We recently had an excellent opportunity to sit down and speak with Gemma Williams, Paralegal at the largest news publisher in the UK, Reach plc. In this interview, Gemma shares some invaluable insights into her Paralegal career so far, as well as some expert advice for aspiring Paralegals.
Tell me about the education route you took to become a Paralegal and your legal work experience prior to working for Reach plc.
After taking a gap year, I completed my law degree in two years at BPP University and then went on to do a masters at King's College, London, focusing on international disputes. During my time at university I worked at several small firms including a local high street practice and a criminal firm in London. I also worked one day a week in the second year of my degree at King's College Hospital assisting with litigation and police requests, as well as completing a vacation scheme at a US firm.
Following my masters, I worked for a small legal consulting firm who create the content for the Financial Times Innovative Lawyers programme. This is where I was first exposed to the in-house legal role and the ways that the legal industry is trying to stay creative and move forwards with other industries. I got my current role through paralegal agency F-LEX, and after I had been with the company for several months I was asked stay on permanently.
What does the average day look like in your role?
I arrive in the office at around 9.15am and look over my to-do list that I updated the night before. Once I have had breakfast I get to work on my tasks. I manage the data protection inboxes, so I will check through these and deal with urgent matters. As part of my role I work with different areas of the business drafting data sharing agreements and data processing addendums.
At lunch I go to the gym in the office or spend time with my colleagues and then in the afternoon, I check to see whether the team need me to do anything or if any emails have come in over my break. I start work on my tasks which can include drafting or reviewing commercial agreements, research, drafting letters and responses to claims or any data protection issues.
I have a weekly meeting with the legal director to look through our list of data protection requests that have come through from the public. Once we have gone through the requests I go back to the different publications and let them know of the decisions. Before I leave the office, between 5.30 and 6pm, I create my to-do list for the next day.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
One of the biggest challenges I face is dealing with and understanding the different parts of the business. Reach plc is made up of not just editorial publications but also commercial and advertising teams, and each area of the business has its own unique set of issues and targets. It can be a challenge to remember everyone's names and where they work.
Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
I enjoy the variety of work that is on offer and being able to meet lots of different people. I am given a large amount of responsibility but also lots of support. It is an extremely friendly and encouraging environment and this really helps me to build in confidence.
What made you choose a role in-house, as opposed to in a law firm?
One of the best things about working in-house is having your clients next door. I enjoy meeting with clients and understanding their needs. If I ever have a question I do not have to set up a meeting in a week's time because I can walk across the office and talk to them directly. Additionally, working in-house allows you to work in a smaller team, thus giving you a larger amount of responsibility and insight into how the business works. Everyone in the team is helpful and they are willing to let me sit in on meetings and read through files which has helped me learn much quicker.
What advice would you give to any aspiring Paralegals?
Any experience is good experience. Don't be afraid to throw yourself into things. You might have really enjoyed studying a particular area of law at university but in practice it might be very different, so make sure you are open minded and willing to try any practice area or business sector. Never be afraid to apply for a role even if you do not have a lot of experience yet, it is always worth applying and it is a good experience to go through the process. People train to become solicitors in so many ways other than the traditional path, so always bear that in mind and give as much as you can.
To find out more about the role and responsibilities of a Paralegal, check out our Paralegal job description article and our guide on how to become a Paralegal with limited experience, or, if Gemma’s insight has inspired you to start job seeking, check out the latest Paralegal jobs on TotallyLegal.
Would you like to take part in an interview about your experience as a Paralegal? If so, we would love to hear from you. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.