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Career Development

What support and encouragement do our employees receive when it comes to developing their careers?

Here we ask two members of staff questions about how they have progressed their careers at the firm and what advice they would give to someone who is considering joining CWJ to further their career in the legal sector.

Q&A with …. Alis Ahmedova, Notary Clerk

  1. When did you join Clarkson Wright & Jakes and what was your job title upon joining?

I joined CWJ in March 2017 as a trainee legal secretary. I remember my start date very clearly. I visited Tesco Extra across the road from our building first thing in the morning before heading into the office and I bumped into someone who worked in the Commercial Litigation department I was joining. She was buying cakes for everyone in the office as it was her birthday that day. We briefly chatted and then when I arrived in the office, she had bought me a good luck card saying: “I hope your first day is a piece of cake!” This was a great first impression of the firm.

  1. What attracted you to joining CWJ in this position?

I was studying for my CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) exams whilst working as an Office Manager for a small business centre in Beckenham. I was keen to start working in a law firm regardless of the position as it was important for me to put my studies into practice. I saw that CWJ was recruiting a Commercial Litigation Trainee Legal Secretary and decided to apply. I was attracted to CWJ for a whole number of reasons. I really didn’t want the long commute to London, and I wanted to work for a firm that was less hierarchical which would offer great career progression.

I was attracted to CWJ as they are big advocates of a healthy work/life balance. My college tutor was also a former employee of CWJ and didn’t have anything but nice things to say about the firm.

  1. Can you explain how you have progressed your career within the firm?

I was in the trainee secretary role for two years but was keen to progress. A paralegal position came up at CWJ in May 2019 which also included providing notarial support. As I was still doing my CILEx training and keen to take on a new challenge, it seemed like a good opportunity for me and a step up in the right direction.

  1. What support and encouragement did you receive for developing your career?

CWJ provided me with excellent training from the word go. My colleague, as I mentioned earlier, trained me which was very helpful as she had done the role herself.

CWJ supported me with paid study leave and continue to pay for my CILEx membership fees and time off for study and exams. The Commercial Litigation team were super supportive of me switching roles. I think it helped that I was transparent and enthusiastic about my career goals from the start.

  1. What do you enjoy about your current role?

I really like what I do now. I am the notary clerk and work alongside the two notaries, including our Senior Partner.

Notarial work can be a tricky area to navigate as you have to be clear what legal documents are accepted by the different jurisdictions. Our Senior Partner and I work together to come up with the best solution for the client. Creativity is the way forward in this role and quite often I will try to resolve any complicated matters as much as I can on my own before asking for help.

A lot of people think that law is generally a stuffy area to be in. We remove the legal jargon and put things in layperson terms.

I really like having lots of client exposure so genuinely look forward to the client facing days. They’re full on and it’s a lot of fun, so keeps me on my toes!

I like that we’re quite relaxed as a department and clients appear to like it and appreciate our professional, yet calm manner.

  1. What advice would you give to someone who is considering joining CWJ to further their career in the legal sector?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s a very friendly firm and there’s an open- door policy at all times. Help is always available.

I believe that in order to be happy at work you have to have a good work life balance. You shouldn’t feel over-burdened by work. CWJ offers a good work life balance and is very much a family friendly firm.

  1. What do you think CWJ assisted you with that perhaps another firm may not be able?

CWJ is a professional partnership but it appears like quite a flat structure to me. It has a modern and progressive outlook and we’re always looking for ways we can improve. Without the open-door policy I may not have felt that I could speak to my colleagues about how I wanted to progress my career. I’m now in a full-on busy role which keeps me motivated and challenged. I’m excited about where my career might take me and I’m thankful I have a manager and firm who is supporting me with this.

Q&A with …. Josie Bowman, Senior Lawyer

  1. When did you join Clarkson Wright & Jakes and what was your job title upon joining?

I joined CWJ in August 2008 as a paralegal in the Corporate and Commercial team (CoCo). I joined one week out of the classroom, having been a Reception teacher for 6 years – so quite a career change!

  1. Why did CWJ stand out as the right firm for you?

I joined the CoCo team as I wanted to expand my commercial knowledge; it was far removed from what I had done previously. I knew a few people in the commercial sector too.

