Career changer: An interview with Rachael Bell

Current The University of Law (ULaw) student Rachael Bell is the former director of a specialist construction business. After enjoying the legal aspects of her role she decided to take her passion for law one step further. She joined ULaw in 2018 to study the GDL and has gone on to start the LPC. We caught up with Rachael to discuss her experience of being a career changer and what her dreams are for the future.

I studied the GDL at Chester campus during 2018 to 2019. I also deferred some GDL exams until 2020. I am so glad I did and that I recognised it would be better to wait until the right time. Life was very busy leaving the business; the demands of the course were also high. ULaw were excellent and supportive with this, and I cannot thank my tutor enough. Now I’ve started my LPC Masters at the Chester campus.

I was the director of a specialist construction business from 2009 until 2018. We were a small to medium-size enterprise with a small office team, low overheads and between 20-30 engineers on site across the UK. I discovered very early on that I was interested in law, and that it was involved in my job on a day-to-day basis. I started as an office manager and my role expanded with my experience.

In 2010, when my daughter was young, I took the NEBOSH National General Certificate for health and safety at my local college. After I qualified, I was made the director responsible for health and safety. With health and safety there is a lot of law cross-over: a lot of European Union Directives that applied to noise, dust and environmental impacts on our sites. When I sold my shares in the business we had an order book of public and private sector clients across the NHS and education sector. Working for public companies also involved cross-over with the legal sector, and ensuring we had the correct policies and procedures in place. I moved away from the area and wanted to step away from the business and try something new. I thought law would be an interesting and challenging next step. I was not wrong.

One of the things that inspired me to choose a career in law was seeing a trial at the Crown Court and being lucky enough to see 12 barristers in action. I found their methods, language and approaches amazing to watch. I have been very interested in fairness and access to justice for as long as I can remember, so law seemed a good sector to move to. I have always had great respect for the profession and I wanted to succeed in a challenge. I set it as an achievement for myself. I wanted my children to see that their mum could make it as a lawyer.

I chose ULaw because I found it so professional, welcoming and well organised. I have only had positive experiences at ULaw and I have enjoyed being here so much. I have met lovely people and had my horizons broadened immensely since joining a room of law students. The focus on wellbeing, on students and the smooth running of the ship is so positive. The staff are also lovely.

I am looking forward to focusing on my chosen practice areas during my LPC, which are firmly based in my business roots. The GDL, albeit hard, was a great grounding in the most relevant areas of the law.

As a mature student, I was a lot calmer the second time around: a lot less eager to prove myself. I was selling shares in my business and transferring things over at the time. I also moved to a new house, so there was a lot going on. The other mature students in the class would offer a different perspective on areas of law we had experienced in our adult lives. We would often find ourselves nattering with lecturers about rights of way and issues with neighbours after the land law workshops. I think it was harder as a mature student in some ways, easier in others.

One of my highlights at ULaw was winning my LPC scholarship; it was a fantastic moment. I worked very hard on my essay and wanted to draw my readers into a typical busy day in a growing business. The scholarship news showed me that I had succeeded in that. I also had a lovely group on the GDL. We all remembered each other’s birthdays and had a good time while working hard but also making sure to check in with each other and be kind and supportive.

I felt out of place, nervous and an imposter when I started at ULaw. But within a few short weeks, everything was familiar and I was having interesting conversations with the people in my group about the political situation here in the UK and climate change issues. I also made friends that were the same age as me and I was certainly not the oldest on the course. Our group was so varied and diverse it made classes entertaining. Another surprise along the way is that I have been well received by employers. I know a lot of students lament the business modules but I found my confidence in those modules. I would advise anyone to absolutely use their earlier career experience to their advantage. This is invaluable and it was only when a lawyer on Instagram advised me to talk about my own experience that I did. After that things changed for me, and I didn’t feel like an imposter anymore. I am so grateful that I got that advice.

Looking ahead five years, I would like to be on the way to being a partner in a large firm. I would also like to be mentoring new entrants to the profession, as I did not have a mentor and it would have been helpful. Most importantly, I would like to be happy, healthy and enjoying work each day. If there is something 2020 has taught me, it is that sometimes you have to look closer at the short-term achievements than the longer term goal in times of uncertainty.

I’d tell anyone considering a career change to do it. Do not be afraid. You have so much to offer. Make sure to start early with building those relationships with employers because time flies when you are studying. A lot of the barriers we feel as a mature student are often our own barriers, such as imposter syndrome. There are so many great initiatives out there and they are just waiting to hear from you and help you make it in law.

Find out more about how to kick start your legal career with a law conversion course from The University of Law.