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updated on 11 February 2022
Reading time: seven minutes
Hello, my name is Carly Woods, I am a mother of four, a family law paralegal and I am currently studying the LLB at the University of Plymouth. In 2018 I decided to embark on a career in law. I was working as a support worker at the time and my third child was two.
To find out more about family law, read this LCN Says: ‘Why choose family law?’
During my first year of law school, I failed my first exam and almost gave up at this first hurdle. I spoke to my tutor at the time, who reminded me that I was capable, and that my effort and consistency were noticeable.
As a mature student and mother, I struggled to revise. I found it hard to focus at home and as all parents, by the time the kids were in bed, I was ready to sleep. The people around me believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself which encouraged me to keep going.
Dealing with parenthood
During the last year of my foundation degree, I fell pregnant with my fourth child. During this time I faced many struggles. There were days when I could not attend lectures, which meant extra reading and catching up at home – this was before the pandemic so lectures were not recorded.
When I had my child, I was in hospital and submitting my university work as I went into labour. My son was born in December and I had an exam in January. Despite this challenge, I was determined to not fail, so I slept when my baby slept, and when he woke, I would read as I fed him, even during the night. Although I was exhausted, the consistency of reading two pages a night kept me going. I ended up passing that January exam.
To find out how to balance your legal career with parenthood, read this Oracle: ‘Balancing a legal career and being a parent.’
Then the pandemic hit. By this time, I had a routine of working from home. I’m more productive in the mornings, so I would wake up at 5:00am, make a cup of tea, write down some short-term goals for the day ahead and time an hour of work each morning, even on weekends. My life involved home schooling three children at three different stages; this was a new challenge.
I just needed to go one step at a time. When it came to apply for the next stages and on to the LLB I didn’t apply like everyone else. This is because I was exhausted from the home schooling and didn’t have any me time. I also felt guilty that I had reached a point where I couldn’t enjoy time with my children because I was constantly worrying about the next assignment deadline.
So, I ended up applying late. On most days the ‘mum guilt’ consumes me, especially when I see my children sitting next to me while I’m revising or working. At one point when eldest daughter was texting her friends pictures of my revision mind maps that I had stuck on the walls.
My hopes for my children is that they realise I was only working hard for them, and that no matter how chaotic or busy their life gets, they should not give up on their dreams. I emailed the head of law school at the University of Plymouth to explain my situation and ask if my application could still be considered. It was accepted. I had been through pregnancy and childbirth and still managed to achieve high grades so why stop here?
Have a read of this LCN Says on ‘Extenuating circumstances in applications’ to get a good idea of genuine mitigating circumstances that might have affected your academic performance.
I began my LLB stage two in September 2020. As a mature student coming from a partner college, I didn’t know anyone and I was challenged with navigating their Moodle site as well as the different timetables. The lectures were all virtual and, by this time, my older children were back at school.
I still had my baby at home and I began to like the new way of virtual learning, which I thought would be brilliant as a permanent option. Even as a new mum, I was still connected and included in discussions as well as being able to care for my baby at the same time.
To find out more about retraining as a solicitor at a later stage, read this Oracle: ‘Am I too old to become a solicitor?’
How did I secure a family paralegal role?
In short, my answer is LinkedIn. In April 2020 I had set up my legal Instagram (@legally_woods) with the aim of connecting with other working/studying parents and to share some reality moments and the highs and lows of studying in lockdown while parenting.
As the children were back at school and my baby was now a toddler, I put him in childcare. I decided I was now free to gain some experience in the legal sector, so using my platform I researched tips and advice on how to use LinkedIn. I switched my profile to ‘open to work experience’. I was honest in my bio that I had no legal experience. I received a message from the head of the family department of my local law firm to send in my CV. I was over the moon and scared at the same time.
The job was full time, how would I juggle this?
I called my husband who reminded me to do what I’ve always done and go one step at a time. I knew that my CV needed a whole new look, so I researched best tips for a legal CV and cover letters. I was invited for an interview, where I was told that my CV was very creative and had caught their attention.
To find out more about CV writing, read this LCN Feature: ‘How to write the perfect cover letter, CV or application form.’
How do I manage working and studying full time?
The reality is it is hard. I have been met by many obstacles, the children being sick, catching covid, isolating, working from home, assignment deadlines and exams all while trying to keep the standard of work and focus expected of me and caring for my family. I tell myself most days that I cannot do this, but I am doing it.
The key is consistency, teamwork at home and at work. I have struck gold in terms of the law firm I work for.
My supervisor is nothing but supportive and understanding, which only makes me want to work harder. I am in the final semester of university, I have asked for help more times than I can count. It’s not only determination, tears, time-management, consistency and failure that get me through, it’s the people around me.
My tips and advice
Carly Woods (she/her) is a family law paralegal at Wollens. She is studying the LLB at the University of Plymouth. You can connect with her via LinkedIn.