I joined the sixth form at Wellington College in 1975 when the school first opened its doors to girls – 7 girls and 770 boys. This was a ground-breaking experiment for Wellington which had been a boys’ school for 120 years. I remember feeling petrified and overwhelmed during the first term. After that we soon settled into A level studies and made new friends. My favourite time was during the long hot summer of 1976 – secret pub jaunts, illicit parties and group swimming/picnics all led to frequent rule breaking! My favourite teachers were Mr Ramage and Mr Ridley who both taught me English Literature. They were brilliant academics, incredibly inspiring and left a lasting impact on me.
So now I am 61 – a solicitor, tribunal judge and assistant coroner. I live in Worcestershire and have 3 grown up sons. Why did I choose a career in law?
I had absolutely no idea who I was or what I wanted to do in life at age 18. I chose a law degree because it seemed to embody three things which strongly appealed to me – forging relationships with colleagues and clients, problem solving and working within a structured legal framework. It was only later, as a practising solicitor that I also realised how important it was to be able to read, research, analyse, draft and advise on lengthy complex documents and also to be able to work under pressure.
My career in law was not all plain sailing. With an average law degree from a middle ranked university, I went onto law college in Guildford and then failed the legal practice course. I re-took the exams, passed and then met the next hurdle – finding a training contract. After hundreds of applications to firms in London and a few unsuccessful interviews, I finally struck lucky and in 1983 was accepted by Hempsons Solicitors in Covent Garden who specialised in medico-legal work. I worked my socks off, qualified and became a salaried partner in 1987.
I know how hard it is for prospective solicitors to find a training contract these days even with gold standard qualifications and relevant work experience. The best advice I can give you now is not to give up, promote as many networking contacts as you can and develop other interests or hobbies which make you stand out from the crowd.
My career changed in the late 1990s. By then I had three small children and my priorities changed. I left practice and became a magistrate and law lecturer as both fitted into school term time. After a divorce in 2011 I decided to go back into practice as a solicitor. Hurdle number 3. Age 51 – not easy.
I joined a criminal practice in Worcester – and worked unpaid initially whilst I sat the criminal litigation accreditation exams. It was difficult juggling work, study, raising three sons, renovating a Georgian house and attending night call outs to Worcester police station to represent clients for interviews under caution!
Then in 2013, I applied to become a tribunal judge in the social entitlement chamber (social security benefits) – and after a long rigorous process I was appointed. More training followed before I began to sit in courts all over the Midlands with other tribunal members hearing appeals. I gave up practice as a solicitor and focused purely on the tribunal work which continues to this day. In 2015 I was appointed an assistant coroner hearing inquests in the east midlands. Challenging but rewarding work in another jurisdiction.
What advice would I give to you if you are considering a career in law? You can see from my own career experience that life often requires a degree of flexibility with the ability to adapt to new circumstances. The benefit of law is that it offers a variety of paths which you can follow as your future life changes. I never had any career goal of becoming a tribunal judge/coroner but somehow all those years spent working in medico-legal work, teaching and criminal law led naturally into roles which require this experience. And I now really enjoy the judicial work. I believe that the two key skills which you will need for a career in law is the ability to communicate effectively – both orally and in writing. Perhaps I have Messrs Ramage and Ridley to thank for that!
Before you decide on a career in law you will undoubtedly research it thoroughly beforehand and ideally get some work experience in a firm or in chambers. Wellington College has an excellent OW law careers opportunity group. They hold various events over the year and OW lawyers are on hand to offer advice and guidance. I hope you enjoy your career in law as much as I have – Good Luck!