Caitlin Pearson is a paralegal at elite law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, she kindly shared her path to a legal career, what she gets up to on an average day and key advice for aspiring legal professionals.
I am a northern girl who grew up in a working-class family and went to a state school. I have always had big dreams however they were paused when I failed my AS levels. I chose to move to a different college to study new subjects. After a few months, I started to increasingly enjoy it and of all things tort was my favourite.
I didn’t really know what I wanted to be at that time, but I knew I liked the subject. I kept at it and decided I would study Law at university.
My university course was an integrated master's in law and in second year we were offered the option of applying to do the BPTC. My knowledge of barristers was minuscule. I thought that they were all posh, rich old men, all of which I was not. I thought why not try and apply for the course, after all you can't win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
I applied, passed the BCAT exam and was offered a space on the course. My course now meant that I could come out of University at 22 with a master's in law and the bar professional training course under my belt.
As soon as I started the course, the reading hit me like a ton of bricks. I would go to university for 7:30am and I would be the last one out most days, often showering at Uni and even being locked in on one occasion. I wanted to break the idea I had in my head and become a barrister, I believed I would make it despite my background and my Geordie accent!
After completing my qualifying sessions, it was clear that I was wrong about barristers. They are a diverse workforce made up of people from all backgrounds. I met QC's who were humble and down to earth, they want young people like me to succeed and are willing to help us in any way they can. As I progressed through my studies becoming a barrister became more real and more achievable. So I set out to do it.
Following my studies, I worked at Norton Rose Fulbright (NRF) as a paralegal and my knowledge only grew. I wanted to continue on my journey so decided to try and make my way into the London legal world. From NRF, I decided to apply to Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) and aim to secure pupillage after working in the legal world for a little bit longer.
I was welcomed at HSF with open arms, it was obvious that my team were experts in their field. The disputes team is vast and within it are an array of great people with many specialities. I would absolutely recommend working at HSF to others looking to make their way into the legal profession.
I have been exposed to complex and high value disputes and have been trusted with important work. This is a firm that values every single member and encourages you to achieve your potential. At HSF, although I entered as a paralegal there is no 'looking down' on you, I am the only paralegal on my workstream, and my thoughts and ideas are treated the same as the rest of the team.
Finally, working at HSF I know I am making a difference and my voice is being heard, I couldn’t ask any more of a law firm.
An overview of a day at Herbert Smith Freehills
9:30am – start work – calls with client and internal team members to catch up and reconsider stance/proposed action etc.
10:30-5:30 – various tasks working in disputes – currently working on a lengthy civil dispute which is highly sensitive and complex. Often get associates requesting me to complete different tasks through the day and will complete these as and when requested.
People are keen for you to log off at 5:30 and you are never pressured to stay for longer which I love.
Top tips for aspiring legal professionals
Have confidence in yourself, if you don’t believe you can do it a panel of barristers who are looking to give you a job aren’t going to believe you can either! Just remember how far you have come and you CAN DO IT
Don’t lose sight of the end goal, stay involved in current affairs, read, have your CV in mind and build on it. Always look for opportunities that you can get involved in.
Other jobs are also so important, don’t lose faith if it takes you a while to get where you want. Everyone is on their own journey and you will make it. Remember it was the tortoise that won the race, don’t put too much pressure on yourself or expect to land your dream job immediately.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone, try new things and just go for it. Network with people and don’t feel 'daft'. I always remember being at a really fancy dinner with barristers and not knowing which fork to use (there were so many forks) , and I was sitting next to the master of the bench. I chatted to some of the barristers and we ended up deep in conversation about magic, remember they are just ordinary people like you and I, they aren’t judging you. Network and you will be surprised what you discover.
Heard of Herbert Smith Freehills and want to learn more about their recruitment process? Take a look at this practice test they utilise and get a head start on other candidates.