There’s no denying the legal profession has a long way to go before it fully embraces diversity. Our sector isn’t alone in having a reputation of being white, middle class and male-dominated, but that doesn’t strip us of our responsibility to try and change it.
Having acknowledged it, the sector in general is spending large amounts of time and money on removing the stigma, but one relatively simple approach would be to acknowledge the fact that there is more than one way into law.
Most big firms recruit two or three years in advance, meaning the tried and tested route is to apply for a training contract in your second year, and to become a trainee solicitor straight after your degree. It’s always been that way. But does it have to be like this, or is it a convention that can be challenged?
Although I did a law degree and have been set on becoming a solicitor from my first year in school, I decided early on that journey just wasn’t for me. To put it bluntly, I didn’t get great career advice, and the internet was not nearly as useful back then as it is now – so you couldn’t just type in ‘how to become a trainee solicitor’.
My teachers also didn’t have a clue about how to go about it, and any websites I could find told me to ask my careers advisor, who also didn’t have much of an idea. So, after finishing my undergraduate degree at Nottingham University, I opted for a different route.
With an interest in environmental law, I knew it was an up-and-coming sector. I wanted to do my master’s and I was set on working in planning and environment, and a lot of law firms don’t have an offering for that.
To support myself while I studied for my master’s, I took on side-jobs for much of my training, working in cafes and restaurants which has helped by giving me vital skills that I will go on to use in my legal career. After graduating, I worked with the British Geological Survey in the legal and contracts team for four years, where I did my legal practice course part-time and finished in September 2021.
It wasn’t until this year, when I was in my late 20s, that I finally secured a job as a paralegal in the planning, environmental and regulatory team at Aaron and Partners. I’m exactly where I want to be but it hasn’t been easy, and persistence has been just as important as any of the academic and legal skills I picked up along the way.
The profession would benefit greatly from more people who have taken the road less travelled, and diversity in the legal profession is so important. The different viewpoints and life experiences people bring to the profession can only benefit us.
Just because someone might not start on the anticipated route into law or they changed their mind halfway through their first non-law degree, it’s not too late to get into the profession. Doing something different beforehand can actually bring a lot of value to our sector.
Legal work experience is obviously vital, but don’t rule out the benefits of doing customer service jobs in shops and restaurants. The experience you get from working with customers is absolutely transferable to client work. That’s not to say taking a different route doesn’t come with its own challenges and difficulties – but who said getting into law was ever going to be easy?
This opportunity and realisation would not have come without Aaron and Partners. The firm has been wonderful in helping launch my career – it’s an organisation always on the lookout for new talent, and there are so many different people working here from different walks of life and of different ages.
Now working as a trainee, and currently helping with preparation for a matter going to the Supreme Court, I don’t get the fear on Sundays – I look forward to coming into work.
Plenty started here as paralegals and have gone on to become associates and partners, including those from a more unconventional legal background, which gives junior members of staff like me something to look up to. I look forward to progressing my career here and hopefully one day going on to become a partner.
For young people looking to go into law, do your research before you go to university. Make sure you know that although the work is going to be difficult and you will need to keep tabs on your career path as well as the work for university, it will all pay off in the end if you are persistent and determined.
There are many ways into law – and the more firms that remember this fact, just like Aaron and Partners have done, the better for all of us. After all, what possible downsides could there be in our profession welcoming more fresh perspectives, widened expertise and alternative thinking?