My Legal Career – Story 6

We’ve been sharing our learner’s stories with you, inspiring your own career in law by hearing about theirs. Today, our conveyancing practice rights mentor Candice shares her story in her own words.

“At the age of 16 I had finished school having completed my GCSEs with a desire to have an income and independence.  A good work ethic has always been with me however, the opportunity to study at a higher level at that age was not something I had.

I found myself working with a recruitment agent to find a position, full time, Monday to Friday where my weekends were my own however, everything long term seemed to require experience, a degree or was temporary.  There were many opportunities available but – you have to work from the bottom and prove yourself.

After a short time working in a Building Society in a temporary position I was offered a full time job with a local solicitors as an office junior.  On the first day, dressing for the job I wanted and not the job I had, I arrived at work prepared for everything they were going to throw at me.  I looked up to those who I considered were subject matter experts in their field of expertise and I knew I wanted to do more than photocopy, cover reception, administrative tasks, distribute the post, fold letters and schedule deeds.

Having waited patiently, I was finally taken into the conveyancing department as a secretary to start my progression.  It was early 2000, house prices had doubled over night and property was a very busy world and therefore conveyancing was my route into the legal sector by default.

A few years later, as a junior fee earner I left to work with a new employer, to enhance my career and take on a role which involved managing a small team.  This would add experience under my belt and the opportunities available to me via my new employer would stand me in good stead for a bright future.

My role changed greatly over the years depending on demand and structure of the business but ground to a sharp halt.  I could simply go no further without my qualifications. This was not an issue with my employer but the regulators insisted on any Head of Department/Supervisor being qualified to a standard.  Yes, this meant that no amount of experience or ability to carry out the role was going to help… I needed to go back to school.  Having no experience of studying at a higher level I needed to throw myself into studying law and more importantly learning how to study.  This was going to be a challenge.  With the right attitude I decided to embark on my studies through CILEx to gain the qualification of a Fellow.  4 years of study felt like a long time to me, I get bored easily and in fact, pretty much wanted to wake up one morning with my ‘stripes’.  I had a one-year-old at the time and didn’t want my studies to hang over me for a long time.  I embraced my first set of materials, working hard to complete my Level 3 exams in twelve months with my Level 6 the same – 2 years and I would be done!  If my exams were marked on my attitude towards qualifying I would have come away with a distinction.

The Level 3 units were achievable in one year.  Exam week was busy and revision had to be very organised but I got through it.  I failed one exam – the Civil Litigation Practice Paper.  It was litigation, not my area and not my language.  It was the unit put on by the college I was studying with and not my choice to sit it.  In hindsight, I would have chosen my subjects myself, through a distance learning provider rather than being funnelled into subjects which made the qualification a little more challenging than it had to be but I did as I was told and didn’t particularly understand what was available to me outside my local college.

Twelve months on, ready for a re-sit and to start my Level 6 I was looking forward to qualifying.  These were the days prior to the requirements for a Qualifying Employment application or the Work-Based Learning logbook.  Pass the exams, and you’re a fellow – excellent!   I had just sat my Level 3 exams in one year – of course I can do six at Level 6 (2 of which are coursework based) right?  I had rushed through my Level 3 with no appreciation for the leap from Level 3 to the Level 6 standard of exams and it hit me like a brick wall.  My first exams were Conveyancing and Land Law.  It was my area of expertise so should be straightforward.  I had no need to revise (or even study much) I would just look at the question and write everything I know.  Yes, these are all the assumptions I had – and we all know what happens when we assume!  It wasn’t quite that simple and the big fat fail in my Land Law exam knocked my enthusiasm and self-esteem.  This had an impact on my timescale and would now shift me into another year of study.  I finally picked myself up and applied again convincing myself I simply needed to read the manual from my study provider this time and that would be all that was needed.  So there I was, 6 months later at the external exam centre, manual read and ready to go.  I wrote throughout the exam until my hand hurt and until I was almost at the end.  Fifteen minutes to go and I had little more to give but knew I should still be using the time to write.  I felt light on my cases, I simply couldn’t remember them but the truth was I hadn’t tried hard enough, I thought they would just stick and how important can a 150 year old case be? Again, I had written everything I knew with very little structure and even less authority.  No surprise, I failed!  Continuing to have the weight of the half-completed qualification over my head I so much wanted to finish it.  I had never been a starter finisher so this was also a challenge for me.  And then that thing called life got in the way.  Having split from my husband I had met someone new.  My spare time was spent investing in my new relationship which then moved onto renovating a new home for us and subsequently more children.  Hurdle after hurdle.  I tried to pick up on my studying, my books would sit collecting dust and would come out in the run up to an exam session where I would approach the exam with the intention of getting through it this time but to no avail…. I wouldn’t fail, I simply acknowledged I didn’t know how to sit it so didn’t go to the exam and re-scheduled it.

One evening, I was checking my emails and had one from CILEx talking about Practice Rights.  No need to sit four exams, at Level 6, you simply need to have knowledge and experience and be able to demonstrate this by providing portfolio evidence.  The knowledge element would exempt me from 2 portfolios, so the 5 required portfolios would be reduced to 3.  I already had my conveyancing practice exam at Level 6, so if I could get through Land Law I would be ready to make my application and gain practice rights supported by three portfolios and a logbook showing off my skills.  No more exams after that and I would be qualified.  This gave me a boost, I would get the outcome I wanted with little more effort.

I found a new learning provider – Brightlink, I needed to have a tutor on the other end of emails and phone.  I needed someone to tell me when I was on the right track and when I wasn’t.  I had not had this before with my previous provider, I had always paid the fee and been left to it. I paid for the course, accessed the materials, made a study plan with 12 weeks to go until the exam date leaving sufficient time for revision sessions and more in case I needed it.  By this time in my life I had 3 children aged nine, three and one.  My study plan needed to be tight and followed.  Study exercises needed to be completed and within the timeframe to allow my tutor to respond and work with me on any lack of knowledge I had.  Completing my first study exercise I had comments like “a little more authority needed but good overall 6/8”, “you need a bit more detail, especially authority Candice 5/10”, “as before your answer needs a bit more detail and more authority a good try though – well done 8/14” and slowly I could see where I needed to improve… my detail and my authority.  This is all the difference between a pass and a fail.  Study Exercise 2 and I am ready to implement the feedback.  Completed and returned with the following “Total 35/45 This is an excellent result, your work shows good understanding; very well done”.  This feedback, working with my tutor and listening to her comments helped immensely. I didn’t go on to get a distinction in my exam despite my study exercises reaching 98 percent as they went on but I did get the pass mark I needed to be able to move on with my qualification.  This gave me the boost I needed to sit two further exams consecutively passing each.  My technique had improved and how I organised myself.  Whilst I sat my two further exams I made my application for Conveyancing Practice Rights.  Now, as a CILEx Conveyancing Practitioner and Graduate Member of CILEx I will now go on to qualify as a Fellow too in September this year subject to successful submission of my Work Based Learning Portfolio.

It is essential to understand as you start your journey, there is no easy route, this is a marathon, not a race.  Your tutor knows how to get you through the exams, listen to them and learn from the feedback.  Allocate yourself time to study and you will have to make sacrifices but they are short term for a long term gain.  If you need a mentor or a buddy, there are plenty of people out there to help, you are not alone and it will all be worth the effort.

I am very proud of my determination to get through this qualification.  Not only will I become a Fellow in the near future but I also have Practice Rights which puts me a step in front as regulators and insurers close in on qualifications to prove the lawyer’s ability to do the job in what is a very high risk area of law. “

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