Both times I worked with F-LEX, I was impressed by F-LEX’s level of communication, the calibre of the clients for which they select candidates, and the support and directness along the way. 

Anneke Micallef-Eynaud, Solicitor