updated on 09 June 2022
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In August 2014, I didn’t receive the A-level results I had hoped for and was unable to secure a spot at my chosen university. Feeling pressured to act quickly, I made a hasty decision and accepted a place at a university I knew nothing about in a big city that was worlds away from where I had grown up. By the end of the first term, I knew it wasn’t for me. I moved back home to seek a full-time job and re- think. I was 19, lost, drained of confidence and directionless.
I lived locally to Wilson Browne Solicitors and applied successfully for a job in the new enquiries team. What a lifeline this job would turn out to be! Each day I took calls from a range of prospective clients who had all sorts of issues and were seeking legal assistance.
Within the first few months of the job, I realised I didn’t want to go back into full-time education – I loved having my own financial independence, routine and responsibility. I was also exceptionally lucky to have a very supportive manager who knew I was ambitious and offered me the option of training to become a CILEX lawyer. I was ecstatic. At this stage, Wilson Browne had never offered this opportunity to anyone who was not a fee earner/paralegal before, so I felt privileged that they saw my potential. I remained in this role for two years before applying internally for a trainee legal executive role in the firm’s private client team.
I took my first CILEX exam in June 2016 and managed to complete the first stage (which comprised 10 modules) by August 2018. The good thing about qualifying via CILEX is that you can complete the assessments at your own pace.
I must admit that I was in a very fortunate position because I was living at home, with no dependents, and with a job that didn’t have the level of responsibility that it does now. It was therefore relatively easy for me to fit studying around my lifestyle. However, there are many people at various stages in their career who embark on the CILEX journey and have to find creative ways to fit it all in with life and a full-time job. That said, there were instances where I had to sacrifice some social events and, for a long time, May and December were the worst months of the year as they were jam-packed with revision.
Hear from Donna McCarthy about her journey to partnership via CILEX in this LCN Says: ‘My legal executive journey to making partner at my law firm’.
As I moved to the second stage, CILEX Level 6, I was in for a shock. These specialist essay-style exams required an abundance of case law and many references to statute. While they were difficult, you soon adapt to the new style of exams and the additional amount of work needed to pass. During this time, I moved into my own flat and took on additional responsibilities in my job role as by now I was running my own caseload.
I also completed the bulk of this work during the covid-19 pandemic which presented many problems, including a struggle with motivation and severe burnout. Finishing this final stage was very challenging and I often wanted to give up. Luckily, I successfully passed my final exam in March 2022 and I’m now in the process of completing my portfolio to practise as a qualified lawyer.
To find out more about CILEX, head to the CILEX section of the LawCareers.Net website.
What did I learn over the past eight years?
There are many twists and turns in life and we don’t always end up on the path we envisioned for ourselves. I’d always pictured myself attending university and getting my degree so when I decided not to, I felt very unsettled. Trying new opportunities and putting yourself out there is the best way to combat this because you could end up loving a job you didn’t know existed. University really isn’t the only route.
Experience is key
If you are looking at a career in law, ideally you need to secure some work experience (within the industry you want to practise as a lawyer) or in a law firm to start developing skills and building your CV. Whether it’s an office assistant or paralegal role, getting your foot in the door is the first step.
After this, you need to get yourself known within the business – if you’re nervous about the prospect of networking, remember you’re unlikely to be the only person feeling this way. Be confident to introduce yourself to the partners of the firm and take opportunities to attend work social events. You could also consider taking on additional responsibilities that are outside of your role – for example, volunteering to organise the company’s Christmas party.
Advice for qualifying via CILEX
If you’re looking at taking the CILEX route then bear in mind it has recently changed its structure, with the introduction of the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ), and is slightly different to the courses I took. However, the same principles apply.
Find out more about the CPQ in this LCN Says: ‘CILEX: a fast-track route to becoming a specialist lawyer’.
You need to be committed and willing to put in the hours for studying to succeed. I would suggest you identify the type of learner you are. For instance, I’m a morning person and I struggle to study in the evening. Therefore, I made sure I woke up early to study before work and during my lunch break. I would also set myself targets to make sure I finished my notes by a certain date prior to the exam. I would then allocate several weeks for past papers and revision questions. This worked well for me because I knew that I wouldn’t run out of time before the assessments.
When picking CILEX modules to study, I chose areas of law based on whether I had experience in it or my enjoyment of the subject. It’s hard enough studying while working full time so pick subjects that you find interesting!
Lastly, if you’re struggling to juggle it all then make sure you reach out to your supervisor or a fellow CILEX student who can offer support. It may be that the firm you are working at can change your hours slightly to ease the studying, or it might be that you just need to vent to someone who understands. It’s hard work to become a lawyer but I can assure you that it will eventually pay off.
Bethany Kay (she/her) is a GCILEx lawyer at Wilson Browne Solicitors.