Careers Audio Transcription Carolyn Roberts with Sally Harrison

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1 Careers Audio Transcription Carolyn Roberts with Sally Harrison I m talking to Sally Harrison now. Sally graduated from this College, as it was then, in 1984 with a Degree in Geography and Geology, but she works now for a law firm. Sally can you tell us a little bit about how you got into that area and what happened to your career after you left the College here in Right well it was difficult to get jobs in 1984 so I did a secretarial job and then after a year in Australia I came back and was encouraged to apply for a job as a legal secretary. And from there the firm paid for me to do a legal executive course in order to qualify as a legal executive in property law. So you don t directly use your geography and geology experience, or may be you do do you? Not directly, no. But some of the geography I presume does come in relevant? I mean we do environmental searches for property law and there s lots of looking at plans to compare them at different stages. And having to look through documents and things, to read through long documents and pick out the little bits that apply are part of what I picked up at college because obviously reading articles and things in order to do essays. Right. But when you were coming towards the end of your degree course here presumably, you said you went straight into secretarial work. Did you have any particular career aspirations at that time? No. So you re not a planner, you didn t plan your career then from scratch? No, no. Not Prime Minister in ten years or something? No. No, okay. So why secretarial work then? Because it was difficult to get jobs in anything. I did clerical work for about a year and then I did a graduate secretarial course because it meant more opportunities, more options and better pay obviously than clerical work. And did you enjoy it? Yes, some of the time. Page 1 of 7

2 Right, but you were looking all the time for something more rewarding? I still applied for other different types of jobs but Okay, so why legal work then? I kind of fell into it as a result of being encouraged to apply just for a legal secretarial job and then it sort of all rolled on from there. Right. So who was it that was encouraging you to apply? My father who was a lawyer. Oh right, so there was a family connection? What about whilst you were at College? Did you seek any careers advice whilst you were at College? I think I did, but my recollection is that at the time, because it was only just hadn t that long not been just been teaching, that actually they weren t, the careers office wasn t geared up for anyone that wasn t doing teaching. Right. So it was quite a struggle then in those days? Yeah. There was nothing there was an office to go to but I don t recall it as being very helpful. Unless you were going into the more obvious things like, well teaching or some of the more obvious things that were tied up with particular courses, I don t recall it being very accessible or very useful. Right. Did you do any kind of review of the things that you felt you were good at? I don t remember if I did anything like that at College. After I left College I did do one of those courses where you do a whole day thing and you do different things, different tests.and they come out with suggestions at the end. Oh right, sort of aptitude tests? Yeah, okay. That was with a private company was it? Was that a worthwhile thing to do? I think so. It didn t actually lead to anything but that s partly because jobs were difficult to get hold of anyway. Page 2 of 7

3 Right. I think our students today get an opportunity to do that within the Careers Management Centre actually, but. It was a good thing to do. Right, okay. It did. some of the things you knew weren t you anyway without doing the test. For example? We did this was test I did as part of an interview thing. From this test we can tell you wouldn t be interested in doing any kind of marketing and I m thinking, yes. Doing anything that is cold calling on anyone, or that kind of thing, I knew that wasn t me anyway. I didn t need a test to tell me that. But some things in the test come up with because you just assume when you re at school and at college that everyone can do these things. I scored really highly on the logic tests. I just assumed everyone was logical. But they re not. But they re not. So that must make sense with the law side of things then? Yes, yes. Right and presumably the science part of your degree course? That part of the degree, yes and that helped very much towards the science part rather than I mean that s why I did geography and geology, I was very much scienceorientated rather than arts. I can almost still remember that myself in you, Sally! What about, if you look at the jobs that you ve had more recently. I know you moved to O some time ago but then you were telling me earlier that the job, or the organisation, had changed quite a lot subsequently. Yeah. The firm originally was called D and was all property and then we joined with an American firm called C about eight, nine years ago and I still do property, but the firm does, did, wider things and then it s only about fourteen, fifteen months ago that we joined O as a result of basically the whole property department left one firm, and went to another. Right, and you re now working right in the heart of the City of London aren t you? So that must be quite an interesting, stimulating, pressurised environment? Page 3 of 7

4 It can be quite pressurised but property is quite the other departments are much more pressurised. We are pressurised in that we have to give a good quality product to very demanding clients but the department heads don t expect us to work weekends and they don t expect us to work they expect us to be able to have a life as well. Right, okay. Just reflecting on that for a minute. What kind of skill, what do you think the skills are that are most necessary for your current job? What kind of things are the most critical things or that say you might look for if you were appointing somebody to work with you? Being able to read through an article and pick the relevant bits out or, in our case, title documents and some of them are difficult to read. Then also if you re looking through title documents and the title is not yet formally registered at the Land Registry so you ve got lots of documents of different sizes, different scales and different points that people are going to take apart and it s difficult. You ve got to match them all up together and read them through to work out exactly which bit of each document actually relates to your property. So you re kind of manipulating information and taking out the salient points? Does that relate to anything you were doing at College? The essays and things had very definite word lengths and my recollection is they were quite tight word lengths. You had to gather an awful lot of information and then reduce it, but still keep all of the relevant points into a relatively short essay. So from that point of view, yes, and also trying not, at College, trying not to just lift the words as they were in what you d read. Writing in your own words? If you re writing a report for a client, especially if they re a private client, rather than a property company client, it needs to be in English they understand and the English of a document that s 1930 s is not an English they understand. But you ve also got to try and prevent the report from being as long as the documents. Right, so synthesising? Okay. What about, do you work predominantly on your own, or as part of a team? Well the whole department is probably about thirty strong, but I do the residential rather than the commercial property mostly so there s me I ve still got people to go up to above. The advantage of our department is that no one minds people asking questions. If you re not sure you go and ask which filters the whole way down from the top of our department to the bottom and it can be quite unusual in law firms. Page 4 of 7

