I am very proud to be part of the Team of Supervisors at National Legal Service. Each of the Supervisors at NLS are Solicitors with the relevant accreditations and years of experience required by the Legal Aid Agency to supervise a team of case workers or a branch office. I have the pleasure of supervising the Liverpool branch. However, I’m not a Solicitor. I am very proud to be a Chartered Legal Executive.
Have you ever heard of the saying, “education is wasted on the youth”? Well, I was far too eager to be independent and earn an income from the age of 16. I worked in a shoe shop during the later years of high school and when I commenced my A Levels. However, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life and the eagerness to become independent saw me taking up more shifts in the shoe shop. That was when my parents realised I was not focusing on my further education. In a badly thought out plan to try and persuade me to focus on my education, my parents told me, “get your head down and study or you’ll have to get a full time job and contribute to this household like a grown up”. I got a full time job.
I started work for a local firm of Solicitors, covering reception, faxing, typing and watching. I did a lot of watching and listening. I would listen to the Solicitors speaking with clients and talking to Barristers. I’d absorb every piece of information and advice I would transcribe for the Solicitors. I would go to Court to make notes and carry files of papers as the Barrister’s in Court put our client’s case to the Judge. And I watched, and I listened and I absorbed.
I had achieved the independence I sought. Ambition kicked in. I’m not sure if I ever thought at that time, one day I would be the one putting legal arguments to a Judge in a Court room. Suddenly further education appealed to my ambition.
I studied for four years whilst working full time. I enrolled with the Institute of Chartered Legal Executives (CILEX), found a fantastic Tutor and selected my areas of specialism to study. That’s the main difference between studying your law degree and Legal Practice Course to become a Solicitor, with CILEX you select core subjects to focus on. I continued to work full time and was able to use the knowledge I gained from watching and listening to obtain distinctions in my exams. Much like with Solicitors, after completing all your exams there is a requirement to complete a minimum number of years’ experience in law before fully qualifying as a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives. I qualified in 2009 and received my practicing certificate whilst working at the same firm I had watched and listened at from the age of 16.
After becoming a Chartered Legal Executive many people asked me, “so how long until you’re a Solicitor?”. More than once it was suggested that I would never be seen as an equal to my colleagues who had the title of Solicitor on their business cards. I discovered my next challenge.
I would have to strive to be the best. I focused my attention on legal aid work. I was the one colleagues would come to when they struggled with the concept of the statutory charge, or establishing which clients would be eligible for legal aid. I became passionate about representing the most vulnerable in our society. It became clear my career was taking me on a path of representing victims of domestic violence.
In 2016 I began work at a High Street practice where there were just two Directors. One Solicitor and one Chartered Legal Executive. Equality. The Directors didn’t place a ceiling on my career goals and I was supported to achieve my accreditation. The piece of the puzzle that would see me meet the requirements to become a Supervisor to manage my own team. It remains the highlight of my career to have achieved the Law Society’s Family Law Advanced Accreditation as a specialist in Domestic Violence in the Home and Private Law Children Matters.
I flew the nest of my High Street firm and joined National Legal Service in 2018. The largest legal aid provider for Non-Molestation applications. I joined at Supervisor level. The first Supervising Chartered Legal Executive at National Legal Service. I spend my working days representing the interests of and securing protection for victims of domestic violence. I am able to focus my work on my areas of specialism, domestic abuse and children disputes. I spend most days in Court putting my client’s case to the Judge. I’m not the one carrying the files any more (not least because we don’t have paper files anymore!). One of my most important roles now is being the one to pass on knowledge. To be the one from whom other team mates can learn.
Only once have I been questioned as to how I am able to Supervise a Branch office and it was in the most complimentary of ways. One of my colleagues who was also studying CILEX called me from Head Office. He asked, “but how can you have your own office, you’re only a Legal Executive”. I responded with what I would say to any student or qualified Chartered Legal Executive, strive to be the best, hone your skills and secure additional accreditations. Most importantly when the Judge or a colleague refers to you as a Solicitor, correct them proudly, “I’m a Chartered Legal Executive”.