Law wasn’t always my first choice of career.
I had plans of following in the steps of my mum and being a chemist, but after a stint of Triple Science in secondary school my Chemistry Teacher for some inexplicable reason put me off a career in the sciences.
What seemed to be more suited to my strengths was something that involved the written word or the arts; I’d always been into creative writing and reading generally, so it seemed that any career that involved expression was a better fit for my skillset. It probably also coincided with watching court room dramas, and a sense that I would excel at advocacy from emulating what I’d seen on the screen.
At this point I set out on my fledgling law career with the aim of being a barrister, doing the Bar Vocational Course after graduating in Law. Whilst I was being shortlisted for pupillage interviews, the very competitive Bar meant that I wasn’t quite there so after five years working as a Paralegal I then cross-qualified as a Solicitor.
In the lead up to and for some time after qualifying I felt that I had gained the lion’s share of advocacy. In the early stages of working, I worked in Prison Law, which often meant back-to-back Parole Board hearings lasting from 9am to sometimes 6pm, and my 100-hour working weeks would mean spending more time in and travelling to and from Prisons than being in the office, sacrificing nights out as I simply had too much reading to do. There was also the sense that some clients had waited over 20 years for these hearings, so it felt morally right to put the work in to show that they were no longer a risk to society, obviously backed up with evidence. Still, I absolutely loved it, meeting and getting to know the most intimate psychological profiles of those you (knowingly) wouldn’t meet in conventional life. I was fascinated by the stories I heard, and as an alternative to wearing a wig and gown, it felt like I was a George Carmen in a microcosm environment. As there weren’t many glitzy films or series about Commercial Litigation, Crime-adjacent work seemed to be where the drama was for me, again possibly following my passion for stories as to what made my working life tick.
This continued with working in the Magistrates Courts but realising that Legal Aid was on its last legs, I transitioned to Regulatory Law, which was always described as ‘Posh Crime’.
Regulatory was more corporate in that it dealt with companies and directors committing alleged criminal offences, but the skillset and knowledge from working in Crime was very transferable and scalable. In contrast to sometimes having five minutes to pick up a trial and juggle multiple clients in different court rooms in one morning, Regulatory was a different change of pace in that preparation often involved working on just one case for a year.
There are occasionally cases that also intersect Crime and Civil practice areas, so my career has been good training in that regard. To this day my knowledge of what most litigation lawyers would consider esoteric (such as Food Safety Law) crops up every now and then!
During this time, whilst I still do the occasional bit of advocacy, I realised that the true craft of writing and being a good lawyer is the preparation of a robust witness statement, which can take months to prepare in really complex cases, simply to get though the information.
There is an old cliché that you should only ask a question that you know the answer to, and in drafting this is especially pertinent in taking your client’s instructions. Different working environments (e.g. one case per year vs one case per hour) and working styles have taught me the best of both worlds, in that you can run a complex case in a simple way, and vice versa, which you can only do successfully once you have had exposure to different practice areas and work pressures.
I fell into litigation inadvertently because I was recruited to work on a very complex civil fraud case, and quickly gained experience to all facets of Civil work. Today, in the same way, any court win was a triumph for a client’s liberty, doing an excellent job regardless of the value of a claim or transaction is what continues to push me to exceed client expectations. There’s no other area that intersects the need for procedural knowledge, case law, strategy and a steer on the facts as much as Commercial Litigation.
On this point, whilst it is often about the journey and not the destination (granted, my personal journey in undertaking different areas is probably less conventional than the typical litigator), the destination of working in a law firm that punches above its weight is very much a first choice.