Career Change - a case study

Emma Skett was working as a manager in a call centre and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 2006. Emma now works as a Partner at William McCluskey Solicitors and says all the hard work was worth it to join the legal profession.

 

Before I was a solicitor I was running a call centre for a large outsourcing telemarketing company.  I had worked for this organisation throughout my time studying for my BA.  I had been promoted from telephone operative to team leader and when I graduated I was offered a position as call centre manager. 

The idea (and the money!) appealed to me, but I was 21 years old and frankly in over my head! I was not enjoying the positon and a chance meeting with my now business partner changed my career path forever.

I was approached by William (Bill) McCluskey, who already had an established practice, to ask if I could assist him in recruiting a new office manager.   Bill knew of my background in HR and interviewing techniques and valued my input in that process.  As I wasn’t enjoying my current position, I asked if he would consider me an appropriate candidate.  He was a little surprised and indicated that I was over qualified for the position and instead offered me a deal - he would give me the job as long as I would consider returning to some form of education in the field.  

To be honest I am not someone who enjoys being a student but I could see the opportunity opening up in front of me and decided to take the plunge! 

I started in my new position and within a couple of months the part time LLB was being advertised for intake.  I enrolled initially in the part time course at the University of Strathclyde and completed the first year, continuing to work full time. 

I negotiated with the university during the second year to take on extra classes during the day. This allowed me to gain enough credits to have the option to transfer to the full time course in year three (I was lucky that I was treated as a graduate entrant so had some flexibility). 

I thought year two was hard going, combining studying and my obligations to my employer, but year three was an even greater challenge. I was studying full time and juggling that with my duties in the office.  My social life was non-existent.  I didn’t have a partner or a family at that time but I can imagine that would have placed a huge strain on any relationships, a factor that must be borne in mind.  

I survived, graduated and commenced the Diploma in Legal Practice at Strathclyde.  This year was easier to manage as student commitments are either morning or afternoon sessions.  The university was good enough to allocate me an afternoon session as this suited my work commitments. 

I completed my traineeship, worked hard, never took anything for granted and was delighted when the offer was made to become a partner in the firm.  Like my previous employment I had risen through the ranks, from office manager and tea maker, to trainee solicitor, to assistant and finally to partner – I couldn’t have been prouder!

I was in a privileged position throughout my studies given that I knew there was a traineeship position waiting for me at the end of all the hard work.  Traineeships aren’t always easy to come by but they are out there.   Having had the benefit of someone’s faith in me during this process, I am trying to put something back.  I have successfully guided one trainee through to qualification and am currently supervising a second.  I also am taking part in theLaw Society of Scotland’s Career Mentoring Scheme.  My journey was not a typical one.  I was extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity by an employer who not only allowed me the time to complete my studies, but also provided financial assistance along the way. 

My final advice? If the opportunity presents itself, grasp it with both hands. The hard work is worth it to join a proud and noble profession.

 

Rhona Archibald was working as a ward sister and went on to qualify as a solicitor in 2006. She left nursing in 2007 when her registration expired and now works as Legal Counsel at Tesco Bank. Here she explains her experiences and the motivations behind her change in career.

 

Before I became a solicitor I was nurse. I had been nursing since I was 16 and worked in the NHS and the private sector. I continued to nurse during my studies and traineeship but after qualifying eventually decided not to renew my registration which was a hard thing to do.

When I reached 40, I looked at what I was doing and what my realistic prospects were. To go further in my career I would have had to leave the wards and go into management or work in a specialist role – none of which appealed to me. 

I have always been a studier, so looked around for part time degrees. I saw the part time LLB at Strathclyde advertised and decided to give it a try.  The thought behind it was to use the law degree and nursing background together to advance my career.  I enjoyed the course so much that I decided halfway through that I was going to be a lawyer and give up nursing when I could. 

Once I had decided to make the change, the information I needed was easy to find and the tutors/lecturers were helpful and supportive. I attended several open days and open evenings on career development. Being a mature student in amongst other mature students, I found that everyone was happy to share what they had found with fellow students.

I did the part time LLB through evening classes, attending classes in Glasgow twice per week for the first two years and three times per week for the second two years.  This was my choice to accelerate. Studying part time meant I could still work in my normal job, though I did change employer to give me better hours.

The course is demanding and I had to be committed.  Studying hard affected my immediate family so I had to make sure that they understood what it entailed and were supportive. Thankfully they were – it would have been very difficult if they had objected.

I attended Edinburgh University for my diploma year and my traineeship was with Dundas & Wilson, which has recently been taken over by CMS. I stayed at Dundas & Wilson post-qualifying for two years in the IP/IT team. I then moved to Aegon and was there for three years before moving to Tesco Bank. There are more jobs for in-house lawyers in financial services so it was a conscious decision to move into this area.

I now work as an in-house lawyer for a bank in Edinburgh as a commercial contracts lawyer.

My advice for anyone looking to change careers to become a solicitor is to think carefully about how you are going to manage the studying and what course will suit you; speak to your employer about flexible working if possible. Get your significant other on board and do not under-estimate the amount of work required, especially when deadlines are looming. Also make sure you can afford it.

Studying law with the intent of working as a lawyer is life-changing so make sure you are well prepared as it is not an easy option.

 

Are you interested in changing career and becoming a solicitor? Please direct any queries to careers@lawscot.org.uk

Have you entered the profession after first pursuing another career or area of study? To become a volunteer guest speaker at a career change event or submit a case study please contact lauragulliver@lawscot.org.uk