Becoming a Solicitor – how do you get there? - Trainee Blog
by Brad Johnson and Samantha Ball
The musician and grime artist Kano once said, “There’s more than one way to make it” and much to many people’s surprise becoming a Solicitor couldn’t be more true to this statement.
At the time of writing, I am in my second seat in the Employment Department and my counter-part Sam is in her final seat in the Dispute Resolution Department. Although we both hope to qualify in the coming months, we both took very different routes and wanted to share our journeys.
Growing up, I can’t say I always wanted to be a Solicitor as I was heavily involved in football and I had every child’s dream of one day becoming a professional footballer. At the age of 16, that dream sadly came to an end after 8 years of representing Luton Town Football Club at youth level.
I attended Luton Sixth Form open evening with no real interest in Law but the teacher in the Law department sold it to me so well that I decided to pick it as one of my A levels. Even at this stage, I still had no intention of pursuing Law as a career as I was more interested in the possibility of becoming a Physiotherapist. My A-Levels didn’t go as planned as I struggled to get to grips with Human Biology and instead seemed to excel in Law, which meant my idea of becoming the next ‘Gary Lewin’ looked ever the more unlikely.
Having thoroughly enjoyed Law at A-Level, I attended the University of Leicester to read Law. The first year at University is more about finding your feet and grappling with the expectation of higher education, rather than knowing you are destined to become an Astronaut or a Brain Surgeon. The thought of dragging myself to a 9am lecture after a night out with the University Football Club makes me wonder how I ever did it.
Once you have completed the first year of University, almost in the flick of a switch it gets quite serious and you need to begin thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life (or so it feels like that). With that in mind, I thought to myself, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” and so I decided to pursue a career in Law and becoming a Solicitor. Rather fortunately, I managed to arrange work experience at Vauxhall Motors UK Limited where I shadowed the Head Legal Counsel, which provided a great insight to in-house legal work.
Before I finished my final year at University, I had accepted an offer of employment as a Paralegal in the Private Client Department at another Bedfordshire firm, with a view to them offering me a Training Contract upon completing the LPC. This opportunity gave me a chance to gain practical legal experience whilst I completed the LPC part-time.
I embarked upon the LPC at De Montfort University, which to my friends who attended the University of Leicester was like swapping a Manchester United jersey for Manchester City one. Doing the LPC part-time involves a lot of dedication and so I got into the habit of attending work at 7:30am every day to study before I started work, and occasionally staying late to study. In addition to this, I attended the University one weekend per month and luckily for me, as I still had friends in Leicester I stayed with them and made a weekend of it. The LPC involved a lot of commitment but I put in the hours and I was pleased to say that I came out with a distinction.
The firm I worked for were keen to offer me a Training Contract, but they wanted me to qualify into Private Client and I had not yet decided if that was where I saw my career as a Solicitor heading. I had enjoyed working in Private Client and made many friends with whom I am still in touch with, but I wanted to obtain a more rounded Training Contract whereby I could make an informed decision about where I wanted to qualify into, and so I applied at Machins and the rest is history…
Like Bradley, I didn’t necessarily grow up with the intention of finding myself with a career in law. I was always relatively unsure of what I’d find myself eventually doing. Through-out my childhood it appeared that the adults around me identified that this route suited me quite well before I did. Regularly my mum would be told by family friends: “she’d make a great barrister” or “gosh, she sounds just like my solicitor?!”.
I always had a bit of a ‘knack’ in understanding people, getting to know their challenges, and finding a way to overcome them. I enjoyed, from a very young age, proof reading documents and letters, finding loopholes or reading up on people’s legal position.
When it came to picking my A levels, I found myself leaning towards science and maths. I had always worked with animals as an early teen – working in kennels, pet shops, on farms, and even in an exotic animal store. I was, and still am, extremely passionate about animal rights so it seemed logical that I should be doing veterinary science.
After a week of solid science and maths, I realised there wasn’t enough debating and problem solving or, in fact, real life people and discussion! As a result, in perhaps the strongest U turn in A Level choice history, I swapped all 4 A Levels from science based studies to entirely humanities and literature. Here I found comfort, and after studying Philosophy and Ethics, I decided to extend this to my degree – Philosophy, Religion and Theology.
I was extremely lucky in my degree: I travelled, undertook research in India, met fantastic people, presented research on the role of women in the developing world to MPs, and was taught by some of the world’s leading Philosophy professors… but, I wasn’t really sure where this would take me.
As a matter of context, I graduated in 2016: the year that changed the UK’s role in Europe, the Hatton Garden burglars were sentenced, junior doctors were on strike multiple times over pay, as were tube drivers over bullying, and a coroner finally concluded that the Hilsborough Disaster victims were unlawfully killed – just to name a few events of that year. I realised the implications of these events all eventually came back to law, and at that point, it clicked. As a result, I enrolled on the Graduate Diploma in Law with Oxford Brookes University.
I threw myself into my studies and the insights and opportunities studying law gave me. I competed in mooting competitions, client interview competitions, undertook a ‘hackathon’ to develop a website for individuals in developing countries to access free legal advice, and undertook a mini pupillage in a Criminal Chambers. I felt that I finally had found my niche.
From there I completed the LPC at the University of Hertfordshire, studying full time and working part time as a legal assistant in a Conveyancing department in another Bedfordshire firm. As a result, I studied at all hours I could – before university, after university, before work, in lunch breaks and after work. Like Bradley, my hard work paid off and I graduated with a distinction. There was no time for rest however! With just 10 days off, squeezing in a fantastic (and might I say well earnt) holiday in Morocco, I started my Training Contract with Machins.
I am often asked if I regret not doing Law as my degree and going straight into the LPC rather than doing the longer, and admittedly more expensive, route. Whilst I may wince at my student loan amount from time to time, and often consider the things I could have spent my savings on, I have no regrets on doing a degree I loved. Without it, I wouldn’t ever have had the opportunity to learn about different religions and cultures, or experienced the places I did as a result of learning about them. There are times that knowledge from my degree is useful in my daily practice and I am sure this will continue to be the case when I qualify in July this year!
I guess what can be taken from this article is that there is no ‘typical’ route to becoming a Solicitor and, depending on your circumstances, there are different options available and Machins as a firm are no different with a wide variety of different experiences among our staff.
If you’d like to find out more about our trainee recruitment or what it’s like to be a trainee solicitor, please visit our trainee recruitment page HERE or read some of the other blogs provided by our trainees HERE.
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