Alex Dawson: From aspiring to teach History, to selling watches to qualifying as a litigator
My route to becoming a lawyer has not followed a traditional path. Initially, I wanted to be a History Teacher and in 2010, I was accepted to study at St Mary’s University College in their joint honours programme.
The interesting (and perhaps lucky) thing about St Mary’s was that it was compulsory to take a joint honours. I therefore had to select another subject to accompany History. The subjects on offer were as follows: (1) Philosophy; (2) Business Law; (3) Media Studies; (4) Irish Studies.
I attended both the Philosophy and Business Law inductions and decided to pursue Business Law, as I thought this may enhance my career prospects. As it was a joint honours programme, I was planning to major in History and minor in Business Law.
I had my first lecture in Business Law, where the topic concerned negligence and we discussed the famous case of Donoghue v Stevenson. I was further intrigued by the topic of vicarious liability as I was working part-time as a lifeguard, at David Lloyd. Here I was able to see how the law operated in the leisure environment. It was at that point, I knew that I wanted to major in Business Law and follow this career path, either academically or practically.
I eventually went on to complete additional Law modules and majored in Business Law, graduating in 2013. Academia and education were still a focus of mine and I asked my dissertation supervisor on the process of becoming a lecturer. He advised that I would require a doctorate, or relevant practical experience. I knew that if wanted to go into practice, I would still need to complete 3 modules on the GDL (as I did not have a full law degree) and the expense initially put me off.
Later that year in 2013, I enrolled upon a Masters at Birkbeck, University of London. Birkbeck only offered evening study and most of the people on the course were lawyers, or had legal related jobs. [Looking back, I should have networked much more, but I was only 21 and did not realise the importance of networking.]
As this was a general programme, the modules were broad and ranged from finance to genetics. I completed that Masters in 2014.
Upon finishing my Masters, I was still hoping to take a PhD, but I was still torn by going into practice.
I was speaking with a senior lawyer who advised me that if I wanted to go into practice, I ideally needed to qualify as soon as possible. [Academia was an option that I could come back to, whereas practice appeared to have a time limit.]
In 2014, I focused my attention to pursue a career as a Solicitor. At the time, I worked at John Lewis (selling watches) and would engage with as many customers as possible. It was through John Lewis that my first opportunity arrived. I was speaking with a customer who explained that she worked locally as a lawyer and they may be taking people on for work experience.
I went through the formal process and started work experience at firm in Kingston, Surrey. It was one day a week and was the foot in the door I needed.
Whilst on work experience, there was an opening for an entry level position and as I had met the team before, I applied for the role and was successful.
This role was insightful, but I knew that I wanted to work in the City / West End. After 3 months’ experience of working in their conveyancing department, I was approached for a position in the West End. I did not know much about the role, but I wanted the opportunity to work in a different environment.
I started as a post-completions clerk and quickly progressed into a fee earning role. My role was primarily linked to property, but as this was a smaller firm, I had the opportunity to work in other departments and increase my skills.
I had been at this firm for approximately 2 years, which allowed me to complete my GDL and LPC part-time. However, the possibility of a training contract was dwindling, so I applied for training contracts at several firms. That is one tip that I would give to others in a similar position; if you want a training contract at your firm and they are unable to offer it, it is time to move on. I say that with the caveat that you have reached the glass ceiling in your current role (which I had).
I was offered a training contract at Darlingtons Solicitors, based in NW London. The interview process was rigorous (far more intense than any others I had experienced) and I was one of three trainees selected out of approximately 400 candidates.
On March 2020, I qualified into their litigation department after being offered an Assistant Solicitor position. During my training contract, I was asked to lecture at my law school which has developed my academic practice.
The most important tip that I would give to aspiring lawyers is to make meaningful connections and develop your commercial ability. My first legal job came through working part time at John Lewis; you never know where your next opportunity may come from.
Finally, we can sometimes focus on, and compare ourselves to others. This can be extremely detrimental. Focus on the skills and experience that you have and how best to develop those.