We wanted to speak to Dawn, Fellow member of the IoP and Paralegal at Trethowans LLP , about her decision to turn to the legal profession, why she 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, the National Paralegal Awards, where she won in Best Family Law Paralegal category.
What is your background and how did you become interested in working as a Paralegal?
I was employed by Trethowans as a secretary in 1987. For 4 years from 1990 to 1994, I worked as the secretary/PA to the, then, Head of Family Team and undertook a pseudo paralegal role, drafting documents, clerking Counsel at Hearings and running divorce cases in her name whilst still maintaining a full secretarial role. I started working for the current Head of Family in 1998 and undertook a similar role for him. In 1999, CLT commenced the very first Paralegal Diploma courses and I was encouraged to study for this which I did and passed in April 2000. No sooner had I secured my certificate than I was handed a full Private Children Law caseload to run as a fee earner in my own right.
What was your professional background before becoming a Paralegal?
I did not have a professional background. I was working as a secretary in a busy Family Team from which I had gained a lot of knowledge.
How did you hear about IoP?
After holding the CLT Paralegal Diploma for 7 years, I was looking for further qualifications that I could obtain whilst continuing to specialise in Family Law. In 2007, I studied with the ILEX Tutorial College securing a Certificate in Family Law and Practice with distinction. I heard about the IoP having secured that Certificate.
What made you decide that you wanted to become a member and how did you find your membership so far?
I wanted to become a member of the IoP as it sets the competency standards for qualified Paralegals and demonstrated to clients that I was registered with a professional body. I have found membership of the IoP invaluable in terms of the support, guidance and regular legal updates that are provided. Further, clients are assured that they are being represented by a fee earner who is registered with a reputable professional body and whose qualifications and experience are scrutinised on a regular basis.
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?
I find the access to regular and frequent legal updates extremely helpful and indeed, share the articles and notes to other colleagues within my Team. I would highly recommend the services that are offered.
Do you think that your membership with the IoP helped you when you were looking for a role/position/clients?
I was already in my role and position prior to my membership with the IoP having worked for Trethowans for so long. However, I have no doubt that were I to have gained
membership prior to seeking employment, it would have assisted my in securing the position that I currently have. Clients are reassured by the fact that I am a member of the IoP as it demonstrates that I have the appropriate qualifications and experience to be able to assist them with their Family Law matters.
What do you think makes a great Paralegal?
I think a great Paralegal must be a good communicator who readily adapts to understand their client’s needs; who can work well under pressure and autonomously whilst also being a great Team player. They should have the ability to delegate or consult with other fee earners who have different levels of expertise and recognise their own strengths and weaknesses – after all, we all have them. A great Paralegal must be able to help their clients feel at ease and be reassured as to their knowledge and expertise whilst maintaining an empathetic nature.
What does the average day look like in your role at Trethowans?
I specialise in advising separated or divorced parents as to the arrangements for their children. I adopt a no-Court approach wherever possible and adhere to the Resolution Code of Practice offering practical advice with a view to achieving agreement between the parents, thereby preserving the co-parenting relationship following separation. I also advise grandparents following the breakdown of the parental relationship in maintaining or restoring their bond with the grandchildren. I also advise clients on divorce and assist my Head of Team with his caseload of high net worth financial remedy cases.
In the circumstances, there is no such thing as an “average” day at Trethowans. I could be meeting with a client and advising them with reference to the arrangements for the children; supporting a client and clerking Counsel at a Hearing or preparing documentation in a complicated financial remedies case.
What is the most challenging part of your job and which part do you enjoy the most?
Often a client will seek advice with reference to the arrangements for the children but will already have a firm opinion as to what they believe is in the best interests of their children which may be clouded by their own feelings. Managing their expectations therefore can be quite challenging.
Having a good understanding of the law and how the Courts apply it when dealing with arrangements for children enables me to give clients advice as to the most likely outcome and pursuing a course that best meets the children’s welfare whilst retaining, as best as possible, the co-parenting relationship between the adults moving forward. It is always rewarding when a child’s relationship is restored with a parent or grandparent, particularly when it has proved possible to reach agreement without Court intervention.
Can you tell us a bit about the premier awards for Paralegals, which you attended earlier this year?
I was nominated for the inaugural National Paralegal Awards 2019 in the category for Best Family Law Paralegal by my Head of Team and assisted him with the completion of the entry. I had no expectation as to outcome and was very excited to have been shortlisted and invited to attend the Gala Evening at The May Fair Hotel in London. It was a spectacular event with the red carpet, quite literally, rolled out and a champagne reception before a 3-course meal in the most stunning of settings. I was accompanied by my husband and daughter and Grant Cameron, a Partner in the Team together with his wife. We took the opportunity to stay at the hotel overnight, so really made the most of the event and the whole weekend!
It was wonderful to be able to meet so many other Paralegals working in other fields across the Country and share experiences with them. We all felt so honoured to be recognised for the hard work that we put in, often behind the scenes, for our clients and our Firms.
When I heard my name read out as the winner of the Best Family Law Paralegal award, I was absolutely stunned and so proud.
How did you find the application for Best Family Law Paralegal?
It is never easy ‘blowing your own trumpet’ and for this reason, I found it quite daunting being asked to complete the nominee statement on the application form. However, once I got going, it was quite simple to complete.
How did your colleagues/friends react to you winning the award?
I was accompanied at the Awards Ceremony by my husband, daughter and a Partner in the Firm, Grant Cameron, together with his wife. Whilst I was quite simply stunned that I had won the award, Grant’s ebullience was palpable – he leapt out of his seat and nearly knocked the table over!
Colleagues, friends and family who were unable to attend were following the Awards ceremony on social media and already knew that I had won before I had the opportunity to tell them myself and congratulatory messages were being posted and sent to me whilst I was still there, which was wonderful.
In the following days, I received countless bouquets of flowers, chocolates, cards and messages from colleagues, friends and Barrister’s Chambers and the office looked like a florist’s shop at one point!
My trophy is on display in the reception area of our Head Office for all to see.
What advice would you give a Paralegal who is just starting their career?
I would advise a Paralegal just starting their career to seize every opportunity that presents itself in terms of training, gaining knowledge and expertise. I would encourage them to get involved with the Team and shadow other more experienced fee earners as much as possible in face to face meetings; offer to draft documentation and correspondence for approval. This will enable the new Paralegal to grow their own confidence and knowledge. And I would encourage new Paralegals to strive to knock down the ‘invisible wall’ that exists between solicitors and ‘non-qualified’ fee earners.
And finally, what do you like most about your profession?
I enjoy the experience of meeting a variety of clients from different backgrounds and with different issues/difficulties. When I meet a client, the first question I formulate in my mind is “how can I help this client?”
I enjoy getting to grips with the challenges that complex cases often throw up and feel that I do make a difference and assist clients and their children to move on to the next chapter in their lives.
Thank you, Dawn, for taking the time to speak to us and we wish you all the best in your career.