Here is our second instalment of our series called “My Legal Career”. Here is James Trask’s story.
My journey began in 1993 when I left sixth form college, at the age of 19 I had huge aspirations to become a Barrister I used to sit in the gallery in Cardiff Crown Court to watch and admire Advocacy in criminal trials especially the cross-examination. I found it quite fascinating and thought the way they get information from them through slick questioning which improves the more it is practiced is something that I always wanted to do.
I went to University to study a law degree, at the time the then Government awarded grants to students to study, so I had a grant and a student loan but only completed the first year as I had spent all my grant and loan, at the time like a lot of people at that age I was enjoying the social experience more than the learning experience. I found some topics quite dry and difficult to absorb especially constitutional law and equity and trusts.
I decided to take a gap year to earn and save money with the intention of returning to study. I secured a 6-month temporary contract in a large utility company, suddenly I was starting to earn very good money and subsequently the 6-month temporary contract lasted 12 years. I left that firm and secured a job as a corporate account manager working for a global telecommunications company who I will not name but, the first letter began with a B and the last letter began with a T.
I was made redundant in 2009 and always had regrets for not completing my law degree. I was 35 years of age with no job, so I applied to a large law firm in the centre of Cardiff. I had no legal experience, so I wanted to gain as much practical experience whilst simultaneously attaining my necessary academics. I literally started from the bottom, but I was happy with that, seeing how law was practised in the real world. I decided this was the best place to watch and learn.
I spent 5 years studying the law degree on a part time basis, whilst working a full time job, I would spend a whole day in work and twice a week attending lectures and workshops on a Tuesday and Thursday evening; to put it into perspective it looked like this; I would start work at 8am and finish at 4pm, I would then commute to the University and attend lectures from 5pm – 9pm, so twice a week for 5 years my Tuesday and Thursday’s would be 13 hour days not including commuting.
My other evenings and weekends would consist of reading and preparing for the upcoming lectures and workshops for the following week. During the Christmas holidays I would be completing assignments and a dissertation, whilst everyone was enjoying the festive break. Easter break would mean revision for the exams, whilst others were starting to enjoy a change in the seasons and of course the break.
During the undergraduate studying I “firm hopped” meaning I would spent 12 – 18 months working at a law firm and decided I wanted to learn new areas of law, such as personal injury including road accidents, accidents at work and industrial diseases in the workplace. I gathered experience in these areas on both the claimant and defendant side. I have worked in a Conveyancing firm learning all about property transactions, easements, restrictions, restrictive covenants and trusts (which to be fair, I understood and enjoyed a lot more in my 30’s than in my late teens).
I attained my law degree, it was a 2:2, after wiping the tear of disappointment from my cheek, my first thought was Barrister Chambers will not entertain applicants unless they have a minimum of 2:1, I was completely devastated, to the point I threw my degree certificate to the back of the cupboard never to be looked at again. I felt that I had fallen at the first hurdle.
A law lecturer who went back to practising as a Solicitor took me for a coffee and said don’t be too hard on yourself, don’t think of what you didn’t get (i.e. 2:1 or above) but what you have got and how you got it, you studied and worked full time, they by themselves are difficult at the best of times.
I decided to enrol on the ILEx level 6 fast track graduate diploma, as I had a qualifying law degree, I needed to study 2 practice modules and a client care module. Again, this was done on a part time basis after work, people can choose to do it as an online distance learning but as the college around the corner from my workplace was offering the course I decided to go to college after work, again…..
As the level 6 is more vocational it prepares you for how it is in practice, it is a completely different learning experience to that of the degree. I thoroughly enjoyed the modules they really do prepare you for legal practice.
In all the time I have been studying, I have gained so much practical experience in different areas of law. I have recently started working for a high street firm in Cardiff, the firm specialises in several areas of law including landlord and tenant disputes, civil litigation, employment law, wills and probate, conveyancing.
I am now tasked with heading up and developing the family law department, I deal with all aspects of family law including divorce and financial settlements, private law children for contact orders, and non-molestation orders following domestic violence.
My journey is somewhat different to the traditional approach, although a lot of CILEx students will have some similarity as they are or have worked in law firms like myself, to simply gain practical experience which is invaluable even if you do not stay at that firm.
My next steps in my journey is to continue to develop my own experience in family law as well as developing the development for the firm, but I am going to take a little bit of time out from studying, but will be enrolling onto the CILEx Advocacy course.
I will be able to do what I set out to do all those years ago. However, the added benefit of CILEx and distant learning providers is that they have given me an alternative route so that I can achieve my ultimate goal, which is to present a comprehensive argument in Court on behalf of a member of the public who needs our help, knowledge and expertise.
What I would say to all budding lawyers out there, the journey at times is bumpy but it will draw out and test your resilience, so as long as you grit your teeth, keep calm and keep punching you will achieve what you have set out to achieve. At times you will want to give up….. but please don’t. Trust me once you get there the sense of achievement is simply overwhelming you will have a new sense of drive.
Good luck everyone