Simon Smith, mature student on a career break, discusses how he's taking the plunge and balancing the Diploma with a family.

It’s a mellow Monday in early September and I’m woken at 5am by my neighbour’s chickens clucking. Before I can return to my slumber, my three year-old daughter wakes up singing ‘Old McDonald had a farm’, and then my four year-old daughter seems to wake up running: whizzing in and out of rooms before stopping herself by body slamming me. This is criminal! At least in less than 4 hours it will be, when I attend my first Criminal Court Practice lecture at Dundee Law School as part of the Diploma. 

I am currently studying the Diploma full-time on a career break and loving it. I studied the LLB online at Robert Gordon University while working full-time at Sky plc and it’s been a while since my first degree at Heriot-Watt. It just goes to show how flexible employers can be; I work in sales and marketing and Sky would not be able to offer me a traineeship (which I’m still seeking), and yet they provide me this support while I’m studying. I would encourage anyone to step out and consider the options open to them with their employer for a career break and further legal education, even if it appears like a pipe-dream.

The Diploma at Dundee is widely accessible and support is readily available, with the tutors and lecturers being practising solicitors and advocates. This gives the tutorials and lectures a unique edge, where fresh insight into daily legal practice is abundant. During this first semester, activities have ranged from advocacy practice in Dundee Sheriff Court before a ‘real’ sheriff, client counselling with a professional actor before my peers, 9,000 words typed in the space of a week for assessments and a 12 hour day of back-to-back tutorials and lectures – all to be taken in one’s stride of course. From the first mock trial during induction week, where I struggled to put on my law gown like a penguin in a dinner jacket, to now at the end of semester one, there has been on-campus input from the Law Society providing invaluable guidance on entering the profession.

As the saying goes, don’t count your chickens before they hatch, but studying to enter the Diploma is something I planned for over five years ago as a career change. You must plan with the expectation of succeeding, even when doors seem to close on traineeship applications. It is essential that you continue to succeed where you can, using negatives to create positives in the hope that another door will open.

So, if you happen to be a mature student with a young family living in a rural village seeking a career change, or indeed any student considering the Diploma, you too can make change happen. Take the long view and plan to succeed.  My own experience is that the University of Dundee and the Law Society can help you get there.

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