It’s a tough way in, but for those who want it enough this new way into the profession is a great opportunity, writes newly qualified solicitor Eman Hassan
From a law firm facilities temp in October 2012 to a fully-qualified solicitor (at the same firm) in May 2018 — the route to becoming a solicitor hasn’t been straightforward for me.
I have always wanted to work in the legal industry, inspired by securing justice for innocent victims and making a real difference to people’s lives. But with an industry-wide recruitment process that is very rigid and focused on good academics, at times realising my dream seemed impossible. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. As a result of our traditional recruitment system, intelligent people with different types of skill sets often get excluded.
When I left university in 2012, I knew my dream of becoming a solicitor was going to be a challenge, but like so many young people who study the Legal Practice Course (LPC) I was resolved to succeed.
The next few years was a blur of long hours — I worked full-time to be able to afford my part-time studies — and training contract application rejections.
Thinking back now on how competitive the training contract market really is, I think I always knew I was going to be unsuccessful in the traditional route to qualification. With huge demand for a limited number of places, the task of choosing applicants to invite to interview becomes a sorting process. It often feels like they automatically eliminate you if you don’t have a first or a 2:1 — maybe they do? I don’t know and each law firm will operate differently, but what I do know is hard work and determination will ultimately pay off.
I progressed to a legal secretary and then a paralegal in the Major Trauma Department at Moore Blatch, a multi-specialist law firm with four offices across the South of England. As a paralegal, I learnt about the paralegal Equivalent Means route (EM), and for one and a half years worked tirelessly to build up a portfolio which I had to provide the Solicitors Regulations Authority (SRA) with. This showcased my experience with practical examples of everyday work, as well as the relevant ‘extracurricular’ work I had undertaken. The portfolio was very in depth and a true reflection of the hard work I had carried out over a number of years. I also had to complete the SRA EM route form which sets out outcomes that need to be established, similar to that of a training contract, to show you have satisfied the period of recognised training.
In order to qualify through the EM route, I had to gain extensive experience in three different practice areas. I practiced in education law, the industrial disease department and the major trauma department. My work focused around supporting victims, whether this was clients who contracted mesothelioma through working with asbestos or victims of major road traffic accidents.
Last week, I qualified as a solicitor. It was often difficult working full time with a caseload and assisting the head of the major trauma team. Nonetheless, I persisted by dedicating my weekends to drafting the portfolio, completing relevant sections by certain time frames to ensure that it was completed and ready.
I genuinely wouldn’t say that there were any downsides to qualifying as a solicitor through this route, apart from the fear that I was the first in Moore Blatch to qualify this way! The fear was around being the first and having little idea of what content and quality I needed to disclose in my portfolio. However, I was well supported by my mentor Trevor Sterling and the firm as a whole and now feel that this route is very beneficial as I am now trained and experienced to continue head on with major trauma cases.
I actually found the experience quite enjoyable as I was able to demonstrate just how much experience and work I had accumulated over the years, including the charity work I participate in. It wasn’t easy, and it can be time consuming, often making it difficult to have spare time at the weekend. There was a six-month period where I was in the office working full eight hours days during the weekend. It doesn’t last forever though and if you’re reading this starting from the same point as I did, I encourage you to keep working and follow your own unconventional path.
Our industry is in real need of greater diversification and we do need to change old and outdated perceptions of what makes a ‘good lawyer’. Whilst academics will always be important, so are the practical working skills such as communication, flexibility and teamwork, which do not come from a textbook.
My firm has recently set up an Aspiring Lawyers Group, through which I hope to inspire others who want to find the route to qualification that is best for them — whether that be a traditional training contact, EM or the Chartered Legal Executives route. I was so lucky to find an amazing mentor in Trevor who gave me opportunities beyond my ranking and encouraged me throughout my EM journey. The Moore Blatch Aspiring Lawyers Group will look to do the same for young people across the UK.
Sometimes, it can be tricky to keep faith that success can be achieved, but your passion and determination will lead to something better. It’s important to remember that there are plenty of different routes to qualify as a solicitor and there should always be a helping hand to guide you through the process. The legal industry needs your unique skillset.
Eman Hassan is a solicitor at Moore Blatch