Using CILEx to develop a career in your 30s and 40s – Sarah Woolnough

I started off as an office junior in a law firm in Faversham as part of a youth training course, having left school with GCSEs. I attended the firm for four days and college for another day. At the end of the course I was taken on as a junior legal secretary and over the years, and a couple of moves, I worked my way up to being secretary to one of the partners at Furley Page in Canterbury.

I learned about the CILEx route through colleagues, and I enrolled at the age of 34. I had been married for a couple of years (no children) and decided I needed “something more” as I had a long working life ahead of me. My husband and family encouraged me to give it a go as did Furleys, who agreed to fund the courses for me, and I thought I would try it and see.

After I passed my Level 3 qualification I worked as half a secretary and half a fee earner trying to maintain support to the partner as his secretary and build my fee earner status and take on more client work. I needed to find time to balance my studies with my personal life to still make time for my husband, family and godchildren and so I studied for an hour each day before work and during the lunch break and then most weekends for a part of it.

I am now about to achieve Fellowship, and am a full-time fee earner. I already have my own client base of property litigation matters and deal with everything from taking the initial instructions to instructing counsel, attending court to represent the clients where necessary, attending meetings with clients and counsel and dealing with all correspondence with other parties and third parties for my clients.

I generally found the experience of studying with CILEx fine. The support from the tutors for each unit was excellent as there were many times they came to my aid when I was struggling. I also think the revision courses are invaluable and cannot stress enough to students that they should attend them even if they haven’t quite finished the course. I firmly believe it was those sessions that got me through the exams as they focused on the key points and how to remember things and put into context issues that I had previously struggled with.

I think that CILEx should promote itself for the “normal” people: people like me who didn’t particularly excel at school and didn’t want, or have the ability, to go to uni. It is an avenue into a profession that many think is inaccessible or you have to be “posh and with money and gone to uni” to get into it. I am living proof that that is not the case. I think it caters for people who later in life decide they want more. I didn’t think I could do it, but I did. I definitely recommend it as it has given me the chance to have a career rather than a job. Yes it is hard work and yes you have to put in the time but I met people on the revision days who have husbands, children, parents they care for, pets etc and a full time job and that shows that it is possible to do it and get good marks and ultimately have a great job as well.