Paralegal at Realty Law Ltd
Brief background on yourself (your educational background)
The secondary school I attended had extra facilities that were designed to assist students with invisible disabilities and learning difficulties such as dyslexia and autism spectrum disorders. I graduated with good GCSE results, and AS and A levels that weren’t remarkable but were enough to meet the UCAS requirements to start University the next year.
I studied Law with Spanish at Nottingham Trent University ("NTU") and graduated with a 2:2 degree. As the degree was a sandwich course, I also spent a year in Salamanca and studied the first year of the law degree at the University of Salamanca.
Following undergrad, I was searching for work to save money to self-fund the LPC, but I also looked to complete some other short courses to continue my academic development. I completed a short postgrad certificate with Coventry University, the IP Office and the British Library called the IP Masterclass.
I studied the LPC part time at De Montfort University over 2 years whilst working part time. I’m proud to say that I completed the course and achieved a Distinction!
Were you told about in-house when you were studying?
I don’t recall there being any in-house reps at any of the law fairs I attended at NTU – though this is now going back 11 years!
It was years after I graduated that I learned about in-house opportunities as I was still in contact with some classmates who had since gone on to secure jobs as in-house paralegals and legal assistants.
How did you find your in-house role?
I found my first in-house role at Birmingham City Council through a recruitment agency. I found my next in-house role at Openreach after perusing Totally Legal. A few days after applying I received a call from the manager of the agency that recruited Paralegals for Openreach. After a short phone conversation, I was offered the role and started a couple of weeks later.
What are the distinctive features going in-house?
Whilst working in both my in-house roles prior to my current role as a Paralegal in private practice, there would be only one ‘project’ that would be worked on – either wayleave agreements, or Equal Pay settlement agreements (COT3 agreements as ACAS were involved). Also in these roles, we only had one client, and that was the entity that we were recruited to do work on behalf of in the first place (BCC and BT).
In my new role where I am a Paralegal for Realty Law, I have learned that the firm has multiple clients and we are working on a much wider range of tasks in the commercial and residential property areas, along with Litigation tasks such as issuing claims in the County Court, requesting judgments and drafting notices demanding payment of outstanding monies. I am rapidly gaining a much wider grounding knowledge, moreso than my previous in-house roles. Though this is necessary as these clients come to us for a range of matters that they are looking for representation and assistance on, rather than just one project. The upside with in-house roles where you have only one project or client is that you slowly become ‘experts’ in that field, especially if that is all you do.
For instance, I and my colleagues at Openreach worked solely on wayleave agreements, which is just one of a number of varied tasks required of solicitors in private practice. Therefore it is inevitable that we would gain and develop more focused knowledge and understanding of this very niche area of Commercial Property law and become experts at this particular task.
"...by working in-house, I learned a great deal about the role of my colleagues in different teams and department..."
What you have learnt since going in-house?
In my in-house roles, I learned a great deal about the client company I worked for, including its position in the market that it is situated in, its competitors, its group-companies and partners, how it conducts business, and the part that I play in the process.
Take my role at Openreach – a service provider receives an order for service from a customer, but there’s no infrastructure to deliver that service. So the service provider approaches BT and BT via Openreach makes contact with the owner of the land, often a commercial landlord (including overseas) or its agents to enter into an agreement to grant engineers permission to encroach onto land and install the physical network so that the service provider can deliver the service ordered by the customer.
Also by working in-house, I learned a great deal about the role of my colleagues in different teams and departments, often in different locations in the country, and how we are all connected and come together to achieve our common goal to maintain and advance the interests of our employer.
If you have any private practice experience, how this has helped you work in-house?
I did not have any private practice roles before my in-house roles.
My new role in private practice is in commercial and residential property, an area in which I previously worked for 15 months. Due to my in-house work before this private practice role, I understand what a typical contractual agreement looks like and where to look for particular information needed. Even though it is not strictly a wayleave agreement, I still know what goes into a contractual document and can make an educated guess, thus saving time that would otherwise be spent traversing through a long document. I have also developed my attention to detail and being able to read through legal documents easily and be able to find whatever information I need quickly, such as whether a service charge is payable to the landlord or management company.
My in-house role required me to be a self-starter instead of just waiting around for new work to come in. If I had finished my required work for that day, I would review other outstanding work to see what could be done before that review date is due. In my private practice role, I am a self-starter, even this early into it. I am not yet at a high level of competency, but I know what I am able to do at this stage, so whenever there is a moment where I’ve finished one task, I can check my to do list and crack on at tasks that I know how to do at this point. I’m grateful that my manager says that she appreciates and admires this.
"...find and take as many opportunities as you can to expand your learning and development – short CPD courses, further in-house training to expand on your repertoire."
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to go in-house (top tips)?
Especially if your in-house role is a more specialist role than a generalist role, find and take as many opportunities as you can to expand your learning and development – short CPD courses, further in-house training to expand on your repertoire. Don’t forget that as an employee you are an agent of your employer, and it is expected that you convey the best that you can be and the best that the employer can be. No doubt your employer will see it as a huge positive that you are willing to learn more, to do more, and to further yourself as a professional.
"Don’t discount an in-house role as being an “easy way into law” – its not! It still demands your best efforts..."
