Career in law: routes to qualification

With A level and GCSE results announced last week as a student, you might be considering your options and a future career in law. Abigail Sclanders, a member of Moore Barlow’s Private Wealth team, explains her career progression, from student life to becoming a qualified Chartered Legal Executive.

Abigail Sclanders explains her experience training at Moore Barlow.

I am part of the Private Wealth team at Moore Barlow, and last week I qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive. I have been on quite a journey to get to where I am today and I wanted to share my story to hopefully inspire others who are already on this journey and those considering a career in law.

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a lawyer. When I left Sixth Form, I chose to go straight into work rather than go to university because I didn’t know for sure what I wanted to do, and I felt I needed more time to figure that out!

What made you choose law?

My first job at 18 was as an administrative assistant in a law firm and it was this job that inspired me to pursue law as a career. From my very first day there, I was fascinated by the people I met and the work I could see going on around me.

I went on to work as a legal secretary for several years which gave me valuable experience of how law firms operate day to day. When I was 23, after five years of working in law firms, I started studying for the qualification that would allow me to qualify as a Legal Executive (CILEx).

CILEx route

Initially I didn’t know there were other routes to becoming a lawyer aside from the classic law degree route. I was fortunate to meet a paralegal at my first firm who was studying for her CILEx exams alongside her job and she took the time to talk to me about what she was doing and gave me an insight into the different options available to aspiring lawyers. When I decided I would like to take my legal career further, I knew this was the route for me.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) offer “unparalleled” access to flexible careers in law and are one of the three core approved regulators of the legal profession alongside barristers and solicitors.

The study stage of the CILEx qualification is done primarily by distance learning, which for me was perfect as I could carry on working and gaining real life experience while I was studying. I also had a mortgage to pay so I needed to keep earning! Studying via distance learning taught me valuable lessons in time management and discipline, although it was tough at times to prioritise the studying during my evenings and weekends and sacrifice other plans!

If you don’t have a university degree and want to study part time alongside your current job, or are looking for a flexible way to qualify, CILEx could be for you.

As I did not have a relevant degree I had to start from the very beginning of the CILEx route. The introductory stage involved exams in all core subjects, plus some that I could choose myself. This stage took me two years to complete and I then had a break for a year before moving onto the second stage which is equivalent to a law degree.

At this point, I began to take on more responsibility at work by moving to a paralegal role. I knew that when I had completed the exams I would need to produce a work based learning portfolio in order to fully qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive and it is not possible to meet the required outcomes unless your job role includes work of a legal nature rather than an administrative nature. I really enjoyed taking this step up as it gave me my first taste of taking responsibility for my own work and allowed me to challenge myself a lot more.

The second stage of exams took me a further two years to complete and these ones were really tough! I knew that I wanted to specialise in Private Client work and therefore, my studies were geared primarily towards this, but I still had to take exams in other subjects as well. The feeling when I found out I had passed the final exams was incredible! I was now only one step away from the full qualification and I could start putting together my portfolio.

Completing the work based learning portfolio was the toughest stage of the process for me but at the same time it was the most rewarding because I knew that the work I was doing every day was counting towards my qualification. I was lucky to have a very supportive supervisor who put her faith in me when I needed to take on some more complex work in order to meet some of the outcomes.

This stage of the process also took me a lot longer than planned as I took some time out of work to have a baby, and then eight months after I returned from maternity leave we went into lockdown and I found myself juggling working, parenting and trying to finish my portfolio! I do feel very proud to have achieved my career goals as well as being a working parent, and I hope I have shown that anything is possible if you are prepared to work hard.

I had some bumps in the road along the way and I would never pretend that this process was easy but when I finally finished the portfolio and reached the end of the journey, the relief was overwhelming. I could finally start to get excited about the future and what comes next for me.

I hope that my story will inspire others like me who want a career in law but are looking for a more flexible route to qualification that can fit around both work and personal life. My journey took nine years in total but having reached the end I can honestly say it is worth it!

Partner in the Private Wealth Team, Alison Lloyd, Abigail’s supervising partner had this to say about Abigail:

“It has been a pleasure to supervise Abi and I am delighted that she has qualified after all the hard work and dedication she has shown over the years. Abi promises to be a successful lawyer and her future with the firm is bright. She uses her initiative, forges good working relationships with clients and colleagues alike and will be nothing but an asset to the Private Wealth team.”

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