Sarah Pooley, talks to Legal Cheek Careers about her move into education, MC lawyering and hot career tips for trainee hopefuls
Having trained and qualified as a solicitor at Magic Circle law firm Slaughter and May, Sarah Pooley then decided to make the move into legal education, starting out as a lecturer at The University of Law (ULaw)’s Guildford campus. Fast-forward to today, and Pooley heads up ULaw’s Reading, Southampton, Egham and Guildford campuses.
Ahead of her appearance at Legal Cheek’s in-person event in Southampton, Pooley speaks to us about the Southampton legal scene, her time as a solicitor and CV tips.
Can you tell us about your career journey to date, and what your day-to-day looks like as Campus Dean for ULaw?
I studied history but as my time at university drew to a close, I knew that I wanted a profession not a job, and that profession was going to be law. The first step in my career was to undertake a conversion course (called the common professional examination at that time) with the College of Law at the London Bloomsbury campus. I was then part of the last year group to take the law society finals as the Legal Practice Course (LPC) was introduced the following year. I was lucky to be sponsored through all of that by Slaughter and May. After my training contract, I qualified into banking compliance.
When the opportunity arose to move into higher education, I started my career at the Guildford campus of the College of Law as a lecturer on the LPC specialising in business law and the corporate electives (mergers and acquisitions, banking and debt finance, public companies and equity finance). I also taught equity & trusts on the conversion course. After a few years I was promoted to programme lead for the conversion course at Guildford and then Head of Students, overseeing all programmes and the student experience at the campus. In 2012, I moved to London Moorgate as Head of Lecturers and then in 2014 back to Guildford as Campus Dean. I now look after the campuses at Reading, Southampton and Royal Holloway (Egham) as well as Guildford.
What I enjoy most in the role of Campus Dean is working with a great team of colleagues at all four of the campuses I am responsible for. The collegiality of the team makes working with them a pleasure.
In terms of my day-to-day, the Campus Dean role is busy and incredibly varied. I spend a good deal of my time working with the management team planning the delivery of the programmes and the wider student experience across the campuses at Guildford, Reading, Southampton and Egham. I teach business law on the LPC as well as equity & trusts on the LLB and conversion courses. I am also involved in ULaw-wide initiatives. I am chair of the ethics committee and have been working on a restructure of how ULaw manages research conducted by staff and/or students and I have just completed a project focusing on devising training to help students avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism and other academic misconduct.
You trained and qualified at Magic Circle law firm Slaughter and May. What did you enjoy most about your time as a solicitor?
I enjoyed the high quality of the work and the liaison with blue chip clients on matters which warranted coverage in the broadsheets or the FT. Some of the matters at the time turned out to be quite newsworthy for the shock waves they created, like a bank being brought to insolvency by a rogue trader.
What inspired your move into education, and what lessons did you bring with you from private practice?
Being married to someone who was making their career in education was a key driver. I could see very clearly that the ability he had to help students reach their full potential was incredibly rewarding. Having studied the law society finals, which was not at all practical, I was keen to bring practical examples to lectures and workshops. I remembered being taught about shelf companies but having no concept of what that might actually look like until I was sent to Jordans on City Road to buy one when I was in a corporate department at Slaughter & May. Being able to give tangible examples of process and procedures and a few “war stories” from practice can really bring a subject to life and foster a deeper understanding.
What advice would you have for students looking to obtain a training contract?
Always remember that legal practice is ultimately a client service industry and whilst it demands knowledge of the law, most students have that technical ability. What makes the difference is a proven ability to communicate effectively – on paper and in person – and develop and maintain good working relationships with clients and team members alike. Any evidence of those key skills from past work experience, whether in law or not, will be very attractive to a future employer.
What support does ULaw provide for students looking for a training contract, and looking to qualify as a solicitor?
ULaw has an outstanding employability team which has years of experience helping students to secure vacation schemes, paralegal position and training contracts.
The pro bono team provide opportunities for students to get involved with advising clients at our legal advice clinics which gives students excellent hands-on experience. The careers team also arrange a wide range of employer talks and workshops as well as law fairs exclusive to ULaw students. The team themselves offer one-to-one appointments to review a student’s CV or applications forms. They will conduct mock interviews and mock assessment centres, to develop those crucial employability skills.
What makes Southampton a competitive location for students looking to begin a career in law?
Southampton is a large city which boasts a vibrant legal profession, including a plethora of well-known firms such as Shoosmiths, Irwin Mitchell, BDB Pitmans, Blake Morgan, Womble Bond Dickinson, Paris Smith and Moore Barlow. Southampton is also well placed for accessing firms further along coast in Portsmouth and Bournemouth and well as those on the M3 corridor. Firms in the area have proven to be agile in the face of the significant changes to the training regime and many have adapted to provide many routes to qualification by, for example, offering apprenticeships, paralegal positions, training contracts and Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) simultaneously.
Getting a training contract is becoming increasingly competitive, with applicants often having to go through multiple cycles to be successful.
What sorts of things can they do in the interim to keep improving their CV?
Firms are increasingly using paralegals to “try before they buy”. In many firms now, we are seeing those starting their careers with one or more years of paralegal work behind them, so any time spent doing that type of work is never wasted – and is almost a prerequisite for some firms.
If paralegal work is not available, then any paid employment which develops key transferable skills and knowledge like problem solving, time management, communication skills and commercial awareness will be invaluable in answering the competency questions that firms tend to pose at interview.
What has been a highlight of your career so far?
I have been fortunate to be the Dean of the Guildford campus for ten years. During that time the campus secured a 100% overall satisfaction rate from its law undergraduates in the National Student Survey twice. Those were very proud moments. I am also lucky to have been at the heart of the teams setting up and running our three new campuses in the area – Reading, Southampton and Royal Holloway. It has been a real highlight to be personally involved in the establishment and launch of all three campuses and then to see them flourish and grow to the size they are today.
To finish off, can you tell us a little about ULaw’s campus in Southampton, particularly the facilities and social scene?
ULaw is fortunate to have an excellent location for its Southampton campus. It is based on the ground floor of the Law Department of the University of Southampton’s (UoS) Highfield campus. This has allowed ULaw and UoS to work together very effectively and develop strong links, for example around their employability offerings.
ULaw students can attend the UoS law fair and UoS students are welcome at ULaw employer talks and workshops. ULaw has its own teaching space and its tutors are also based in the same location giving students easy access to academic and pastoral support. There is a Student Information Hub and Employability suite, the latter providing one-to-one appointments to discuss the format and content of a CV or an application form or to attend a mock interview. The employability team also have wide-ranging pro bono offering including the opportunity to advise clients though our Legal Advice Clinic. ULaw students become Associate Students of UoS and can use the facilities at the Highfield campus such as the many cafes and bars, the gym and the extensive library. They are also able to join both the ULaw and UoS Students’ Union, and in the case of the latter join societies and go along to social events.
The Legal Cheek in-person event ‘Secrets to Success Southampton’, run in partnership with The University of Law (ULaw), takes place Thursday 15 February. Apply now for one of the final few spots.
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