5 So it s not particularly hierarchical then? No. I mean there are people that are higher than me, more experienced than me, but they still come and ask me questions and I ll ask them questions and I can ask questions of people that have got more recent, perhaps current, knowledge. Then within the bigger team, I m basically doing residential. There s myself and then I have got an assistant who s a trainee legal executive and a secretary who works for us both. Were you involved in appointing those people? I was given a choice of two secretaries. Right. I m just curious about the kind of skills that you look for when you re choosing somebody. Say you were looking for a new graduate to join your department. What kind of skills would you be looking for? Well, the department are looking for someone that can look at and pick out the answers they have certain property questions they ask, so they d be looking for someone that could look round that and answer it, but they are also looking for people that have got a bit of out in the real world experience. If you want to do law anywhere in the City they re going to want someone who had something more than school, college and now looking for a law job. Right. Today we offer work experience as part of the courses. Is that, in your view, would that be a valuable thing for a student here to do? Yes, yes. Would it have to be in the relevant discipline, or could it be any kind of work experience? Probably, I mean any would be interesting, but they would probably want you to have at least been in a law firm before as opposed to. and I don t think anyone goes and does the law degree, the law conversion courses now, without having been on some kind of work experience in law. I don t think anyone would get a job without some form of experience in a law office. I think it has to be the same kind of law as you re looking at now, you know, because there s lots of varieties. Or the experience in a law firm. Right, okay. I was just thinking, from what you were saying, it was almost an experience of the world that s useful? Yes, but both. If people looking for jobs in the City they need other languages as well. If you re actually I mean half of our department has ended up there because of moves in firms. But these days having other languages is very important for getting jobs. Right. Any particular languages? What s the most desirable? Chinese probably, I should imagine. Page 5 of 7

6 We do have Chinese offices, but I m not sure they have much to-ing and fro-ing between us and them. I don t know, just fluency in any language. I don t think they re that fussy. In property we re not really fussy about whether you have a language at all or not. You d have to pass the firm s requirements, not just the property department s requirements, and the firm s requirements being a national law firm and most of the big ones in the City are international would want you to have, be fluent in, some other language. Right, okay. You mentioned there doing post graduate qualifications and I know you took a qualification whilst you were in work didn t you? Can you just tell me a little bit about that? Well it s called a Legal Executive Course and it s basically you start off by doing because being part time and working you do two years of basic law which would end up with the equivalent of a A level in law. After that you d take options and so you do, they ve changed it now, you do x many options and a practical over the next two years and those are degree level and would be the equivalent of topics in either a law degree or a law conversion course and doing it that way. That then qualifies you to be a legal executive once you ve got a certain amount of practical experience as well and then if you are feeling that way inclined, you can continue to work and study and can in fact then qualify as a solicitor just by adding more topics to the ones you ve already got, until you ve got the same number as they ve got. Right. So continuing professional development is a pretty important thing in your field then I guess? Although I haven t gone on and done it, that s there as an option to continue and most people are tempted by the fact that there s quite a large salary potential, but there is these days in all, whether you re a solicitor or a legal executive. Continual professional development is ongoing. Right, okay. Sally, if I were to ask you for any advice that you might give students thinking about potential careers, or helping them to get started, is there anything you might want to say to them? First go and try them, go to a law firm, see what they do, see if it s interesting at all. Then, if you can afford it, I think it s quite expensive to do, if you can afford to do a law conversion course full time it s better than trying to do it working and doing the course. What about more generally? Say it was somebody who wasn t thinking particularly about law. Is there any careers advice that you would give them about getting started? It s pretty long since I got started! I think look around, don t get caught up in something you don t really enjoy. Page 6 of 7

7 Oh right, that s good advice, I think so I think so. I know too many people, and that includes lawyers, who ve got stuck in something they don t really enjoy. They qualified as solicitors and then started doing a type of law they thought they d enjoy and then didn t. And then it s difficult once you re known for being like if I were to swap from property law to entertainment law I wouldn t have a hope. If you re already in law, and this would apply if you re not in law, if you think you might want to do something else it s better to try it fairly early on because otherwise you can get caught in the field you re in. It s difficult to get out of it once you ve been doing it for three or four years. Right. Well that sounds to me like good advice, to explore what you want to do and then be absolutely certain that it s something that will interest you. Okay, thank you very much for talking to me Sally. That s much appreciated and good luck with your continuing career. Thanks very much. Okay. End Page 7 of 7

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