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A Letter To My 18 Year-Old Oxbridge-Hating Self

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Sarah Gillbe, who skipped uni to work as a legal secretary before becoming a solicitor, would have taken a more direct route with the benefit of hindsight

As an 18-year old I was often told what a good lawyer I’d be. But in fact I would have been terrible – a vexatious litigant probably. If there was an excuse to disagree with something or someone I’d find it. If there was a cause, I’d champion it.

A lot later I realised that being a decent lawyer is about taking a pragmatic and intelligent view. At 18 I barely managed the last. No comment on the former.

I went to a tertiary college to study for the international baccalaureate. Being quite a bright sort, I was encouraged to go along to the Oxbridge entrance lunchtime sessions as of course Oxbridge is special and they have their own system for everything. It was apparently a good thing to do PPE, although no-one knew what for. It sounded fairly interesting.

I turned up once. I was told that only certain colleges let girls in, the mixed ones would be inappropriate as they didn’t like bolshy women, and I would not be able to work part-time as that was against their ethos.

As I had been living away from home and surviving mainly on part-time jobs, this all seemed a bit ludicrous. They wanted me to live on nothing in a misogynistic institution that would frown on self-sufficiency. You can imagine how that ended.

Strangely I later became a legal secretary (I say strangely, as if you met me now – or then – you would struggle to picture me toeing the line in the secretarial stereotype). After three weeks in the job, I was encouraged to take ILEXes with a view to becoming a Legal Executive, one of those special lawyers who can be a lawyer without a training contract or law school, but has to learn rather at the deep end sometimes. The rest is history.

Having enjoyed my career so much thus far, I did in fact continue studying to complete the CPE exemptions, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC). I hope to enrol as a solicitor this year when the PSC provider finally sorts out their paperwork.

All this just as alternative business structures come in and the role of solicitor begins to be devalued. But being a lawyer is fun. I like to think of it as a happy accident.

Regrets? None. Although given the chance I probably would have got into the law sooner. It takes a certain kind of person and, if you are lucky, it can provide a personality therapy unmatched by expensive counsellors.

Sarah Gillbe is a Legal Executive at Setfords Solicitors