The reality of working as a paralegal while completing the LPC
Fletchers’ Bethany Hodgkins on juggling work and study
For many aspiring solicitors, undertaking the LPC is a huge financial burden. Unless you are lucky enough to be sponsored through your exams, finding a way to fund your way through the next stage in your career — either by way of a loan incurring huge interest rates or working to fund it — can be a necessary evil.
I decided that a loan was not an option for me as I have no desire to feed the banks any more than I have to from my student loan. I had also been working for a year and was not inclined to lose the income I had become accustomed to.
I decided to go via this route, doing a part-time course one day a week for two years so I could work at the same time. Though some of my colleagues at work had chosen to complete the LPC in the evenings at a night school, they were so physically drained going to study after a full day at work that one would question how amenable to learning and productivity they would be. I was lucky enough that my employers allowed me to take every Wednesday off in order to focus on my studies.
Initially, this sounded great: I could complete my qualifications at the same time as earning a living. Then I got my first pay cheque post-reduction in hours and realised I would be paying for my LPC twofold. I not only needed to pay my course fees, but the reduction in my salary by nearly £4,000 per year made it feel like I was paying even more for my LPC than if I had bitten the bullet and got a loan. Not the money savvy choice I first thought.
From a financial point of view my decision now seemed less clever. However, sometime into my first year I realised I was at a greater advantage than my academic colleagues who had no experience working in a law firm.
I found our fictional situations in class were easy to compare to my working knowledge of the law and I could adapt to the different modules much more easily. My understanding of client care, commercial awareness and the day-to-day running of a law firm was invaluable.
My friends who didn’t work in a law firm found it much harder to thrive on the LPC in conditions which are completely different to undergraduate level. My experience during my degree was that, to some extent, you were spoon-fed. You would learn the theory behind the law but that was where it stopped. On the LPC you are expected to engage in the practicalities of working in the law. This can be done much more readily if you have a working knowledge already rather than book-learnt details.
My colleagues on the course visibly struggled to grasp concepts which those of us in practice found much easier, and our grades reflected this. And this has worked both ways. I have the academic knowledge to underline my experience at work which has also made my working life much smoother. Suddenly my decision to work at the same time was beginning to look better.
Working at the same time as studying the LPC is difficult. There is no sugar-coating the fact that after an eight-hour day the last thing I feel like doing when I get home is my LPC work. By the time the weekend comes I feel like I need a break rather than lugging out my books to start my very long reading list. Ordinarily, full-time LPC students are only in class three days a week. They are then free, in theory, to spend the other two days of the working week completing their independent studies, thereby leaving their evenings and weekends free to do with as they wish.
All in all, there is no easy answer to how you should fund your legal education. Completing the LPC in any format is not an easy task. If you are looking for easy, I would suggest seeking an alternative career path now before paying a considerable amount of money to progress to a career that is far from easy.
All things considered, I do not regret my decision. I have actually enjoyed studying this past year as having a head-start on what you are learning about makes the whole academic experience much less stressful. Hopefully I will end up with a much better final mark as a result. Yes the financial side is a kick in the teeth, but ultimately I want to succeed in this profession and I am happy that, for me, the decision to complete my LPC while in practice will give me the best possible chance in achieving my ambitions. After all, top marks under my belt and legal experience to boot must make me a more appealing candidate for a training contract offer, right?!
Bethany Hodgkins is a litigation executive at Fletchers.
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