Breaking into Law
Hayley Collinson, Medical Negligence Solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, talks about how she got started in law and how young hopefuls can make their first steps into a professional career in the field of law.
1. What led to you becoming a solicitor?
I had a legal career in mind after I did a work experience placement at a local solicitors firm when I was 15. I then decided to take Law at A Level, along with History, English Language, English Literature and General Studies. I do not believe A Level Law is a pre requisite for a Law Degree but it helped me feel confident in my choice when I decided to choose a Law Degree over an English Degree.
I always felt that I was more suited to becoming a solicitor so after University I went on to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) at the College of Law.
2. What was the turning point in your career?
When I finished my LPC in July 2007, I started working as a conveyancing assistant at a firm in Leeds. It felt like a huge achievement at the time as it was difficult to gain a role without previous experience. At times, I did doubt whether I would secure the much needed Training Contract but everything worked out and I started as a Trainee Solicitor in April 2010. I worked at Neil Hudgell Solicitors as a Litigation Assistant in the clinical negligence department for a year before they gave me a Contract and it felt like all my hard work had finally paid off. It also enabled me to qualify into an area of law that I had a true interest in and at a firm I had already built up a relationship with.
3. What’s the most common misconception about what you do?
Clinical negligence lawyers can come under scrutiny in the press especially regarding payouts that are made by the NHS in clinical negligence claims in both compensation and legal costs. Often the statistics that are quoted fail to give any indication of the seriousness of the Claimant’s injury and the length of time the NHS has taken to make any admissions of negligence to settle the claim.
The term compensation culture also frustrates me, why should someone who has genuinely suffered injury and loss, be prevented from seeking compensation. When something goes wrong with medical treatment, it can often have a profound impact on the person concerned and their family.
4. What is the most interesting part of your job?
I like the variety of work clinical negligence offers. Reading medical records, carrying out research and obtaining medical reports on specialist medical issues is very interesting.
5. How can applicants stand out from the crowd?
I think non-legal work experience can be as important especially at the start of your career when you want to get your first legal role. I think working in retail or in a bar or restaurant etc demonstrates you are hard working and have good people skills. Do not be afraid to mention these in your application, alongside legal work experience placements.
6. Do you think there is a type of person suited to becoming a solicitor? What key skills do they need?
I believe for clinical negligence you need to be analytical and have good people skills but I do not think there is a specific type of “person” suited to becoming a solicitor. I am confident there is a firm and specialism suited to every prospective solicitor who has the drive to secure a Training Contract.
7. What is the most important piece of advice you can give to a law student/graduate?
Firstly I would say do not give up, it is not always easy to become a qualified solicitor given the number of graduates each year, so be prepared when you embark on your LPC that you may have to do a paralegal or assistant role before you secure a Training Contract. It is also not likely you will get the first Contract you apply for, just keep trying.
I would also recommend that Law Graduates start applying for Training Contracts the summer before they start their final year at University because some Contracts are advertised two years in advance. Work experience placements can also be a great way to secure a Contract.