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How I became an employment solicitor

Danielle Ayres, 37, lives in Manchester. She is a partner within the employment team at Gorvins Solicitors.  She deals with all aspects of the employment relationship, for both employers and individuals, and also does some corporate support work too.

I’ve been a solicitor since 2008, although I did work for two years before this as a trainee – so nearly 15 years.

Watching TV show Ally McBeal turned my mind to being a solicitor.  I went to university and did an LLB law degree, and then a further year undertaking my Legal Practice Course. You also have to carry out two years as a trainee before you are fully qualified, which I carried out at a small firm in Manchester.

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was younger, then progressed to a dentist before finally settling on law as a career. So a real mixed bag of career choice and progression.

Overcoming challenges

I struggled to find a training contract at first, as there were so many candidates and not a lot of openings at the time, particularly in the larger firms. Eventually, I decided to take a year out and did some work experience to help boost my CV.

I also had my children quite young, so ensuring that I could do both – continue to work and be there when they were little, especially – has been a juggle, but one which I overcame with my employer being flexible, sharing the load with my husband and family members helping us out with childcare.

What a solicitor does

Put simply, we help people. Whether that be in buying or selling a house, in a dispute with a neighbour, because they have been dismissed from their job or had an accident in their car. In doing so, we strive to get people the best possible outcome in their situation.

We represent their legal interests in their matter, often by representing them in court/tribunal, drafting letters and contracts, reviewing documents or anything else which may be involved with their case.  Many solicitors only practice in one area, but there are some who work in firms that do work in more than one area.

Specialising in employment law and pregnancy and maternity discrimination

The firm I did my training contract with had a lot of employment files and no one in the department when I started. So I was thrown into it purely by chance and on a real sink or swim basis. I ended up running all the files myself (overseen by my manager at the time). I hadn’t chosen it as an elective on my LPC, but I loved it.

When I was on maternity leave with my youngest, I heard lots of horrific stories from mums at baby groups and friends who had just had babies about how employers were not treating them well as a result of their maternity leave or them becoming pregnant.

It meant I was often putting my “solicitor” hat on to tell them their rights on pay and holidays and other things. I had a really positive experience with Gorvins (my employer) through both of my pregnancies and felt upset that other women had a dark cloud cast over theirs so on my return to work, I started free drop-in clinics and doing talks at baby groups in order to help and make sure working mums knew their rights.

I also started volunteering for organisations who helped working parents, such as Pregnant Then Screwed and Working Mums.  This led me to now specialising in the area of family-friendly rights, acting on behalf of working parents and also advising employers on best working practices when it comes to managing pregnant employees and those on maternity leave.

Misconceptions about the job

That it is a bit like “Suits” (I get asked that a lot).  Unfortunately, we don’t all quite have the elegant wardrobes of the cast of Suits.

People also think that solicitors cost lots of money and that there is no way to afford one, even when you desperately need representation, however, that isn’t quite true. Whilst sometimes we do charge by the hour – a bit like a taxi – the further you go the more it costs, there are also other forms of funding, such as no win no fees, insurance and fixed-fee arrangements.

What I enjoy most about my job

I enjoy speaking to different people from all walks of life, dealing with different cases and challenges daily. But I am also helping people out with such a critical part of their lives – their job and often livelihood, whether you are assisting an individual who has been unfairly dismissed, someone who has been discriminated against or a business owner that needs to make cuts.

It is nice to know that you are involved in helping people out at such an emotional and important time.

My advice if you want to be a solicitor

Really turn your mind to what area you would like to specialise in. If you are passionate and interested in it you will enjoy it much more. There are so many – family, corporate, litigation, conveyancing, criminal and employment, of course.

If you aren’t sure, get some work experience in firms who work in the areas you are thinking about, or reach out on LinkedIn to solicitors to ask their opinion and suggestions.  It is a long road to qualifying but one that is so worthwhile.

Don’t be pushed along by the crowd, think about what will suit you and go with your gut when making decisions. Also, have some confidence in yourself – you are good at what you do and can only get better with the time and determination you are putting in.

Charlotte Harding
Charlotte Harding
Charlotte is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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