Feature

‘My teacher told me I was too soft to be a lawyer, now I’m a partner at a Knightsbridge firm’

By on
31

Kevin Poulter tells us why his teacher’s terse words encouraged him to pursue a career in law

This is the second piece in a series of editorial by Legal Cheek exploring the different motivations and stories of successful lawyers from non-traditional backgrounds. Last week we spoke to Mark Stephens, a media law specialist whose working class background precluded him from following his aspirations to the bar. Today, we speak to Kevin Poulter, a partner at a London private client firm.

When asked what motivated Kevin Poulter to become a lawyer, he admits “he’s not entirely sure.” His father, an engineer, told him not to become an engineer, so he decided to punt for something different.

With no lawyers in the family (his mum looked after him full-time, then later became a dinner lady), Poulter stresses the importance of making good contacts, something he was forced to get to grips with early on. He explains:

When I had to do a two-week work experience placement when I was 14, the school had no connections to law firms, so I was given the option to go work in a library or go find somewhere myself. I ended up writing to solicitors in town and one offered me the placement.

Though his fortnight stint confirmed to Poulter he wanted to pursue a career in legal practice, his middle school teacher sought to put him off the idea. “My teacher told my parents that I was ‘too soft’ to be a lawyer, which I took to mean ‘too sensitive’,” he tells us.

Her attempts at discouragement didn’t quite have the desired effect however, and instead spurred him on to prove her wrong. Of the hundreds of people in his school year, Poulter could count on his hands who went to university — and he was one of them.

Given his school’s low university progression rate, Poulter’s time between A-levels and A-level results day was marred with crises of confidence. He tells us:

Going to university just wasn’t the norm. In between sitting my A-levels and getting the results, I even went to the police station to pick up some information about becoming a policeman. I just wasn’t confident.

Poulter funded himself through his degree using a small local authority grant, by working throughout his studies and thanks to generous parents. He secured a training contract at Atherton Godfrey in Doncaster, the firm he had done work experience at aged 14.

Now a partner at Knightsbridge-based outfit Child & Child, Poulter is well aware the public has its pre-conceptions of what it means to look like and act like a lawyer, and to sound like one too. Poulter confesses:

Being in London now, I do feel a bit self-conscious about my accent.

But Poulter admits this insecurity stems from within. He believes law firms do take on staff at face value and that the profession is more accessible than it used to be. That said, it’s a very difficult profession to get into, especially for those with no contacts. This is why, Poulter tells us, he is happy to give work experience placements to people who don’t have connections, like he didn’t have when he was growing up.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek’s careers events, sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub here.

31 Comments

Anonymous

‘My teacher told me I was too soft to be a lawyer and now I’m a partner at a mediocre law firm.’

The boy done good.

(41)(60)

Anonymous

Another LinkedIn-style attention seeking, self obsessed, virtue signalling success story.

(27)(18)

Dennis the Menace

Softy Walter!

Now I know where you escaped to!

I’m coming for you with my pea-shooter!!!

(12)(2)

942

What a mug

(6)(11)

Anonymous

Child & Child… the dream for any aspiring City lawyer.

(11)(32)

Anonymous

Where does it say anything about “city law”? That isn’t everyone’s ambition.

(33)(4)

Anonymous

Yes it is. It’s just you aiming low.

(14)(29)

Anonymous

Lol you’re such a delusional fool.

(13)(1)

Top top top commercial chancery barrister

C&C are a decent little outfit. And no, I’m not in house nor instructed by them.

Clearly, the vast vast vast majority of the wannabes on this site are all current and/future US law firm NQs on £560k per year following 8 successive pay rises in two weeks, but for the rest of us plebs, taking a spot a place a rung or two further down the legal ladder hardly represents bang average mediocrity

(80)(2)

Top top top commercial chancery barrister

And, actually, I think I’m top of the proverbial legal tree. The ‘so called’ big city wanna NQs instruct me to cover their backsides when they don’t know the answer

(25)(3)

Anonymous

If churning out academia law for litigators, with no client contact is your thing then perhaps so. Lawyers are also business people which can’t be said for barristers sitting away in a room analysing statutes

Peace out

(2)(7)

Anonymous

You know that every self employed barrister runs his own business??

