If you’re reading this blog, you’ve most likely just graduated, are in the process of completing your LPC or perhaps a paralegal who’d like to go into family law. With the evenings gradually drawing in and the seasons beginning to change, it’s the perfect time to step back, reflect on what you’ve achieved so far and figure out exactly what you want from your legal career in the future. You can then start to think about the steps you need to take to get to where you want to be.
Summer 2019 has been a busy one at Realm and as our resident family specialist, I am so pleased to say that over the last few months, I’ve helped two incredibly bright paralegals to secure family law focused training contracts. I’ve recently caught up with them to find out how they’re getting on in their new roles and asked them more about their journeys into family law.
Why family law?
If you’re considering pursuing a career in family law, it’s important to think about exactly why it is your preferred practice area. You may not necessarily have enough (if any!) experience in family beyond your LLB and LPC modules. That’s absolutely fine, but you must know what it is that attracts you to family and be able to articulate this to others. When it comes to speaking to a recruiter like me, or a potential employer, your enthusiasm for family law needs to be clear.
Amber who started her role as a paralegal at a prestigious L500 family department at Gorvins in Stockport felt that her passion came from personal experience:
“When I was old enough to understand, my mum talked to me about how awful her divorce had been as no one had explained what was happening and she felt very much in the dark. I have always wanted to help people and thought if I can help people during a very tough and emotional time of their lives, I would have job satisfaction”.
On the other hand, Tamara who is a soon to be a trainee solicitor at the award-winning firm Bromleys, widely recognised for its pro bono work, has highlighted the importance of doing a module in family law:
“My passion for family law came from studying the module at university. I always thought I would end up being a Criminal Barrister and that was my thought process all throughout my undergraduate degree. However, when I studied Family law I became so intrigued that judges would have to make decisions on child arrangement orders and that is what turned my head.”
Everyone is different, with their own individual reasons for pursuing this particular area of the law. Whatever the source of your love for family law is, if you are committed and can describe your reasoning behind this commitment, you will stand out amongst other candidates.
Gain some experience
No matter which area you’re passionate about, for all budding lawyers, legal work experience is essential. If you’re a student or recent graduate, internships, vacation schemes and work experience all give a valuable insight into the workings of a law firm.
With competition for training contracts fierce, nowadays, upon graduation, many budding solicitors will initially look for a paralegal position or another junior position within a law firm. When considering job opportunities, try to be open-minded; even if you don’t end up working within your ideal specialism or type of law firm, all experience is useful and will provide you with transferable skills you can apply later on. It’s also important to keep building on your experience to improve your chances of landing your dream job in the future. Tamara worked at three different firms during and after her LLB:
“I started off working at a firm while I was studying my undergraduate degree and then got a full-time position upon graduating. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right fit for me and so I left and became a family paralegal at another firm and enjoyed every minute of the experience.”
On the other hand, after graduating, Amber completed a Masters in Family Law alongside working as a paralegal:
“Since completing my undergraduate degree I have been a paralegal, predominately in family law but also within wills and probate. I have worked within the private family sector, so helping people get divorced, resolve financial matters and also within Children Act proceedings which is when there is a debate that needs resolving with children matters such as contact and with whom the child lives.”
Work out what you like and dislike
Through your studies or work experience, you’ll begin to realise what it is you do and don’t like about family law. For instance, some people will prefer childcare matters, while others will lean towards private family matters such as divorces. You might begin your legal career liking one area of family law, but gradually develop an interest in another, as Tamara did:
“I initially enjoyed dealing with divorce matters. However, I would have to say my favourite type of case is a legal aid funded children matter. I really enjoy legal aid work and working with people that have been victims of domestic violence.”
Amber, meanwhile has enjoyed private family law from the start; gaining experience in public family law helped to reinforce the fact that private matters were where her interest lies:
“I found public law quite harrowing at times and I struggled with the nature of the cases - I think it takes a certain type of person to work within care proceedings and I knew fairly early on that it wasn’t for me.
I particularly enjoy helping parents within private Children Act proceedings when they need to establish a routine for contact with their children or are looking at having the children move to live with them. I enjoy when the right decision is made by the Judge and the children get what they need, which is more often than not contact with both parents.”
It’s not all about getting a training contract
When it comes to considering your next step and you start looking at new opportunities, it’s important to be flexible. If you’re hoping to qualify as a solicitor one day, you’re likely to be on the hunt for a role that will help you on your way to securing a training contract. However, even if a role might lead to a training contract eventually, it might not be the right fit for you and your career.
Equally, you might come across a position at a firm that isn’t looking to increase its number of trainees but might provide you with valuable experience. It’s important to look at all that a role can offer you, even if a potential training contract isn’t on the table. Will you have the opportunity to work more closely with clients? Will it expose you to a type of work you’re particularly interested in? Will you be given a higher degree of responsibility? If a role will help develop you as a young lawyer, it’s certainly worth considering even if it might mean you don’t become a trainee immediately.
While a training contract was important for Amber in her hunt for a new position, it wasn’t the be-all and end-all:
“I also wanted a firm that I felt I could easily work in and would be excited and proud to work in. It was also important for me that the firm had a good reputation, both professionally and also with clients.”
Seek advice from a specialist
If you’re looking for your first paralegal position or thinking about taking your next step, the assistance and advice of a specialist recruiter can really make the difference. Family paralegal jobs, especially those that develop into training contracts, are often quite rare and sometimes, are not advertised publicly. Having someone who is well-connected within the family market can help you to connect with excellent law firms you might not otherwise have heard of or considered. After I helped Amber secure her role with Gorvins, she explained how working with a recruiter helped her in her job search:
“Working with a recruiter opens more doors as I am aware some firms only work with recruiters to ensure the calibre of candidates matches their expectations. It took the stress out of my job search as effectively Paula’s contacted the firms she thought would be interested in me and I would be interested in - it was tailored and personal to me.”
Want to learn more about securing a family paralegal job or training contract?
At Realm, I specialise in recruiting family lawyers across Manchester, Cheshire, the wider North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands. For a confidential chat about your career and to discuss your options, please get in touch with Paula on 03300 245 606 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, take a look at our latest family and childcare vacancies.