If you then decide to make the move from in-house to private practice, the broader your life experiences are beforehand, the better. This could be by doing several in-house roles or tasks, or any non-legal work or volunteering before your current role. I coached the U14 Badminton team at school where I developed my leadership skills and was active in playing with them. I volunteered for the Witness Service and gained an understanding of the criminal justice system and an appreciation for the time and effort that solicitors and advocates invest into their job and their clients on little more than a shoestring budget. I am the Treasurer of the Wolverhampton and Black Country Junior Lawyers Division and this is giving me a greater insight about how to manage company funds including advising on whether a social activity can go ahead with the funds the Society has, how much we could set aside for marketing and advertisement and other events with partner firms, and how much we can invest back into the local community as part of CSR and charity initiatives.
Don’t discount an in-house role as being an “easy way into law” – its not! It still demands your best efforts, its still likely to be stressful at times, and its not always the easier option.
It helps to get as invested in the business as you can so that you fully learn and appreciate the business’s commercial goals and ambitions. This will give you a greater sense of the business’s position and what they are looking to achieve, and how you can tailor your work to advance the business’s interests as part of your role.
"I wish I had known that there were multiple ways towards qualification, and that in-house roles were also a viable option rather than solely being suggested to look at private practice roles."
What do you wish you had known?
I wish I had known that there were multiple ways towards qualification, and that in-house roles were also a viable option rather than solely being suggested to look at private practice roles.
Recently I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some peers who work at an established firm in Wolverhampton where they are taken on as Apprentice Solicitors and will qualify after 6 years of work and study with BPP. Apprenticeships were not even whispered about when I was starting my journey to enter the profession. I entered solely with the understanding that to become a solicitor, you need to obtain a training contract and that there are no other ways to realise this end goal.
The same can be said for Legal Executives. I am strongly considering qualifying via the CILEx route where I would be able to use my previous experience to put towards the qualifying employment requirement to earn Fellow membership of CILEx and cross-qualify to become an admitted solicitor.
What did you love about being in-house?
My in-house role gave me the chance to gain a greater appreciation of my other colleagues in different departments in Openreach, how their roles compliment the work that I and my team did, and learn not just about the legal and regulatory work that we had to work to but also about planning, surveying, engineering and the work that goes into that aspect before a matter lands on my desk.
It got to a point where I was able to confidently answer some simple planning questions based on what I had the chance to learn during my time at Openreach, and times where I was not able to answer confidently, I had no difficulty in liaising with planners and surveyors and learning even more on the job.
No doubt if my in-house role was anywhere else, I would have had the chance to learn more about that organisation. That’s the upside of working in-house where you can gain more focused knowledge that will undoubtedly assist with your role.
"My learning difficulty has meant that I have at times experienced some difficulty with understanding and interpreting certain pieces of information, especially new information and complex and abstract concepts."
Have you faced any challenges?
As someone who identifies as neurodivergent, there are obviously going to be more challenges to me in comparison to my neurotypical colleagues. I have Asperger Syndrome, which is a high functioning form of Autism, a learning, behavioural and developmental difficulty.
My learning difficulty has meant that I have at times experienced some difficulty with understanding and interpreting certain pieces of information, especially new information and complex and abstract concepts. It is not to say that I find it impossible, but I do benefit from that little bit more time, patience and understanding whilst I get my head around the information and fully understand what I am expected to do. From a social and behavioural aspect, it can mean there are times where I might not grasp certain social cues or codes or unwritten rules, not get certain jokes right away, might take some light-hearted workplace banter and natter more seriously than it was intended to be, and have some difficulty in connecting with people which can lead me to feeling isolated or ostracised from the rest of my colleagues.
Unfortunately, not every manager or workplace has been fully understanding or supportive of this, which has been very challenging and frustrating, often to the point of anxiety. It meant that I was either isolated or ostracised, or made an example out of simply because my colleagues did not understand how it affected me from an academic, working or social/behavioural aspect. I recall being threatened with dismissal at one role numerous times because management did not understand exactly how the difficulty affected me and that I was having difficulty with the work I was expected to do, regardless of how many questions I was asking. I was officially dismissed from another role where the reason was partly due to my difficulty – I was told that it was “taken into account”, but nothing further was said about it.
I am hoping in time that invisible difficulties such as Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, ADHD and others are understood better both for their challenges as well as their strengths and what neurodivergent workers can bring to their workplaces and how they can add value to the work and the company as a whole.
Aside from my learning difficulty, I do at times feel that I don’t know exactly what area of law I’d like to qualify into or work long-term in. I have had 20 months of experience in legal practice, almost all of that in-house, where I have done work in 3 very niche areas of employment law, real estate and litigation. I am still not decided, but I am taking advice and inspiration from my colleagues and my fellow committee members on the Wolverhampton and Black Country JLD and am looking for opportunities to have positive and constructive dialogue with persons in other fields, so that I can gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the work that my peers do in other areas of law.
"My intention is to inspire, encourage and add value to anyone with invisible difficulties and disabilities and to try and inform and educate others, including employers and colleagues, about the challenges that we face, our strengths and how we can put them to use..."
In the new year, I am looking to create a series of blogs and podcasts on neurodiversity in the workplace, including challenges that we can face, some personal stories, how I’ve overcome these challenges, my strengths and how I’ve found them and used them to my advantage, and how others who are experiencing similar difficulties can hopefully take some inspiration from me and use my knowledge to help them in their day-to-day working life. My intention is to inspire, encourage and add value to anyone with invisible difficulties and disabilities and to try and inform and educate others, including employers and colleagues, about the challenges that we face, our strengths and how we can put them to use for our employers and colleagues, and how to show a greater acceptance of those of us who aren’t typical but who still have a great deal to contribute to everyone that we come into contact with.
Any advice from anyone reading this on how to put together a successful series such as this would be most welcome and I’m happy to listen to all advice and information that can come my way.