We often share the stories of our wonderful law students to show you just how many ways there are to become a lawyer and to encourage you on your personal study and career pathway. Here’s Stefanie’s story.
“I’m a Family Paralegal in Kent, England. I recently joined a long established firm and I have returned to working in the office after working from home full time since September 2020. My new firm cover various areas of law including family (private and public law), residential and commercial property and wills & probate.
When I was 18 I started working as an office junior at a law firm in Kent. My duties included opening post, helping on reception, buying lunch for the fee earners, going into the cellar (dungeon) to collect deeds, photocopying (lots), ordering stationary plus anything else that I was asked to do. I then progressed to junior secretary and worked in the family law team. I worked there for a couple of years before moving away. I then had a break from the law, met my husband and had our daughter and when my daughter went to school (in New Zealand) I began working as a secretary/receptionist at a small family run firm in Wellington city. Here I did work in family, commercial property and Wills. When I returned to the UK I worked as a temporary secretary at a firm in Canterbury and was offered a permanent job which I stayed in for a couple of years. I then moved to another firm in Canterbury, continuing to work in family and I worked as a secretary for nearly 5 years during which time I began studying to become a Chartered Legal Executive.
When working as a secretary/receptionist in New Zealand, one of the business owners suggested the Open Polytechnic route to become a Legal Executive. Open Polytechnic is a learning provider for distance learning. When my daughter started school I decided to start studying whilst working and I completed 50 percent of the course. Unfortunately, I was not able to convert this when I came back to the UK so had to start from the very beginning!
I never had a desire to be a Lawyer at first, but when someone suggested it to me many years ago in New Zealand I thought to myself, I can do that! I always assumed I needed to go to university and have a degree. I did not know that you didn’t even need to have A-Levels to study law, which was lucky for me!
Four years ago I started training with a learning provider in Kent where I live. This provider appealed to me because they offered in person lessons. Unfortunately, these were halted shortly after I started and then I began studying remotely. I moved to another learning provider for two years and completed the level 3 diploma in law and then progressed to level 6. I moved to Brightlink Learning to complete the last two units of my qualification and now regret not learning via Brightlink from the outset!
I have been working in a fee earning role since September 2020 and have had my work assessed by CILEx as being in ‘qualifying employment’.
I faced several challenges along the way. I was not fortunate enough to secure funding from any employer so my learning journey has been completely self-funded. I started studying in NZ and completed 50 percent of the course but CILEx would not offer an exemption so I had to start from the beginning.
The covid pandemic has been a challenge too! I was due to sit an exam in June 2020 and this exam was delayed to September. In addition, all exams were changed to remote online exams which was an unknown process we had to get used to. I now feel that this type of exam is preferable although not everyone is in agreement with this.
I was able to face these challenges because the flexibility of instalments has made the process a lot more manageable. Not all learning providers are as flexible so it’s important to find the right one that suits you. Sometimes life gives you lemons! That is a distant memory now and was just the start of my four year journey. I haven’t let it hold me back.
No one could have prepared us for 2020/2021. I was fortunate enough to continue working throughout the pandemic and I also secured a new role in that time. The delay with exams gave me time to enjoy the spring into summer months in my garden. Sitting the first remote exam did make me quite nervous particularly when people began sharing stories of technical issues. Thankfully for me, my exam went well and free of any glitches. I now prefer sitting exams in my own home and there is no longer the nerves of traffic delays and the car breaking down en route!
In relation to studying, I am incredibly lucky to have such a supportive husband and daughter to help me through the really tough times. They feed me, water me and make sure I stop when it’s 9pm. They also understand when I need to just do one more thing to get past a hurdle. There have been some low points when friends and family have really been behind me encouraging me to not give up.
In 2020 I found myself in a position where I was not able to progress into a fee earning role. As a result of attending a remote networking event I met a law firm owner who really is like no other! (Vanessa Challess from Tiger Law) We connected after the event and following a few conversations, she offered me a paralegal role at her firm. She gave me the break I needed and for that I will always been so thankful.
During my time working at Tiger Law I set out to tell all aspiring Lawyers about the different routes into law with particular emphasis on the non-traditional route. I launched my Routes into Law series in which I met with some amazing people all who had a different and interesting story to tell. It was a pleasure to meet those people and to share their stories.
Some good advice I’ve received about work or study is to take each day at a time. Studying law is not a race, more of a marathon. It takes time and commitment and sometimes life gets in the way of your plans.
I would advise others that we all have to start somewhere. Just because you have a law degree doesn’t mean that you will get a trainee job in a law firm. What employers usually want is experience. Experience in law comes in all shapes and sizes. I started out many moons ago as an office junior slowly making my way up to a fee earning role. The experience I have gained along the way is vital.
In terms of next steps I would like to finish my exams in 2022 and graduate. I shall then deal with my CILEX qualifying employment portfolio and applying for Fellowship. My aim is to grow my career to allow my husband to take some time back. Work life balance is particularly important to us.
I’m looking forward to buying a camper and going on adventures!
I could never have imagined being in the position I am today. Even now it sometimes feels like this is happening to someone else although the pressure around exam time feels very real! I have experienced some negative behaviour over the years from previous employers and colleagues and have sometimes been left feeling that I have no place in the legal profession. However, I have worked really, really hard to get to where I am now and I deserve a place at the table. If you really want something you will get there and there will be obstacles and people in the way but never give up.”
You can find out more about qualifying as a lawyer via the CILEX route at https://brightlink.org.uk
The Brightlink team are waiting to talk to you about your personal route to a career in law on 02921888386 or email@example.com