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Kelly is a senior associate based in Birmingham. She talks about secondments, qualifying, and working as the parent of a child with neurodiversity.
When I first went on secondment it was supposed to be for a period of six months, but at the end of that time I felt I was still learning a huge amount about a new sector and was very keen to stay on a little longer. I was very pleased to be offered an extension as maternity cover, so I could continue to build on my growing knowledge and relationships. Working in a different industry has hugely built my confidence levels, and I think that anyone with the chance of a secondment should take it. It’s fast tracked my knowledge and experience so that when I do finally return to Mills & Reeve, I’ll be able to use everything I’ve learned, and share that knowledge with my wider team.
I started at Mills & Reeve as a legal secretary in the residential property team, and ended up working as more of a paralegal in the process. I'd dabbled in the CILEX route over the years, but life had gotten in the way. It was only really when I joined the insurance team, which was after I came back from maternity leave with my eldest child, that I was able to sit my exams and qualify as a chartered legal executive. So, it was quite a long route for me and probably took about 12 years, but that enabled me to have a life and get married and raise two children in that time. I think juggling all of that did gave me a lot of the skills that I still use today in terms of managing and juggling work and home life.
Back then there was still quite a wide gap between legal executives and solicitors salary and career progression wise. I decided, in my infinite wisdom, to go back to university at the age of 36 and studied my degree and the LPC part time over two years, and have now qualified as a solicitor.
Be aware that it’s not necessarily an easy route, and it will be challenging. There will be limits on your time as you’re working alongside your studies. It’s worth it in the end though, and you qualify with a lot of knowledge that you don’t necessarily have if you join as a trainee straight out of university. Cost wise, it’s not necessarily cheaper, but because the costs are spread out over the years and you do it alongside earning a salary, it has less of an impact. This route was really beneficial for me. I don’t think I'd be where I am now if I had taken the traditional route.
It’s been incredibly challenging, particularly as my eldest was only diagnosed at the age of seven. Getting that diagnosis halfway through his childhood and all the behavioural challenges we faced with him was really hard.
There were times when I'd come into the office and absolutely fall apart in the kitchen because trying to get him to school in the mornings was just so challenging as he was really struggling and was quite volatile as a result. In some ways, once I got over the mini morning breakdowns (which happened fairly regularly), work was a bit of a distraction for me. I could come in and put all that to one side and just be me, and just deal with work problems.
I think once you get the support in place, and find the right people, and all the knowledge you build going through experiences like that, you can deal with things better. We still have challenging days, but they're less frequent and fewer and far between now.
Speaking about my situation has really helped me. Once I started speaking about it and sharing my experiences with people in the firm, I had a lot of people contact me privately saying that they were going through something similar, or were having challenges. That makes you feel like you're not alone.
Being a parent and carer, it’s critical to work at a place where it's understood. At Mills & Reeve, it’s not just understood, there is a real willingness for people to help you. Often, there’s not a lot people at work can do, but even just having someone to talk to, and a team that care and check you’re ok, can be a very positive experience. It’s true that a problem shared is a problem halved.
I genuinely wouldn’t have been able to qualify or continue working full time without the support of the firm and my team, it really can’t be understated! They’ve been fantastic and recognise that I need that flexibility to sort the school run, or be at home in time for my eldest to get dropped off in the afternoons. Even if I’m in the office I know I can dash off to be home for him, and then log back in later to ensure I meet my hours.
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