Do you want to find out more about how to become a lawyer and the type of lawyer you could be?
This page charts the stories of two lawyer sisters, Louise and Georgina, one who became a solicitor and one who became a chartered legal executive. The sisters discuss how to become a lawyer and how the routes to qualification differ between the career paths.
Louise took the CILEx route, while Georgina took the more traditional route, doing a law degree followed by the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and a training contract. Both ended up at the same firm in similar roles, one a family lawyer, the other a criminal defence lawyer. However, one accrued a £20,000 debt that she is still paying off, while the other earned money and experience during her training and is debt-free.
How to Become a Lawyer: Louise’s story
Louise Turner, 33, Chartered Legal Executive and advocate at Edward Hayes LLP and CILEx regional development officer (Southern Counties)
Louise, described by her younger sister as the ‘daredevil’ of the two, takes up her story from the point she got her GCSE results. ‘I got OK grades, but I went to a very popular school that could afford to be picky about who it took for sixth form. They suggested it would be better for me to go to college instead of sixth form.’
Recognising that she had always been practical rather than academic, it was a choice that she was happy to make. At 16, and with an eye to going into the armed services or the police force, she went to Chichester College to do a two-year BTEC National Diploma in Public Services. During the course, as well as learning about all of the services and doing a fair amount of sport, she studied the basics of law, criminology and politics, piquing her interest in the law.
She completed the course work early and finished two months ahead of schedule. To fill time while considering her next move, she applied for an administrative job in the general office of the local magistrates’ court, where she processed court files and dealt with telephone enquiries from the public. But it was her next move that steered her path towards her eventual profession, when she became a legal aid and licensing officer, dealing with liquor licensing and legal aid applications.
‘I came into contact with solicitors and got to know them,’ she says. Then one day a local solicitor, Christopher Hayes, managing partner at London and regional firm Edward Hayes LLP, offered her a job as his secretary. ‘I was processing a legal aid application and he literally just came up to me and asked if I wanted to work for him,’ says Louise.
Though she accepted the offer, it quickly became apparent to both herself and the firm that the role did not play to her strengths. She says candidly: ‘I had never trained as a legal secretary and didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I was probably the worst legal secretary ever. In my first week I was given some dictation to do. I didn’t even know how to work the dictation machine and I played the recordings aloud, so everyone in the office could hear them.’
The firm recognised her ability at dealing with clients, particularly difficult ones, and offered her an alternative job as a case worker in the criminal team. While working at the magistrates’ court, Louise had already begun her CILEx training after meeting a mother of two teenage boys, who was halfway through the course. ‘We’d spoken about what I wanted to do in the future, and she suggested I sign up. I suppose I was naïve and just thought “ok then” and did it.’
Louise undertook the CILEx course while working at Edward Hayes LLP, which sponsored her training and gave her time off to revise for her exams. She went to college on day release one day a week, and completed the training in six years. She explains that she could have done it in four, but took some time out.
After qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive, she passed further exams to become a criminal advocate and completed the Law Society’s duty solicitor qualification. This enabled her to do all the same work that criminal solicitors can do in the magistrates’ court. In addition, during her career Louise has worked on high-profile murder and fraud cases.
She says: ‘I co-defend with solicitors in trials and no one knows the difference – we are doing exactly the same job.’ ‘No one at court has ever asked me whether I’m a solicitor or a Chartered Legal Executive. And no client has ever said they don’t want me to represent them because I’m not a solicitor. They watch you in court, and if they like you and see you are going to fight for them, they don’t care whether you are a barrister, solicitor or Chartered Legal Executive,’ says Louise. She adds: ‘I’m just as valuable to and valued by the firm as solicitors. I earn the same salary as a solicitor.’
Louise still does police station and magistrates’ court work for the firm, but also works as a regional development officer for CILEx, promoting the route to study that she travelled on. Explaining why she does it, she says: ‘I genuinely believe in the product because I’ve done it, but I don’t think people are aware of it or the possibilities it holds.’
As a Chartered Legal Executive, she says: ‘I could open my own firm and employ solicitors and even become a judge. There are so many opportunities.’
How to Become a Lawyer: Georgina’s story
Georgina Colwell, 27, family solicitor at Edward Hayes LLP
Described by her older sister as the ‘sensible one’, Georgina took the more traditional and well-trodden path towards a legal career. She stayed on at school for the sixth form, and got A-levels in English literature, English language, music and geography. She took a year out before starting university to earn some pennies to help finance her future university studies.
Like Louise, she had not originally contemplated a legal career, but that changed after she did some work experience at a solicitor’s office in Chichester – Edward Hayes LLP – where Louise was working as a Chartered Legal Executive.
She studied law at Oxford Brookes University, doing paralegal work in the criminal and family departments of Edward Hayes during the holidays. After university, she completed the LPC at the College (now University) of Law in Guildford, before completing a training contract with Edward Hayes and qualifying in 2010, having got six months taken off her training contract requirement due to her previous work experience. Georgina now works in the firm’s family department, primarily working on public law children cases.
She shares her sister’s view that there are so many different possibilities of how to enter the legal profession, aside the traditional route, than there were previously, with less differentiation of whether you are a solicitor, barrister or Chartered Legal Executive.
How to Become a Lawyer: Which Route is Better?
So, which route do the sisters think is better and do either have any regrets about the course they took?
‘The routes suited our personalities,’ says Georgina. ‘I liked doing a degree and the academic side. Louise may have liked the social side of university, but not attending the lectures. She is more practical.’ Her sister agrees.
All well and good. But solicitor Georgina had to pay university tuition fees of £3,000 a year and £10,000 for the LPC. Despite working in her year off and during holidays, she says she still qualified with debts of £20,000, which she is still paying off. While Louise says: ‘I don’t have any debt, and have never accrued a penny of student debt.’
Georgina continues: ‘At the time I did it, it was the right route for me and I’m pleased I did it.’ But with increased tuition and LPC fees now, plus the huge competition, she questions whether she would be able to make the same choice now, and whether she would want to take the financial risk.
Louise has no regrets about the route she took either, and says that she would take the same course, especially given the increased practising rights for Chartered Legal Executives. Indeed, she says that she feels sorry for those struggling to get training contracts, and points out that many students who have done the LPC are now switching to CILEx to qualify.
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