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

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By Katie King on

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.

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