Zoe Ledsham, trainee lawyer at Clyde & Co

admin / 27th Apr, 2016 / Success Stories


Q:What are you doing at the moment?


Right now I’m training in the commercial property team at Clyde & Co. LLP. I’ve been there for just over a year and I’m hoping to qualify at the end of this year. They’re funding the last stage of the process for me. They’re opening up the route for people without traditional legal qualifications, at the moment they’re taking on lots of legal apprentices across our UK offices and are training them up whilst they are studying their legal exams alongside the training. I’ve been quite lucky to be a part of that.

Q:What did you study at A-levels?


I studied English, History, German, French and Spanish. I think learning a language can be very useful in my field. I work for a lot of retailers and a couple of them are based in Spain. It’s nice to be able to speak to the client in their own language every now and again. I then went for one semester to do a languages course at university under immense pressure from my college but it really wasn’t the right fit for me. When I got there it just wasn’t what I wanted to do and it wasn’t something I was passionate enough about to spend 3 years of my life studying so I left and went straight into full time employment after that.

Q:Had you considered law in the past?


There was absolutely no law involved in the course I was meant to be taking at university. I had thought about doing law before but I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do when the time came to make my choices about courses at university and choosing a career path. When I was 18 I didn’t know what would be the right choice for me and as someone who had excelled in languages there was a real pressure that that was what I should go on to do next. I know that does make sense but it was never something I wanted to do long term, I enjoyed it but I didn’t want to make a career out of it.

Q:At what point did you decide law was what you wanted to do?


I actually had a friend who was working in a law firm, talking to her and hearing about the sort of cases she worked on really peaked my interest. I started looking into the different routes into law as I’d already been to university and didn’t want to spend 3 more years or more studying full time and not working, and that’s when I came across the CILEx route. It allowed me to work full time, study law and fund it myself (avoiding the large debts of university). It meant that I had to go to class after work and on the weekends but it was definitely worth it and I think this route really tests your commitment to your chosen career.


Q:A big part of the uni experience is the social life, how did you make up for that while working full time and attending classes?


At first it was quite difficult with a lot of my friends being away at university but I tried to see my friends the evenings I wasn’t studying and made sure I made the effort to get involved in the social side at work as well and met a lot of new people from different backgrounds. I went to visit my friends at their universities over weekends which was great fun but it is definitely hard managing your time when you’re studying and working. Now I’ve pretty much mastered it but at the beginning it was quite difficult to juggle everything. Half the battle is getting yourself motivated to do the work after a long day.

Q:When did you tell your parents you were thinking of dropping out of university?


I think it was about two months into arriving at uni. They were very supportive though. My parents went to uni later on in life as they had me when they were quite young so it wasn’t something I was really pushed towards. I was never driven down that route by my parents and I really appreciated that, it took a bit of the pressure off and meant I wasn’t afraid to talk to them about it when I was having doubts. I don’t think they really know what my job involves but they know that I really enjoy it and they are really supportive. Especially now I’ve gotten into an international law firm that I’ve always wanted to work for. Obviously moving from Liverpool to London was a big step for me and I think they’re quite proud, mainly because my mum loves to come and visit London!

Q:What will you do at the end of the programme?


When I qualify at the end of the year I’ll be a fully qualified solicitor and will be able to take on my own cases and have more of a managerial role rather than assisting with matters . I can take on more responsibility. It’ll be nice to have finally gotten to where I wanted to go. Taking this route means I’ll get to qualify a lot quicker than most of my friends and colleagues who have taken the traditional route and are struggling to find training contracts.

Q:Do you think that one term you did at university did anything to prepare you for work?


No, not at all. It was good for my independence and I suppose in that sense university is good for that and preparing you to stand on your own two feet. Practically though I don’t think I got anything from it at all. When I started working as a legal assistant in a small firm in Liverpool, even just a couple of months into that role I had learnt so many more skills that I was able to build upon and develop to get me to where I am now.

Q:Would you consider yourself quite academic?


Law is traditionally very academic and the exams I have to do are still all based on complex legal principles so I have to sit exams at the same level as those doing a law degree. I’d say I’m half academic but also really practical. I don’t think schools necessarily cater for those people who are academic but prefer learning in a more hands on and practical way.


Q:Did you know anything about apprenticeships before you started this qualification?


To be honest I hadn’t actually heard much about them before. At college we had meetings and things telling us vaguely that there were “other options” out there but there was never any other option apart from university to the teachers and you were strongly steered towards university. I didn’t know anything about apprenticeships at all. I thought apprenticeships were only available in the more manual jobs like construction and plumbing. I never thought that apprenticeships could exist for going into something like law – such a traditionally academic career path.

Q:How do you build up the confidence to be able to help your clients?


It’s definitely a case of practice and self-belief. When I first started out even talking to clients on the phone was quite nerve wracking. I used to think ‘oh God what are they going to ask me next’ and worry it would be beyond my capabilities. The more you talk to clients, get involved in the work, take responsibility for your own development and learning and the more upfront you are with people about what you do and don’t know it helps build a rapport with clients and it helps your confidence. Certainly now when I go into meetings with clients I’m a lot more confident and relaxed than I was when I started out at 20 – not to mention I know a lot more and I am more prepared as my training progresses.

Q:Do you think if schools informed their students more about what they can do apprenticeships in, there would be more law and accountancy apprentices in the world?


Definitely, particularly for law. They’re expanding the perimeters now to give people access to qualification as a solicitor where they have accrued a certain number of years in practice at a law firm when initially the only way you could qualify was by doing the two year training contract. Once you qualify as a Legal Executive through the CILEx route there is scope to do your LPC (Legal Practice Course – the final stage of vocational training) and you can automatically qualify as a solicitor once you complete it which is exactly what I have chosen to do. There are a staggering number of law graduates who are coming out of university looking for training contract places and there are so few available that many graduates spend years trying to get one and then have to spend a further two years in training in order to qualify and use their degrees. But the route has been altered now to allow more people who have worked in the law firm for several years and have the relevant practical skills and experience to qualify as solicitors despite not securing an elusive training contract. I think that’ll be a big factor for apprenticeships and if people knew more about that route it’d be something a lot more people should and would consider now uni fees are so high and training contract places are so difficult to find.

Q:If you could change one thing about how you got to where you are, what would it be?


I don’t think I would actually change anything. If I could take the debt from uni back that’d be great! But in seriousness, if I hadn’t gone to uni and made the decision that it wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t have been motivated to go out and look for an alternative. It was good to go to university because it settled confusions about what I definitely didn’t want to do and confirmed that I wanted to look for a different route into my career and it led me into law.


It allowed me to work full time and fund it myself, I had to go to class after work and on the weekends but it was definitely worth it.


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