From working as a forensic psychologist in a prison, to becoming a solicitor specialising in construction law, ULaw Alumna Chrissie Parkes discusses her journey into law and the lessons she has learned along the way.
I didn’t always know I wanted to be a lawyer. I began my professional life as a forensic psychologist working in a prison. Having studied a BSc in Psychology with Criminology, followed by an MSc in Forensic Psychology, I always thought I was destined to be a psychologist. Whilst working in the community with dangerous and severe personality disordered individuals I realised that, although I was in love with psychology as a topic, I was not in love with being a psychologist. However, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to ‘be’ instead.
I became a personal assistant, followed by a communications manager, an events manager, a hairstylist and I even ran my own pizza business. As the years went by, I concentrated on my family, raising four beautiful children, whilst in the back of my mind wondering when, if ever, I would work out what my professional calling was.
At 32, I was suddenly thrown into a legal dispute that I was emotionally and mentally unprepared for. It was, and is to date, the worst experience of my life. Being thrown into the world of law, of which I had no knowledge, and having to fight for my rights on seemingly foreign ground, caused constant anxiety. I was lucky enough to have the most incredible solicitor fighting my corner. She was calm but strong, knowledgeable, empathetic, and always there for me when I was panicking. She was my rock and an absolute inspiration. I would go to her office feeling terrified, anxious and like the world was crumbling beneath my feet and would leave feeling reassured and confident that I was safe in her capable hands.
Towards the end of the dispute, I attended an education fair run by my husband for his fellow soldiers and their families. At that point I had decided that, as I was doing well as a hairstylist, I may as well look into further courses to enhance my portfolio I picked up a brochure and as soon as I turned to the page on law, I had a lightbulb moment.
With law you are presented with a problem, and not only is there a process to help clients, but solutions in legislation and case law. I thought of my solicitor who had guided me through an awful situation and realised that was exactly who I wanted to be. I could help people with a problem and provide tangible solutions. I was sold.
ULaw offered the most flexible and affordable option for me. I had already completed higher education, so I was able to do the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which was ideal for me. I was on the other side of 30 and didn’t want a degree dragging me closer to 40, before I could complete the Law Practice Course (LPC) and qualify as a solicitor. The courses offered by ULaw allowed me to continue with life and with work whilst studying. Also, knowing that ULaw was committed to my success beyond completion of any course with them was definitely a huge deciding factor, and offered a safety net for this huge leap I was taking into a new career.
This commitment is such a unique feature to ULaw. Recognising that it is not just the course you do, but that it’s an entire journey, and ULaw are willing to support you on that journey. At that point, I’d studied at two universities and none of them offered support beyond the course; you were simply left to your own devices. In a career like law, you need all the support you can get to succeed beyond university.
I had initially entered law convinced that I wanted to be a family lawyer. I had grand plans that I wanted to effect change in family legislation, especially in terms of the rights of residential stepparents. However, during my studies, I developed a greater interest in litigation and dispute resolution. My goal for my professional career has always been to work in a role that helps people when they are at their most vulnerable. Litigation and dispute resolution allows you to do just that. Furthermore, this sector offers such a diverse range of issues you can assist clients with. As my studies continued, I learnt that being a litigator was much more suited to my previous experience and my personality.
As a trainee solicitor in the dispute resolution team, no day is the same. Here is just a snippet of the tasks I might perform on any given day:
- Preparing court bundles
- Taking new enquiries
- Meeting with clients
- Writing letters of advice to clients
- Writing and responding to the other side in a dispute
- Running and assisting with construction adjudications
- Attending court
- Contributing to discussions with my superiors as to how to deal with matters
- Presenting to the firm
- Delivering training sessions to clients (in person and via webinars)
- …and so much more.
I found my training contract by accident. I had gone to meet with a partner at Holmes & Hills to discuss getting any role whereby I could gain legal experience, so I would eventually be able to apply for a training contract. The partner I met with, who is now my boss, told me they were taking on trainee solicitors and that I should apply for that instead.
I would tell students hoping to get a training contract to apply for summer vacation schemes or general work experience programmes (which we offer at Holmes & Hills) and do as many as you can before securing a training contract. Firms use vacation schemes to actively look for future trainees. Even if you are unsuccessful at securing a training contract through a vacation scheme, it gives you invaluable work experience and a unique insight into the legal profession. Plus, it looks great on your CV. Other than that, network as much as possible. LinkedIn is a fantastic tool for that. I know many people who have gained employment through making the right connections on LinkedIn.
The tutors at The University of Law are always there to help you, even if your studies are online. Lateefah Wainwright is a tutor that particularly stands out to me. No problem is too big for Lateefah. She goes over and above her role and has taken time to reassure me when I was feeling stressed about the course and offered me solutions. She really is an asset to the University.
The LPC Online offers a level of flexibility that allows you to meet other commitments whilst studying. This was the only way for me to study. I have to work, I have to parent, there is no other way of me becoming a solicitor. There is obviously a level of commitment and organisation that is needed to do it all. However, with the flexibility of online study and working in an understanding and nurturing firm, I manage to get what I need done to meet the requirements of the course. The easier option would be not to work full-time; however, like many others, I can’t afford not to work ULaw’s unique commitment to life beyond study, as well as their flexible approach to learning, all contribute to helping anyone who wants to be a lawyer fulfil their goal. I could not have pursued a career in law without the methods of study that ULaw offers.
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