I first entertained a career in the ‘law’ after a teacher at my very rough secondary comprehensive school told me that I should be a Barrister because I was good at arguing. Looking back, I’m less convinced that this was conventional careers advice, and more a nice way of being told off!
It did set off a train of thought though, about what I could do after I finished school. I started looking into the legal profession and what it would take to pursue a career like this, but it looked like a career that was beyond both my means and my own belief in my abilities. No-one in my family had been to university before, let alone studied for a law degree. So I decided that I would wait and see how I fared with both my GCSEs and A-Levels, then think about this again.
It was during my A-Levels, and with the help of the fantastic tutors at my then rather nice sixth form college at the posh end of town, that I started to look into applying to a university to do a law degree. After a happy conversation with my parents which confirmed that, if I did well with my exams, I would be “allowed” to carry on my studies and go to university because I was going to do something respectable like law, I began to look through all the shiny prospectuses for universities offering places for a law degree. It was not the era of the internet in 1990!
After another hard negotiation with my parents (the start of a recurrent theme with most of my major life decisions as I discovered), as to which universities I would apply to, my compromise was to choose one that was relatively close to home. The choice was pretty impressive, but a campus university setting really appealed to me, and Lancaster shone out amongst all the glossy prospectuses that I had shortlisted. It was also set in a lovely location, and I knew from my first visit that I would feel quite at ease studying there. Decision made.
I chose to study a straight 3 year law degree at Lancaster. No frills or other fuss. Partly because I was a bit jaded with the hard parental negotiations involved in doing anything else at this point. Partly because by then I had mapped out my trajectory towards becoming a qualified solicitor, and the 6 years involved with achieving that seemed like forever to the 17 year old me. I did have a brilliant 3 years at Lancaster, and 3 of my dearest and closest friends are the lovely people I met while doing my law degree at Lancaster.
After graduating in 1994, I completed my Legal Practice Course (LPC) at Chester College of Law. I then spent a year working part time to earn money, volunteering for the Citizens Advice Bureau to put into practice everything I had learnt over the last 4 years, and continuing to look for a training contract. The latter had become quite sparse by this time.
Whilst I was at the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Bureau Solicitor introduced me to his former training principal who ran a small practice in St Anne’s-On-Sea, near Blackpool. I was offered a training contract with the firm, where I did a mix of legal work in family, civil litigation, conveyancing and criminal law. I qualified as a solicitor in 1998. During my training seats I had really enjoyed civil litigation, and an opportunity came up to do just this for another firm in Blackpool. This was roughly at the time when the new Civil Procedure Rules were introduced in 1999, which levelled the playing field so far as a newly qualified solicitor like me was concerned, and I became really good at doing personal injury work. This then led to my first proper move away from ‘home’, after less of a parental negotiation and what I would say was more of a fait accompli on my part as I had landed a job - in a niche firm specialising in motor cycle personal injury work - in London. There followed another fantastic period where I learnt a lot and honed my litigation skills, which ultimately led to my applying to work for the government. I joined what was then the Treasury Solicitor’s Department in 2004 to do more personal injury litigation, other private law work and some really interesting inquest work involving more public law and human rights issues.
Around that time, I also faced a decision on staying in London/the South and settling down with a huge mortgage, or, coming back home to the North West and buying a house to settle down closer to family. Ultimately, my husband and I decided we would return to our roots in the North West.
One of the great things about having a legal career within government is that lawyers can move between departments. I was able to move to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) Solicitor’s Office who have a presence in Manchester, where I have been working since 2006. Since this time, I have done the most amazing and varied legal work in disciplines that I never thought I would have the opportunity to experience. This has included VAT and Duties Litigation, Employment and Personal Injury advisory and litigation work and Commercial advisory work. I have also had the opportunity to go and lead a Policy and Best Practice team on secondment with our HMRC Commercial Directorate. In my current role based in Manchester, I am working in the Commercial legal team where I also have management responsibilities leading a mini-team of lawyers.
I would thoroughly recommend a legal career within government. It provides a diverse legal career, with the opportunity to move between legal disciplines and departments. My best experience as a lawyer in government has been the privilege of experiencing litigation at all levels, to include cases before the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice.
Not bad for a girl who was told she was good at arguing.
To find out more about the work of government lawyers, please visit: www.gov.uk/glp