Graduating from university is a step into the unknown for everyone, even for those with a training contract already lined up after their law degree. However, for those with a less clear cut path, graduating can be far more daunting.

Like many people, I left university without really knowing what it was that I wanted to do. I had completed a law degree, but I had no legal experience on my CV and I was not thinking about a legal career at the time. Rather than make any big decisions, I opted to take a gap year and moved to Australia where I worked in a sales job. I loved my time living and working in Australia, however my gap year unfortunately became a gap seven months due to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, and in March 2020 I found myself back at home.

I was fortunate enough to pick up my old summer job at Tesco as they struggled to keep up with the panic buying that spread across the country, but it was not exactly the career move I had in mind. As lockdown restrictions were eased in the summer of 2020, I looked to move to a more full time role and, sticking with what I had been doing in Australia, I moved back into sales.

I quickly knew that this wasn't what I wanted to do for the long term. While working in sales, I realised that I missed the analytical work that I found so engaging during my degree, along with the feeling of learning something new every day. Working as a solicitor was a natural choice to achieve both of these wishes. As a solicitor, some kind of analytical thinking is required daily. It is a key part of the job to keep up to date with the law - as it develops so rapidly in a constantly-changing world.

I knew, of course, that training contract applications were competitive, and I was well aware that I lacked practical legal experience. Therefore, I started to look out for paralegal jobs to bolster my existing non-legal experience. This was a slow process as at the time, most law firms still had hiring freezes in place. However, my search fortunately coincided with the post-lockdown property boom, and I eventually found myself working as a paralegal in property law at a high street firm.

Soon after, I began to apply for training contracts. Womble Bond Dickinson was an obvious choice for me; I lived in the Southampton area and WBD were a clear leader in the region for the practice areas where I was most interested. I made my way through the application process (I even enjoyed parts of it) and was fortunate enough to receive an offer.

If I were to do it again, I wouldn't change my slightly long-winded path to a training contract. My experience in non-legal jobs prepared me for both the training contract application process and the training contract itself just as much as my experience as a paralegal did. I have spent more time talking about sales and the skills I developed in those roles in training contract interviews than I have about 'paralegalling'.

Navigating the period between university and a training contract is tricky and there may be a few setbacks, but it is important to remember that even setbacks can be a valuable experience, and all of the experience you have is relevant when making a training contract application.

To learn more about training contracts at Womble Bond Dickinson, click here.

This blog was written by James Warhurst, Trainee Solicitor (currently sitting in the Banking team) in Southampton at Womble Bond Dickinson.

James Warhurst