Bongai Mutema - Trainee Solicitor - Local Government
Trainee Solicitor at Local Government
I was born and raised in Zimbabwe and I studied my law degree in South Africa. I moved to the UK in 2010 to join my family with great aspirations of becoming a solicitor in record time. I assumed that because l had already obtained a law degree, my path to qualifying would be smooth. After a few months of being in the country it soon became very clear to me that this was not going to be the case.
The reality was that a career in law was hard enough even for the person who had studied in the UK and had some work experience. I remember considering my position against this reality and feeling a sense of defeat. If you are a foreign student or someone who has moved to the UK and you have a passion for a law career, l hope that in reading this article you will feel greatly encouraged because there is a place for you somewhere in the legal profession if you do not give up. In the first year of living in the UK, l remember making a huge effort in putting myself out there. I talked to many people and asked lots of questions about the law profession. I worked as a paralegal for a law firm for a year and learned a lot, but could not achieve any professional growth without pursuing further studies. l realised that l was required to do an entire year of the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) with no exemptions and thereafter the Legal Practice Course. I thought about how l was going to pay for it all. Mum and dad had already paid for my university education in South Africa and I had made up my mind that I wasn’t going to ask for their help again. I felt stuck and almost unworthy of a law career in the UK.
"While legal work experience is always highly recommended, l believe all work experience is important...even non-legal jobs can provide a unique opportunity that can be later used as an advantage when applying for legal jobs."
In the Spring of 2013, I summoned up the courage and made my application to do the GDL. I found a part-time job which made it possible for me to pay for my tuition as a full-time student, and had no choice but to stay and live at home with my parents. That helped, as I didn’t have to pay anything for my accommodation. When l completed my GDL, l enrolled on the LPC and did the same thing all over again; working while studying full-time. This was not easy, but it had to be done.
While legal work experience is always highly recommended, l believe all work experience is important. I worked as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities and l also worked as a healthcare worker with patients in a mental health hospital. These experiences might seem far removed from a career in law, but they opened my eyes to areas of law that l wouldn’t have otherwise chosen. I have now become passionate about Mental Capacity and Mental Health law as a result of my work experience. I have learned that even non-legal jobs can provide a unique opportunity that can be later used as an advantage when applying for legal jobs.
Throughout my academic years, it never crossed my mind to apply for in-house jobs. I was focused on a career in private practice because that is all l knew. I do not recall there being much emphasis on in-house law careers at law school. I have since learned that it is important to be open minded about the legal profession. It is not a one-way street or a one size fits all. There are many opportunities far and wide, but this requires doing a little bit more research and taking time to explore the profession. Investing in working relationships and attending networking events is crucial because, while google is helpful, there is nothing as good as talking to someone who is exactly where you want to be.
"The day l was offered a training contract is one l will never forget. The joy and excitement l felt made me realise that there are some things that are worth fighting for."
l made many applications for training contracts, but l was invited to only a few interviews. My inbox is full of regret emails and l am sometimes tempted to put them in a separate folder to remind myself of the journey. I recall the many times l sat myself down and said, ‘it’s time to give up now’. But determination would show up again and again giving me the strength to carry on. The day l was offered a training contract is one l will never forget. The joy and excitement l felt made me realise that there are some things that are worth fighting for. I am now almost at the end of my training contract and l cannot wait for that day when l will be admitted as a solicitor.
I have a simple top tip. Do not give up. If you give up, you will never know what it feels like to become a solicitor.