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Meet the lawyer

Stephanie Dixon

Stephanie Dixon

University: Birmingham City University
Degree: Law
Year of qualification: 2022
Position: Solicitor
Department: Construction and infrastructure
Pronouns: She/Her

What attracted you to a career in law?

I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in law. Law is constantly changing and so the need to keep learning really appealed to me, as well as the notion that any tiny event that happens can have a massive impact on all aspects of the industry. This is particularly true for construction law, which is always a developing area.

Why solicitor not barrister?

I chose to become a solicitor because I enjoy being part of a team working with a variety of clients and on a variety of matters, which are often complex and require critical analysis. I like working with people to analyse different aspects of the facts and law to produce a piece of work that we then put forward to a barrister, should the matter proceed to court. I prefer the more written aspects that come with being a solicitor, rather than the speaking and advocacy elements that come with being a barrister.

How did you decide which firms to apply to?

A few years after finishing university, I relocated to the South West before waiting a couple of years to make training contract applications – it was important for me that I was certain about the firms I applied to, so not rushing into these applications made sense. Once I’d moved and conducted some research, I applied to Ashfords.

How much work experience had you had? Why is it so important?

By the time I started my training contract, I’d been a paralegal for about four years. Paralegal experience is incredibly helpful prior to getting a training contract because it provides you with insights into how law firms are run, and exposure to matters and how certain situations are dealt with.

Which departments did you train in?

I did a seat in property litigation, commercial and intellectual property, and construction and infrastructure.

How does the qualification process work at the firm?

Once you’re nearing the end of your training contract, an email is circulated with a list of the departments that are recruiting newly qualified solicitors and you can put yourself forward for specific roles – for example, I applied for the vacancy on the construction team.

If more than one person applies for the same role, there’ll be an interview stage. However, before the email is circulated, it’s likely you’ll have already had a conversation with the department you want to qualify into to make them aware that you intend to put yourself forward for the opening in their team.

Please outline your area of expertise. What might you do in a typical day?

In the construction and infrastructure department, we work on both contentious and non-contentious law. As a newly qualified lawyer, you’re expected to work on matters on both sides of the coin so my typical day really varies. For example, today I’m focusing more on the disputes side – I’ve spent some time analysing a case that was part of an adjudication to determine whether a particular clause of the contract can be applied to the facts. However, tomorrow will be slightly different as I’ll be working on the non-contentious side, drafting contract documents that’ll be negotiated between a contractor and employer.

Please discuss a current/recent specific deal/case, outlining your role in the matter.

We worked on a recent matter where an adjudication was commenced and our client was defending. Adjudications aren’t very widely known until you’re working in departments where they’re predominantly dealt with and, in construction, adjudication tends to be the first form of dispute resolution before court proceedings. It’s a very quick process that involves a lot of back and forth – once we have instructions, submissions must be drafted quickly. A lot of work was required from multiple people, with long hours but we got a result that was positive for our client and concluded in around five months, which is a much quicker process than court proceedings which can last well over a year.

What do you most/least enjoy about your career and why?

I most enjoy the work and having the chance to get deeply involved in matters. On both the contentious and non-contentious side, you have to know the ins and outs of each matter to be able to deliver advice or results to the client. I really enjoy developing that knowledge with each client and find it incredibly rewarding when there’s a successful contract or outcome on the disputes side. 

I least enjoy the potential long hours. You’re sometimes faced with quick deadlines that require longer hours to ensure it’s met. That being said, while it’s a stereotype that lawyers work long hours, it’s not always the case. When the work requires it you’re expected to put in the hours to get things across the line but on the whole it’s encouraged that you finish on time.

Ashfords promotes the importance of finding and maintaining a work/life balance – you’re not expected to work for workings sake, it’s only expected of you if there’s work that must be done. 

What makes your firm stand out from the rest?

For me, Ashfords stands out because of its values – its values are really important and make up the firm’s culture. One of the values is to always grow but this doesn’t just mean as a firm financially, it also refers to the clients and employees. As such, there’s a lot of emphasis on investing time into supporting the growth of employees, which will in turn support the firm’s growth, its client base and clients’ expectations.

What advice do you have for budding solicitors who are contemplating a career in law?

If you’re not at the training contract application stage, I’d suggest getting experience working at a mixture of firms because working at a criminal firm, for example, will likely be very different to working at Ashfords. This will give you a really helpful insight into the workings of law firms and client management.

However, if you’re at the stage where you want to start applying for training contracts, I’d recommend applying for vacation schemes as they offer invaluable insights into how each firm operates and what would be expected of trainees.

You don’t have to have a training contract lined up as soon as you finish university either – this is a common misconception. If you’re not ready to make applications or perhaps weren’t successful when applying for training contracts first time round, gaining paralegal experience is incredibly valuable and a great way for you to identify the type of work you want to do and the firm you want to work for. Securing a paralegal role will provide you with additional skills and experience that you can use in future applications and can sometimes even present you with the opportunity to apply for training contracts internally at the firm you’re a paralegal with if qualifying as a solicitor is the goal. I know lots of people at Ashfords who started as paralegals and have since taken this route. 

What diversity and inclusion initiatives does the firm have in place?

Ashfords has a diversity and inclusion team that meets quarterly to organise events and ensure that everyone has a voice, for example. There’s a daily account featuring blogs and further office-wide initiatives that occur during important times throughout the year.

Does your department largely work independently, in support of another dept or is it routinely supported by other depts?

There are quite often a lot of departments working for one client on the same matter. For example, if there’s a sale that has a construction element, we’d be working on that aspect while the real estate team would be dealing with the sale or purchase. That said, there are also matters when we work independently from other departments because the matter is just construction related.

What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve been given since joining the firm?

The biggest opportunity I’ve been given so far is one that I’ve just started – I was recently assigned as a supervisor to a paralegal apprentice. I’m only one-year qualified so it’s nice to feel supported by my team and have them trust that I’m capable of being a supervisor this early on in my career.

The paralegal apprentice has only just finished her A-levels so the first part of my role will be teaching her about working in an office environment and introducing her to life at the law firm, while also setting work that’ll help to develop her skill set as a paralegal. After her paralegal apprentice course, which is two years long, she can then decide whether she wants to progress and qualify as a solicitor via the solicitor apprenticeship.  

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I like to read a lot. My favourite book at the moment is The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah.