Rebecca Ridley, Legal Counsel – Selfridges Group in London

What was your journey to becoming a lawyer?

I attended my local state primary school and nearby secondary school and stayed on at my secondary school’s sixth form for my A-Levels. After this, I went on to study Law and Sociology at the University of Warwick and whilst I had many, many, training contract interviews throughout my time at Warwick, I left university in 2015 with a first-class degree, but no training contract.

After university, I continued applying for training contracts, whilst working as a receptionist in a crematorium. After a few months, I was finally offered a training contract with Pitmans LLP (now known as BDB Pitmans LLP). I continued to work at the crematorium for another year to save up the money to pay for my Legal Practice Course, which I started at the University of Law in Guildford in 2016. I worked at the crematorium 3 days a week and went to university two days a week during this period, which was a tough balance. In 2017, I started my training contract with Pitmans LLP. I undertook seats in Pensions, Employment, Litigation and Business Crime and Regulation. I also undertook a short secondment at a company called Westcoast.

I qualified in September 2019 and was offered an NQ role in the firm’s Business Crime and Regulation department, where I stayed until September 2020. I then decided to move in-house and took my current role as Legal Counsel for Selfridges Group. I spent prolonged periods of time working closely with businesses during my training contract and, therefore, this move really stemmed from a desire to work more closely with businesses and I am really enjoying it!

"Has not being privately educated affected your legal studies and career? If so, how?

This is a difficult question to answer without having an appreciation of what a private education is actually like. What I would say is that, upon arrival at university, I found that many of my student peers had been privately educated. I realised that many of them had already had a lot of preparation for their future legal careers – whether that be access to work experience, broader educational curriculums, or training for things like the LNAT (the Law National Aptitude Test, which is a compulsory exam for those applying to study the LLB at certain universities).

I also believe that, in a state school, the onus is on you to remain focused on your studies - not getting distracted in classrooms by students that aren’t so determined to succeed academically can be tricky! I felt that I managed to attain the grades that I achieved by putting in additional study hours myself at home and by teaching myself the things I wasn’t able to learn in school (either because of the way it was being taught, or because of the surroundings).

Being state school educated definitely has not held me back. However, I think the route to becoming a lawyer might have been clearer and perhaps simpler if I had attended a private school growing up. Having said that, I wouldn’t change anything about my path to becoming a lawyer.

What would you say to people who are/were not privately educated and are unsure about whether to pursue a law degree/and/or legal career?

Firstly, if it is something that you want to do, being state school educated is not something that should hold you back. You need to focus for the key exams and keep your grades up because law firms will often write off applicants who don’t meet their exam result criteria.

Secondly, you will need to take things into your own hands a bit more. For example, approach local law firms and distribute copies of your CV and reach out to people on LinkedIn in order to obtain as much work experience as you can, as early as you can. Also, do your research! Be aware of the steps that you will you need to take to become a lawyer, and ask questions of people who might be able to help you.

In short, absolutely go for it! Good luck!

What advice do you wish you had been given at the start of your journey into the legal profession?

Firstly, do not stress so much. Sometimes you just have to trust that you’re putting in the work and that you will get there in the end. My grades have definitely helped “get my foot in the door” in certain places. So keep up the hard work, it will be worth it in the long run.

Secondly, don’t be disheartened by rejection and setbacks. I received countless training contract rejections and I took each one personally. It isn’t personal – it is just a consequence of the legal market being oversaturated and the fact that you need to learn how to make yourself stand out.

Thirdly, start building work experience up as soon as possible. Even if this is just working in your local café – experience in business is very valuable.

Lastly, try not to have too many preconceptions about what life in the legal profession will be like or what type of law you want to practice. It will be nothing like you think its going to be and you will change your mind about your preferred practice area on a weekly basis. So, keep an open mind.

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