(4)(1)

Anonymous

You mean actually being a lawyer rather than a corporate deal monkey changing the dates on documents?

(7)(0)

Anonymous

What a pussy.

(3)(10)

Anonymous

There’s some ugly comments on here, even by LC standards.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with working at a West End firm. Many aspire for that over City firms as a personal career choice. Becoming a partner at one is a very respectable achievement. Snobbery towards other career paths within the profession only makes you look like an absolute knob.

(76)(2)

Anonymous

This. I like to troll legal cheek as much as anyone else, but some of these comments are just ridiculous.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

You’re probably right. But a bit of harmless trolling is still hilarious.

(3)(4)

Anonymous

Smelly bellend!

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Nothing wrong it certainly… but nothing right with it either.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Perhaps some people from less affluent backgrounds will be inspired to seek a career in law reading stories such as this. I hope so.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Katie, please speak to Solomon Wifa. His story is very inspiring!

(4)(4)

Person with common sense

Seems like in today’s world we are defined by how much we make and what our job is. In many parts of the country people struggling to eat because they are so poor.

In many parts of the world, people are being bombed out of their homes, and forced into shocking living conditions – ridden with disease, starvation and death.

Maybe we should all just appreciate what we’ve got, instead of constantly trying to make incremental improvements to a relatively incredibly blessed lives.

(5)(2)

Anonymous

No, we should seek to dominate and accumulate. That is what men do. Otherwise we would still be living in caves or being run by women

(2)(8)

Anonymous

Why do those on the right present these two alternatives – working less and taking a more balanced approach to life – or living in dire paleolithic poverty.

I’m talking about a significant attitudinal shift in how much we deem money and career as a barometer of self-worth.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

To be fair our country is shockingly unequal. Any success story like this should be shared. Lets be fair, these days without a wealthy background you’re pretty screwed.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I couldn’t agree more, this is a fantastic example of someone who has worked for their success. Congratulations Kevin!

(4)(0)

One-legged blind full-time carer lesbian Muslim

Why are you all complaining so much? Getting into law is easy.

(4)(4)

Anonymous

The irony is that you’re actually a bang average white guy sad he didn’t get into oxbridge when he was definitely the best debater in debate club and bristol is still good isn’t it mum

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Actually it was Durham you bottom muncher.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

Wow (or is it eugh?)! Are these comments reflective of “the country’s (self-pronounced) finest legal minds”? This is the problem with nepotism and incest: the offsprings are frequently cretins.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

So many of these comments are deeply depressing. I suppose someone has to think it’s a good idea to work themselves to death for the dollar, but I’m inclined to think they are deficient in some aspects of humanity. I cannot imagine wishing to give up time spent with my family, my garden, my greenhouse, my dog, my kitchen, you name it really. Like many people I work to fund my life, and although I like my job I don’t live to work.

The concept that your employer and bank balance are the most important aspects of your life, or that you’re a failure if you don’t reach the very pinnacle of self-flagellation, slaving for the man in the hope that one day you’ll become him, even though he’s alone and dead inside, are totally alien to me. I don’t think I’d want to instruct someone like that either: there’s a point at which impartiality becomes disengagement, and I don’t feel I’m properly represented without a human connection.

I dare say you’ll give me a kicking for being unambitious, or tell me I’m embittered because I’m basically thick or lazy, but so be it. Are you aspirational or successful? If you have succeeded, did you get what you expected, or what you wanted, or both? If you’re aspirational, are you afraid? Sure, you can find people like you here, but are you really what you purport to be, or are you playing a role in the hope of finding you fit? Objectively, it’s all very…. odd.

(5)(0)

Comments are closed.