Law – In this third episode of Routes Into Law, I met with Suzan Petrosian
Suzan is a Trainee Solicitor at Whitehead Monckton and is currently in the first seat of her training contract. Suzan and I met when we both worked as secretaries at Whitehead Monckton.
Read on to learn more about her journey into law…..
What is your current role?
- Trainee Solicitor. I’m currently halfway through my first seat in Corporate-Employment!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
- Actress, dancer, shoe designer… and lawyer. Also, I competed in rhythmic gymnastics and really wanted to get to the Olympics
Please explain your academic background prior to law school.
- I attended Simon Langton Girls’ Grammar and subsequently studied the LLB in Nottingham.
When did you decide that you wished to pursue a career in law?
- Early part of secondary school (maybe earlier). I remember saying to my parents that I wanted to be a (humanitarian) lawyer. My wish to do so was due to what I had learned about the Armenian history, which any child of the diaspora is introduced to very early on.
- More recently though, when I was travelling I realised that I wasn’t being intellectually challenged and I really missed that! I couldn’t think of a more suitable career that would offer me this.
Please explain the route you took to study law
- Traditional-turned-non-traditional. Upon graduating from university, I “should” have commenced the LPC and ploughed ahead with training contract applications. However, I wanted to make use of an opportunity that I couldn’t foresee having again any time soon if I committed to a career in law.
- Before the LPC, I travelled, worked abroad and worked in industries that I couldn’t see myself pursuing long-term, but which helped develop my skillset. I moved back to my birthplace, Yerevan, became better acquainted with my heritage and improved on my Armenian speaking skills.
- It was one day after returning from a very long trek in Peru that I picked up my laptop and promised myself that I would resume my legal career. I reached out to a couple of local firms and after several email exchanges, I learned that there was a temporary secretarial position available at Whitehead Monckton. It wasn’t very long after returning to England that I secured this position and began assisting the Property department. I had no idea whatsoever (other than from pre-interview research) what the role of a secretary entailed. A couple of months in, a permanent role became available. I interviewed for the position and spent the next two and a half years assisting the TEP (tax and estate planning) department.
- Subsequently, I started the LPC/LLM programme on a part-time basis.
Did you know about any alternative routes into law at that time?
- No. I don’t recall being informed about the CILEX route until I was researching positions with Whitehead Monckton.
If you had your time again would you choose another route? If so, why?
- Not at all. At the time that I started the LPC I was working full-time and, admittedly, I did question what I had gotten myself into. However, once I had developed a suitable structure around work I was very committed to the course and really enjoyed the workshops. I had found a new love of learning. The majority of students who had taken a break felt this way. I don’t doubt that there were recent graduates who did too, however, in my class these individuals wouldn’t hesitate in expressing how “bored” and “fed up” they were of further higher education. I also gained a wealth experience from applying theory into practice 5 days of the working week.
- Taking this route has meant that I qualify later than some of my peers. However, it was my choice to devote to it later in life and therefore, I don’t see this as a set-back at all whatsoever. It’s really what you make of it; I gained invaluable life experience over those years which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
How did you keep on top of your studies whilst working?
- Discipline (a lot of it), meticulous planning and sacrifices are essential components if you wish to successfully manage the two. I prioritised my studies above everything else. Mornings, lunchtimes, evenings and commutes were for reading. Not missing workshops/lectures. I think it’s really important to get ahead of your timetable as soon as you can. I pinned to my work board my exams timetable and crossed off each exam as I went along, which helped me stay motivated.
- That being said, once in a while I made sure to block out a weekend where I visited friends and socialised!
- Lastly, it’s important to communicate to your manager if things become overwhelming – most people will understand but they won’t know if you don’t tell them.
Are there any specific skills that you feel people entering the legal profession need?
- I suppose different skills can be required within different practice areas. The key ones for me are creativity, communication, commercial awareness. I think a whole host of skills will follow when these three are strong (having respect to all the other principal skills we know of).
- Ultimately, I think it’s a matter of finding the ‘why’. Once you have that covered, you’ll probably find a way to develop the appropriate skills to get there. You’re also more likely to do it in a way that is fulfilling and rewarding for you.
Can you give any advice to aspiring Lawyers who are keen to obtain experience in the legal profession?
- Firstly, setting goals is great but be prepared for your plans to take an unexpected turn (if nothing else, we only need to look at the last 12 months to appreciate this).
- Also, don’t be afraid to explore roles which aren’t exactly what you had set in mind. I know several aspiring lawyers who completed the LPC before I did but who are still struggling to secure a TC because they’re exclusively seeking to train with top city firms. Assess each
opportunity available to you based on its contribution to your development and try it! Getting your foot in through one door is better than knocking on 100s (without doing anything differently). You need to be flexible and switch up your approach if the current one isn’t working.
- Make use of online social/employment platforms! Not just LinkedIn. Instagram also boasts a legal community of professionals and groups which provide great insight into what it’s like to work within the industry (links to useful webinars and Q&As).
Do you know which area of law you would like to specialise in? If so, why?
- I have an idea, but at this stage I’m excited to have the experience of all the seats available to me before I make that judgement.
Has the pandemic affected your career path? If so, have you done anything specific to overcome this?
- I’ve been training from home which any trainee will agree has presented its challenges. However, not being a newbie at the firm has certainly alleviated some of these challenges for me.
Can you give me at least one positive to have come out of the last 12 months either personal or professional?
- Being awarded a distinction for the LPC/LLM and buying my first home.
What do you hope for your future career in law?
- Short-term: employment on qualification!
- Long-term: it would be nice to set up and run my own department one day. I’d like to fall into something that is different and requires my particular set of skills, which isn’t something that can be planned for (yet!).
What is your final piece of advice for students wishing to pursue a career in law?
- Don’t feel you need conform at the expense of your individuality.
- Don’t allow the cynics to deter you from your ambitions. You can be a lawyer until you’re 66y/o (older, if you so wish) – don’t be afraid to start at 25+. Ask yourself important Qs such as: does it really matter to you if you’re not a partner at X age?
- Seek advice from those you admire. If you have the opportunity to take a break and travel, learn a new language/skill, explore your environment/culture etc. before pursuing a demanding, but fulfilling, career then do it. Set your own standards.
- I think if you’ve fulfilled your hearts desires then the rewards of your career, and journey there, will be ten-fold.
Thank you Suzan for taking the time to share your story. It was lovely to hear how you are getting on since we last saw one another and it’s great to hear that despite the trials and tribulations of the last 14 months, your work and personal journeys have been a success!
You can find previous episodes from the Routes into Law series here