Don’t expect an “easy solution”, stresses STEM graduate Chrissie Wolfe
A solicitor and STEM grad has shared her path to legal practice after rebounding from scoring shaky A-Level grades.
Speaking candidly in a vlog (embedded below) on A-Level results day yesterday, Chrissie Wolfe said that she performed “very, very poorly” in her A-Level exams — achieving CDEE. Wolfe, who is now a personal injury specialist at Irwin Mitchell, put this down to being homeschooled before switching to formal schooling later in her teens. She explained:
“I actually did pretty well in my GCSEs, pretty much because I knew virtually everything that I had to know for my GCSEs before I actually went into school. But when it came to learning all new stuff in order to prepare for my A-Levels, I didn’t get on so well in the school environment. It was just so alien from how I learned before, in a one-to-one personal environment.”
Her low grades meant the then aspiring vet didn’t meet her conditional offers to study biological sciences. But Wolfe was determined to head to her first choice, the University of Birmingham, without having to retake her A-Levels — something which she says she’d have rather stuck “pins in [her] eyes” than have done at that stage.
When she found herself in the pool of people who hadn’t received their predicted grades and were instead scrambling through clearing, Wolfe became proactive and called up the Russell Group institution. Facing rejection after rejection from Birmingham, Wolfe was eventually offered a way in: she could take a year-long access foundation course in chemistry — familiar territory to the STEM student who studied biology, chemistry, physics and maths at A-Level. If she scored a first, she would be able to switch to biosciences and animal biology. And that’s exactly what she did.
When Wolfe graduated four years later with a strong 2:1 degree, her dream of becoming a vet had faded. Despite initially being put off by misconceptions that legal practice is just “lots of paperwork, long hours [and] big, stuffy offices”, she was soon drawn to injury and clinical negligence law — areas closely aligned to her undergrad degree. By the time she embarked upon the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Wolfe secured several legal and non-legal work experience placements — which later put her in good stead to apply for training contracts. She was offered a training contract at national outfit Irwin Mitchell in the Birmingham office. Looking back on her journey, Wolfe, who alongside her day job also vlogs and blogs about law and lifestyle on her YouTube channel, Law and Broader, said:
It was a really successful outcome to what initially seemed like a completely dead end to my career in whatever direction I wanted to go in — so it can be done. It wasn’t easy, it’s not fun, it requires a lot of hard work, but it can be done.
For the unfortunate few that didn’t secure the A-Level grades they hoped, Wolfe cautions that there is “no easy solution”. She added: “This is not a video whereby I give you one simple magic trick, which will absolve you of all your prior academic sins.”
Some words of wisdom she did offer related to study woes when completing training contract applications. Wolfe explained: “I think mitigating circumstances boxes are a double-edged sword. So, you get some recruiters that are really sympathetic and if you were really ill or you had an unexpected death in the family and you had to take some time away from studies, you will get some recruiters that really sympathise with that and will give you the benefit of the doubt.”
But there’s a flip side: “You get some recruiters, particularly at the bigger firms, where they really want to work you really hard. You will get some recruiters that look at your mitigating circumstances and if it transpires that you were unwell or someone in the family died, they will essentially read that and go: ‘Okay, well we are to understand by this that, if you’re unwell or if someone in the family dies — either of which might happen again later in your life — you are not going to be able to perform in those circumstances’. And that can sometimes be a turnoff for some recruiters because they essentially don’t want to see weakness.”
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