A short overview of your career so far.
We wanted to speak to Ruth, Fellow member of the IoP and Paralegal at Wikivorce, about her decision to turn to the legal profession, why he felt the IoP membership was a good step to aid her career and what the future holds for her. She also provided us with some fantastic advice for recent graduates looking to start their career as Paralegals and some insights form the premier awards for Paralegals, which she attended earlier this year.
What is your background and how did you become interested in working as a Paralegal?
My background was previously in hospitality, and it wasn’t until I went through a divorce that my interest in family law was sparked. I became fascinated with the legalities and process that seemed too often to be juxtaposed to the emotional roller-coaster that those going through a divorce or separation experience. I took the CLT qualified family law paralegal course about 8 or 9 years ago, and this has helped my work with Wikivorce immensely. I hadn’t intended to work as a paralegal, it just seemed to a natural progression from giving advice and support on our forum to being a part of the helpline team and having my own clients.
What was your professional background before becoming a Paralegal?
I worked in hospitality for many years. The important communication and “people” skills I learnt during this time have helped me in my paralegal work.
How did you hear about IoP?
I can’t remember exactly, I do remember calling the office and having a long and very helpful conversation with someone, which helped me to understand how the IoP could support me in my career path, and the opportunities that would be open to me as a member.
What made you decide that you wanted to become a member and how did you find your membership so far?
I have had a vast amount of support and encouragement from the IoP over the years, for which I am very grateful, and without that support and encouragement I doubt I would have been able to have achieved some of the things I have done over the past few years, including co-authoring The Family Law A to Z.
As a long standing Fellow member, you have access to a wide range of benefits including access to guidance and practice notes, a daily legal updater and many more to help you in your profession. Can you tell us about your experience using the services? Would you recommend it?
Whole-heartedly yes! The benefits are fantastic, especially the daily legal update (perfect reading while I have my morning coffee), the free webinars, and the information that is on the IoP website is very useful referencing material. I also signed up for a NUS card which has helped me save money over the years.
Do you think that your membership with the IoP helped you when you were looking for a role/position/clients?
I haven’t actively sought a new position, but I would think that membership of the IoP would only enhance a paralegal’s CV and employment opportunities.
What do you think makes a great Paralegal?
Versatility, organisation, teamwork but also the ability work on ones’ own, keeping up to date with changes to the law and court processes, are all important skills, and in my own field of family law, empathy is important.
What does the average day look like in your role at Wikivorce?
No two days are the same. I work as a legal advisor on our free helpline and as a Family Law Consultant (mainly private child law). The calls are always varied, and I never know what questions I’m going to be asked when I answer a call; I have become very good at thinking on my feet and relying on my extensive memory bank of facts, legislation, court fees, relevant resources, and information. I have an empathic approach and recognise that family law clients tend to suffer from stress and emotional trauma. I work with them, breaking down their overwhelming problems into manageable chunks and giving them the information and tools, they require, which empowers people to put themselves back in control of their situation. I tend to start my day with a cup of tea and read the daily legal update, reply to overnight emails, then at 9am the phones will start ringing and I’m kept busy with incoming enquiries until I finish at 5pm. Between 5 and 7pm I will catch up on any outstanding client work and schedule my diary for the following day. Some days can be emotionally tough so its important that I remember to be kind to myself too.
What is the most challenging part of your job and which part do you enjoy the most?
The most challenging part is dealing with people who are facing one of the most difficult life events there is – the breakdown of their relationship and family life. Often people are upset, or stressed, or angry, so it’s important to recognise this, validate their feelings and be empathic in my responses. I not a relationship counsellor but kindness and understanding go a long way. The part I most enjoy is when clients call me to tell they have had a good outcome in mediation or court – knowing I’ve played a small part in a parent and their children being able to continue their relationship is humbling and very rewarding.
Can you tell us a bit about the premier awards for Paralegals, which you attended earlier this year?
Wikivorce were there to support our colleague, Nicola Phipps, who was a finalist in the Family Law of the Year category. The awards are a fantastic opportunity for us paralegals to showcase our talents, skills, experience and hard work to the wider legal community. We don’t just make tea and open the post! There was an astonishing amount of expertise and experience at the awards that evening, and it is about time that paralegals are recognised for the professionals that we are. The awards were also a great opportunity to catch up with people we know through networking sites, and to make new friends and contacts. I was delighted to finally meet the lovely Carmen from the IoP – after years of correspondence and phone calls, it was great to finally meet her in person.
What advice would you give a Paralegal who is just starting their career?
Take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes your way - even if you think it isn’t particularly relevant to you at the time. Be prepared to work very hard, and go the extra mile for your employer and your clients. Make the most of what the Institute of Paralegals has to offer its members. Always keep your knowledge up to date, so make the most of the publications, law blogs, journals etc that are on offer.
And finally, what do you like most about your profession?
For me, it’s the flexibility of my role and doing something I love. As Mark Twain once wrote “Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” The majority of paralegals work in non-traditional roles, such as advice centres, their own businesses, trade unions, charities, government, volunteer sector etc which demonstrates that paralegals can stand their own in a hugely diverse professional world.
Thank you, Ruth, for taking the time to speak to us and we wish you all the best in your career.