Aspiration to achievement – Laura Bufton’s success in her home town

11th February 2022

 Where did you grow up and where did you go to school?

I was born in Hereford and that is where I have grown up. I went to Aylestone High School and Hereford College of Technology.

What did you want to do when you left school, if not the law?

I really had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. I knew that I was interested in law and went on to study it at A-level (along with Theology and English Literature) but I didn’t really know much about the available roles or how you could qualify in certain areas, especially without going to university (which I never wanted to do). I love the history, importance and complexity of the law and especially how it affects all of society.

Over the years, I wanted to become a lawyer but that meant having a law degree which I did not have. I didn’t realise that there was any other option and so I continued to work in the law, as close to the role I wanted as possible.

When and why did you start training for law?

After having a few retail jobs, I came back to my interest in the law by working as a secretary in a local law firm which mainly dealt with wills, probate, and conveyancing. I hoped to work my way through the ranks as I believed that was the best way, without a law degree, to get through the door.

I soon realised that this area of law wasn’t for me and started another secretarial role in a local criminal law firm; I found criminal law fascinating and knew it was something that I would enjoy. I started training and qualified as a police station representative – accredited by the Law Society – which enabled me to provide legal advice to clients who were being interviewed or had been arrested by the police. I stayed in this role for nearly eight years and loved the variety, but the hours were rather challenging – there was very little work/life balance. There were also several changes being made to legal aid and other financial implications for criminal law which meant that future career prospects were unknown.

I decided that I needed to find another way of working in the law with more sociable hours and a more stable future. I thought it would be difficult to find another position that enabled me to be so involved in the area I was working in. I started as a PA/secretary in the dispute resolution team at Harrison Clark Rickerbys, where the hours were far more sociable, to enable me to decide on where I wanted to go.

Dispute resolution soon became an area that I loved, and the firm were extremely progressive and encouraging. Shortly after joining the firm, I discovered that you could train to be a lawyer without having a law degree – finally, a way to achieve my goals!

With some encouragement from my head of department, Richard Morgan, I started studying to become a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) and progressed to the position of paralegal, then trainee. It took four years of studying whilst working full-time, plus a further year to complete a portfolio until I could finally qualify on 4 January 2022.

Why did you choose the route that you did, rather than the more traditional route?

I was not aware of the CILEx route when I left school or even after I finished college. I never wanted to go to university – which surprises many people – but it just wasn’t something that interested me. As far as I was aware, to become a lawyer, you needed a law degree; I soon jumped at the chance when I discovered an alternative route to qualifying.

I don’t think that the CILEx route is a well-known option for those leaving college or even those with a law degree who don’t want to do the traditional training contract route, or those who struggled to get one.

During the four-year study period, you are also working in the field of law which enables you to learn the academic side and to put it into practice; for me, that made all the difference.

If you have a training contract ( which follows a law degree), you spend a six-month period in four different departments, meaning that when you qualify as a solicitor, you are likely to have only experienced six months in your chosen field. Comparing that to the CILEx route, I spent five years training and working in my chosen field before I qualified (in fact, I have worked in dispute resolution (DR) for over seven years). The experience that I have gained during that time is incredibly valuable and exposed me to some of the firm’s biggest cases.

Why did you choose DR?

Because of the variety of the cases and the tactical element involved; no day or case is the same. There are exciting developments within this area, including the involvement of legal technology and artificial intelligence. DR is about problem solving – finding the best solution in order to achieve your client’s objectives. It can be challenging, fast paced and labour intensive, but resolving the dispute is such a great reward.

How you feel about your promotion?

I must admit, it felt rather surreal for a while because I had been working in this direction for so long and to finally achieve my goal was incredible – somewhat unbelievable!

Now that it has sunk in, I am very proud to have reached my goal and eager to keep progressing. I am incredibly grateful to HCR, especially Richard Morgan and my colleagues, who have supported me 100% throughout my training, encouraged me when I needed it and who inspire me to work harder and continually raise my game every day. I am also hoping to raise some awareness of the CILEx route so that people who are in a similar position know that there are other options to qualify.

Why have you stayed in Herefordshire?

I love Herefordshire – I don’t think that there is a better place to live or work! I have three dogs and love having so much beautiful countryside on my doorstep. It’s wonderful to see how much Hereford has progressed over recent years with new and exciting businesses popping up!

I think that there is this idea that in order to do the large cases or make the biggest impact, you must work in a large city, but that just isn’t the case. I have worked on some of the firm’s largest DR cases, all from little Hereford. It is not where you live or work, it is the people you surround yourself with that matter.