From Trainee to Associate Solicitor, Bethan Williams discusses her career progression at Ellisons this International Women’s Day.
I attended the University of Southampton and obtained my Law LLB in 2012 which was 3 hours away from my family in Ipswich. I knew I wanted to work for a firm in Essex/Suffolk so I could remain close to home, so I decided against making Training Contract applications in my third year of university. I worked full time between terms, so I did not feel like I had obtained enough qualitative experience within any particular firm to make any substantive decisions on my future career. I worked hard to gain as much work experience as possible since deciding I wanted to read Law at university (year 9) but I hadn’t yet had a moment where I thought – “I would be happy spending my working career here”.
Following my Law degree, I took a financial risk and went straight on to do the LPC at Anglia Ruskin University (Cambridge) knowing that if I did not secure a Training Contract within 5 years, I would either have to retake the LPC or change my career aspirations – I enjoy a challenge and if anything, this spurred me on to work harder and maintain focus!
Whilst studying for my LPC, I worked part time as a waitress and part time for an inhouse legal team for a company which specialised in engineering, environmental and building control consultancies. Just prior to my final LPC exams (July 2013), I secured a paralegal role at Ellisons within the Insurance Litigation department and that is when for me, everything clicked into place.
Within 1 month of being at Ellisons, my goal had changed from finding as many firms as possible to submit Training Contract applications to, to focusing on the only application I made – to Ellisons! I submitted my application in August 2013 and because of the paralegal role I already had, I was able to hand deliver it to the Head of HR at Ellisons.
I started my Training Contract in January 2014 and from my time working in house, I knew I had an interest in construction and real estate, so I asked for my training contract seats to be geared towards property to find out which team I would be best suited to. Ellisons were very accommodating to my interests so I completed seats in Insurance Litigation, Commercial Property and Property Litigation.
At the start of my 3rd seat I was offered a full-time role at Ellisons in the Commercial Property department so I returned to that department for my 4th seat and I qualified on 1 February 2016 assisting Ellisons’ Managing Partner, Guy Longhurst. I now specialise in the acquisition and disposal of residential, commercial and mixed-use development sites and investment properties; leases of all types of commercial property; and secured lending.
At the beginning of each training seat, I was assigned a mentor and 7 years on, I am still close with each of my mentors which I think speaks volumes about Ellisons and its commitment to making sure everyone we employ is the right fit for the firm. I am now part of Ellisons’ mentoring scheme due to the positive impact it had on me and my career.
In Insurance Litigation my mentor was Natalie Simpkins – a young, ambitious solicitor who despite being one of the top billers in the department, was relatable, friendly and always had an open door for me to come to when I was unsure on anything, regardless of how busy she was. Since I joined the firm 7 years ago, Natalie has been promoted from Solicitor, to Associate to Partner.
In Commercial Property my mentors were Charles Penfold and Peter Powell – both were already at the very pinnacle of their careers and I was concerned at first that they wouldn’t have time to train or mentor me but, I could not have been more wrong.
I am a meticulous planner and organisation brings me comfort which, I thought I would have to compromise on, but Charles taught me quite the opposite. Charles specialises in property development and he took the time to teach me his stage-by-stage process of acquiring, building out and selling a residential development site – each stage, he had a process for which had been perfected throughout his career. I was in heaven!
Peter is without a doubt one of the most erudite, personable and charismatic men I have had the pleasure of knowing, let alone working with. I sat in his room for 6 months listening to every phone call which always started with a general chat; finding out how his client’s family were, what they did at the weekend, where their favourite football team were in the league. Peter taught me how to be a trusted adviser and friend to your client, not just someone they pay to get a job done.
In Property Litigation my mentor was Joe Brightman – a veracious, approachable and patient solicitor who took time out of his working day to make sure I was comfortable in my new role as it was unlike any other department I had worked in. He spotted my weaknesses and made me face them head on, to push me out of my comfort zone. I am not a natural public speaker and when put on the spot, tend to speak quickly, stutter and overheat! Over the first 3 months he made sure I knew the processes of my work inside out and I soon found myself stood in front of a judge by myself, pleading our client’s case with confidence and when I left the court room with a judgment in our client’s favour, I was overcome with pride and couldn’t wait to get back to the office. It was a low value, everyday case for our client but it meant a lot to me and Joe wasted no time organising a celebratory lunch at the pub! Since I joined the firm 7 years ago, Joe has been promoted from Solicitor to Associate, to Senior Associate and most recently to Partner.
I was recently asked “what challenges have you faced during your career?” I am fortunate in that, I could only think of generic answers of challenges which all students face upon leaving the security of university. The transition between high school to university is full of uncertainty and no matter what your family, advisers and mentors do to assist you, nothing can prepare you for that change. The same can be said for moving from the structure of an assigned timetable full of lectures and social events at University, to having to pave your own way, make your own decisions and above all, find a firm which you will be happy to work in.
My only “words of wisdom” are when making your training contract applications, make sure you know the firm. Do your research, make the application personal and above all, make sure that you are applying because working at that particular firm will make you happy.