I was fortunate to have a great mentor and a large team to learn from.

I was born and brought up in Kent, so I appreciate community life and the ease of localness. I also enjoy face to face meetings, teamworking and getting to know clients in depth, and I felt that I would be able to benefit from these working at CWJ.  Also, while I live and work in Kent, the Orpington office is only 20 minutes away from central London, so I felt it was a happy medium as the buzz of city life is only a short train ride away.

        3. What support and encouragement did you receive while developing your career?

I signed up to a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) which was a two-year commitment, and I was doing that part-time while working full-time. I would leave the office at 4.30pm and travel to London to attend lectures two evenings a week.

CWJ helped with 50% of the cost of my GDL and I was given time off for revision and exam leave. My colleagues mentored me throughout my training here. Everyone was very approachable and genuinely cared and encouraged me. There was a mutual benefit for the firm to support me with the course as they could see me gaining knowledge and this really helped grow my confidence at work. I did have to work hard at both.

Coming out of a teaching position I remember thinking, ‘Oh what have I done?!’ It was quite daunting, but I concentrated on the reasons I had decided to change career. Not all my fellow students were as lucky as me to get an opportunity like I got at CWJ.

       4.  Please can you explain how you have progressed in your role at the firm?

CWJ could see I was trying hard to progress my career. After the GDL I had to do the LLB Legal Practice Course which I studied in the evenings for two years.  After three years in CoCo I took a role in the Personal Injury (PI) department as they had a lot of work on. A trainee colleague who knew me well encouraged me to give it a go, as they thought I would be good in a private client department.

In Personal Injury I managed to learn so much early on. I had a lot of autonomy quite quickly and was able to assist on more complex cases. I was still in this team after completing my LLB, four years after starting the firm. I did one year as an official trainee and then I had time to count from all my time as a paralegal to take off my training contract.  Five years after joining the firm I was fully qualified.  By then I had been in the PI department for two years and had my own caseload, which I don’t think you can say in many firms. I have been in PI ever since.

Following maternity leave, I returned on a part-time basis in February 2015.  I was keen to progress and decided to apply for promotion to Senior Lawyer.

        5. Please can you explain how your Head of Department (HOD) supported your application for progressing your role at the firm?

While overseeing my files during my maternity leave, the HOD came to appreciate my dedication and knew I was keen to progress upon my return. The Partners here definitely celebrate your successes. There is a collaborative and supportive culture which supports learning; no-one blames and shames when things don’t go quite so well. The attitude is “Oh we can all learn something from that..”.

        6. Do you have any work highlights that you would like to share?

During my final LPC exams I had been the file handler, with support as I was a junior, on a case that was fraught with issues. As it turned out, it went all the way to trial, which is extremely rare. With the support around me, I prepared the case for trial which was a huge learning curve.

Coincidently, my last exam fell on the day of the trial so the amount of pressure I was under was immense. I had a trainee assisting me and we emotionally and practically supported each other. The trainee went to the trial with the barrister and after my exam the trainee telephoned me while I was travelling back to the office to say the trial was over and we had won! It was such an overwhelming feeling trying to manage everything when I was unable to be in control due to my exam. Having the support and guidance from the rest of team and the collaborative effort between me and the other junior, we did it together and achieved the right outcome for our client.

Later I found out I had achieved a Distinction in that exam, I doubt I will ever have a more successful day!

       7. What advice you would give to someone considering joining CWJ?

Get to know the people, the people that make the firm thrive, not just the Partners but others you work with and learn about the logic behind their practices and decision making. Listen, absorb, and research.

At CWJ you’re more than a cog in a wheel. You feel rooted here and get to know and value each department and visa-versa.

       8. What do you think sets CWJ apart from other firms?

We have very good role models at the firm who are visible and approachable. Hard work is celebrated but there is not the culture of presenteeism that you might get at other firms. Most staff are balancing work and family life and that is respected here.

We also have the breadth and depth of service offering. In combination with the long-established reputation of the firm, its location enables us to reach out to the London market as well as local people and there are not many firms that can do that. I think clients return to us because they can pick up the phone or walk through the doors and immediately make a connection.