John McKeown | Solicitor

The Diploma Diaries

After graduating from Dundee University with my Law Degree in 2006 and working for over ten years as a paralegal, I finally decided to take the plunge and ‘lawyer’ myself up. To qualify as solicitor in Scotland you need to complete your LLB Degree, the Diploma in Legal Practice and then complete a two year traineeship with a law firm.   So here I was, aged 30 something, finding myself heading back to Strathclyde University full time to undergo my Diploma in Legal Practice. I had toyed with the idea before but always assumed I would have to study the Diploma part time over two years but I was extremely lucky that my employers Jackson Boyd Lawyers, encouraged me to do the course full time, and allowed me to be flexible in my working hours to fit around uni. 

I was apprehensive about going back to uni as I was aware I would be working in groups or ‘firms’ and given it had been so long since I had been at Uni and only ever working in Personal Injury, I was worried I would be useless and not know any ‘law chat’. However, I decided my strategy would be to barter my practical experience of working in a law firm in exchange for the young ones’ up to date, fresh from the books, legal knowledge. Little did I know, I needn’t have been so worried.

I always remember day one, stepping back into that dreaded lecture theatre, not knowing anyone, and although being a tad older than the demographic, thinking I was still down with the kids. Or so I thought.  I whipped out my notebook and pencil ready to take notes, only to look around to find a sea of laptops, fingers frantically typing away. Similar to when I was super excited to use my student discount for the first time and I whipped out my student card,  and the girl serving me almost felt sorry me as she told me ‘its on an app now hun’. By jings, times had changed.

The first week of the Diploma is the Foundation week. I remember from the Diploma open evening the students saying ‘if you get through the Foundation week you will be fine’.  We were put into our firms and we all seemed to get on fine and they were agreeable to my barter exchange. There were a lot of presentations and workshops but actually, I came to realise that I am quite comfortable at talking in front of strangers. Or just talking for that matter. To be fair it’s never really been a struggle for me.

The first semester was quite intense. I cried three times. I had classes in Criminal Litigation, Civil Litigation, Conveyancing, Business & Financial Awareness, Professional Practice & Ethics and Private Client.   I didn’t find the work particularly challenging but there just seemed to be a lot of it. Every evening and weekend I would find myself having to do uni work, but I had already signed away my shoddy social life when I decided to go back to uni.  I would have a mixture of preparation work and online lectures for the next tutorial, along with group projects our firms would be working on, and most often a group presentation of sort. The firm projects had us working on a live transaction through an online platform against other firms, simulating how an actual case would be dealt with. We had to complete a conveyancing sale & purchase, winding up of an estate, drafting a will, and deal with a simple procedure case. These were challenging but the most effective way of learning for me. You would be sent a memo from your senior partner with instructions, just as you would do in an office, and then had to use what you had learned in class to complete the task. As there were four projects and four firm members we all assigned ourselves a project each to manage which helped with managing our workloads and delegating tasks.  Whilst the first semester was tough for me and challenging I soon came to realise that a lot of what was being taught on the Diploma, I had already learned from working in a legal environment, such as drafting letters; negotiating skills; interviewing clients , professional ethics and most importantly managing and prioritising your workload.

The 1st semester flew in and before I knew it was December and the dreaded exams! There were only three exams, civil litigation, criminal litigation and conveyancing, and they were all open book. I had never had an open book exam and oddly found them  more difficult to study for. Again, Jackson Boyd were great in allowing me time off for my exams and in the days leading up to them to study. I even found myself in the library studying (and having the occasional nap) on Saturday mornings – changed times indeed. But it all paid off with me passing all my exams – woohoo! Which was doubtful after a pigeon made a guest appearance during the conveyancing exam and got the better of my attention (without a good luck poop).

The second semester was definitely less intense. However after spending the first 12 weeks with the same group of people, we were now let loose and having to mingle with strangers again!  In the second semester we could pick our subjects and I went for Family Law, Advanced Criminal Advocacy, Employment Law and Tomorrow’s Legal Industry. I had always had an interest in Family law and really enjoyed this class, despite my faux pas when in the first class we were all asked to introduce ourselves and discuss our interests. I go first, introduce myself, with interests of hill walking, going to gigs etc… no Lauren, we mean your interests in Law. Oh I see. Is that a thing? Just kidding!

The second semester also allowed me to choose a work based elective, which Jackson Boyd supported me with by allowing me to develop my learning whilst working and attend pre -trial meetings, consultations and enjoys aspects to the job which my Paralegal role would not have afforded. In Employment Law we acted for a claimant in an employment tribunal and were given the opportunity to present our case in the tribunal offices in Glasgow. Similarly with Advanced Criminal Advocacy we took part in a mock murder trial where we had to cross examine our forensic experts in Glasgow Sheriff court in front of a sheriff. It was a great experience and the perfect opportunity to learn little things such as what side of the sheriff you sit at and general court etiquette.

With the only firm project in the second semester being a Personal Injury transaction, you would think I would have found it easy but actually I felt under huge pressure because if we don’t pass then I’m in bother! Whilst I was happy to manage to Project I wanted to make sure everyone else in the firm was involved. This came with it’s challenges, with some firm members not engaging, however it was a great learning experience for me. And we passed, which was a relief.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Diploma and realised that a lot of the skills that we were taught I had already developed through my experience of working in a legal environment. It was great for me to not only develop these skills further but also to learn from experiences such as presenting a motion, attending an Options Hearing, and examining witnesses in court that I can put into practice.

The law is always changing and it is important that I am equipped with the skills to allow me to keep abreast with changes and developments.  I now feel confident to tackle the next step in my ‘lawyering up’ journey as a trainee solicitor with Jackson Boyd Lawyers and thank them for their commitment to me and their support.

Lauren works in our EL/PL team dealing with employers liability claims, public & occupiers liability claims, industrial disease and criminal injuries compensation claims. If you need advice on any of these matters please call our office on ……

John McKeown

John McKeown

Dispute Resolution Team

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