Routes into Law

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The legal profession is steeped in history and has been criticised in recent years for failing to adapt its qualification process to modern times. This, however, is changing.

The ‘traditional’ route of A-levels, degree, legal practice course, practical skills course and training contract is adapting, slowly.

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) has planned and implemented the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which enables candidates to achieve qualification without having to compete for a training contract.

In 2018/19, 25,575 students left university with a law degree with only 6,344 training contract spots available. This shows how truly difficult it is to obtain a training contract in any given year.

Ashtons Legal provides a number of paths to qualification outside the training contract and has done so for a number of years. Whilst we support the traditional route, qualification shouldn’t be a “one size fits all” and there are several options available.

At Ashtons we consider ourselves to be ahead of the trend in this respect which is one of many reasons we have been an Employer of Choice for many years.

To help those considering a career in the law, we have interviewed some of our lawyers to find out what path they took and what they would do if they were considering a legal career within the modern world.

Sarah-Jane Legge, Apprentice Solicitor

What was your path into the law?

I am doing the Solicitor Apprenticeship which is a six-year-long course. It comprises a four-year part-time degree (LLB in Legal Practice) and writing the two-year SQE (Solicitors Qualifying Examination). The apprenticeship combines working whilst studying and so I work four days a week and use the other day for study. The apprenticeship also enables me to build my practical experience over six years.

What did you like about it?

It might sound like I’m a glutton for punishment but I’ve really enjoyed working and studying at the same time! It’s been tough and I’ve had to devote a lot of evenings and weekends to studying but it’s been really interesting being able to put what I’m studying into practice at work. I’m really glad I opted for the Solicitor Apprenticeship over the GDL as I discovered I really like the academic side of law which I don’t think I would have had time to explore on the GDL.

What would you do, if anything, differently?

I do sometimes think about where I might have been in my career now if I had chosen to study law at university rather than languages when I first left school (I could have been three years PQE!) but honestly I wouldn’t change anything because I’m thoroughly enjoying the apprenticeship, and once I do qualify, I’ll have six years’ worth of experience behind me.

How has Ashtons supported your route to law?

Ashtons have been incredibly supportive right from the beginning when I expressed an interest in becoming a solicitor (I started at the firm as a legal secretary). In fact, it was Ashtons who suggested I should do the Solicitor Apprenticeship and had me enrolled on it in the space of about a month! They also fund the majority of the Apprenticeship fees.

Chris Cumberbatch, Senior Associate

What was your path to law?

My path to law was a little unusual. While like many others I did a law degree, the LPC and a training contract (City of London) in order to qualify as a solicitor, that’s not the whole picture. This period was spread out and interspersed with a number of paralegal positions, both in London and overseas. Moreover, my degree was not a regular LLB; having chosen to study at SOAS (the School of Oriental and African studies) while my core subjects were in English law, all of my optional subjects were on foreign legal systems including those of China and Southern Africa as well as Islamic and some customary laws of South Asia.

What did you like about it?

It is perhaps no surprise then that I spent time overseas as a paralegal, in France and Belgium at foreign law firms but also at the European Commission, learning about the European Development Fund and its work throughout the developing world. The time I spent there definitely influenced the part of my legal career that is voluntary, having now reached my thirteenth year as a trustee at the Ipswich and Suffolk for Racial Equality, (ISCRE). The international elements of my study also shaped my career progression. When I came to Suffolk I had the opportunity to develop a cross border private client practice, principally working with French property lawyers, but also for a number of clients in other jurisdictions dealing with the complexities of their estate planning in a cross-border world.

What would you do, if anything, differently?

I am currently finishing a research Masters in law at UEA, and if I had my time again I would perhaps have done this much sooner, as I have discovered the joys of the academic side of the profession, which I feel adds value to my client offering and widens my perspective on the law as a whole. This has also given me the opportunity to do occasional “guest-lecturing” in probate law at the University of Suffolk in Ipswich.

How has Ashtons supported your route to law?

Ashtons Legal have been supportive throughout both in enabling me to guest lecture and to provide pro bono advice at the Wills and Elder Care Clinic of Suffolk Law Centre (which we formed at ISCRE a couple of years ago) and latterly Citizens Advice, where I have been working on their web pages covering Wills and Probate. So long as I deliver for my clients, the flexible practices at Ashtons have enabled me to add variety to my working life and hopefully will keep me busy for many years to come.

Janette Wand, Senior Associate

What was your path to law?

It was a long path! I got a BSc degree in Maths and then worked in Zimbabwe for two years as a Maths and Science teacher through a Voluntary Service Overseas placement. When I came home I got a temp job as a legal secretary with a firm in Thetford (sadly, not Ashtons Legal!) I realised I enjoyed working in law but I was not confident enough to do the GDL at that point. I started the CILEx route and finished the Level 3 and Level 6 exams. I then did the GDL (rather than continuing on the CILEx cross-qualification route). After finishing the LPC and an 18-month training contract, I eventually qualified as a solicitor aged 34, with nine years of work experience in law under my belt.

What did you like about it?

My path to law has adapted to my life at every stage.

What would you do, if anything, differently?

Difficult question – everything and nothing!

How has Ashtons Legal supported your route to law?

Ashtons Legal looked at me as an individual and valued the life experience that I brought with me. They have also supported me through additional qualifications which are specific to Lifetime Planning, the department in which I work.

Careers at Ashtons

At Ashtons Legal, we know that we would not be successful without an engaged and inspired workforce.

We are always on the lookout for people who will add value to our business – whether you are a lawyer or a member of our support teams – and once you’re here, you can be certain we will invest in you.

We are a firm that is proud to support many employee founded groups such as the Diversity and Inclusion group and the Health and Wellbeing group. We are also an official Endometriosis Friendly Employer.

For us, it is not just about having a job – it is about having a career. Which is where you come in.

If you are enthusiastic, driven, compassionate and an expert in what you do we’d love to hear from you.

Visit our Careers section now to see what opportunities we have available.


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