Job Title: I am a financial services contractor currently working at a well-known ADR service as a quality assurance auditor dealing with financial complaints.
I’m also general manager of The Student Lawyer website. I will be starting my training contract in 2022 at a top-55 UK law firm with a view to qualifying as a solicitor in 2024.
Degree Title: I graduated from the University of Kent with a LLB Law degree in 2012, and I am now an LPC LLM Student at the University of Law.
Camilla's Steps to Success:
At university, I thought that having a law degree would make me a highly desirable candidate in the job market. After graduating, I realised that a degree was a pre-requisite for many jobs and that many employers also require experience in a similar role before they will invite you to interview. I encountered the ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma of not being able to get a job without experience, and not being able to get experience without a job! I struggled to get a permanent role and ended up temping in car sales for about six months.
Through an agency I managed to get a temporary role at a well-known Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service dealing with financial complaints as an administrator. Nine years later I am still there! I worked hard in my administration role and was subsequently taken on as a contractor adjudicator, a role I stayed in for around three years, resolving disputes between consumers and their banks and insurance companies. I gained valuable experience mediating between parties, helping them to reach an outcome and providing a free alternative to the court system.
I had a great quality record as an adjudicator and had mentored many of my colleagues which resulted in me being positioned and viewed by management as an expert in my field. After three years as an adjudicator, I was promoted to quality assurance (QA).
I have really enjoyed my time in financial complaints, and I have learnt so much and gained so many skills. Each role I have taken on has challenged me and pushed me to become a better version of myself.
However, after being in the QA role for around three years, a career in law began to call my name. Throughout my university years I had my heart set on becoming a lawyer and I couldn’t see myself in my current role for the rest of my career – not least because I am still a contractor so my job could end at any time! In January 2019, I knew it was time to embark on my legal career and so I started applying for training contracts. After overcoming self-doubt and many rejections I successfully secured a training contract in September 2020.
what do your daily WORK activities CONSIST OF?
I work as a quality assurance (QA) coach which involves reviewing a sample of the mediations which are issued by adjudicators and ensuring that the correct process has been followed. This involves reading case files thoroughly, checking guidance notes to make sure that any relevant directions have been followed, and writing a feedback report with recommendations about how we can improve our service. I also spend at least one day a week answering questions from adjudicators and helping them to work their most complex cases.
I enjoy my work because each case and each day is different, as guidance is often updated to reflect case law and regulatory changes. This means that I am constantly learning new things, even after almost a decade.
I also really enjoy helping adjudicators to apply guidance to their cases to reach a fair outcome, especially when new scenarios arise that we haven’t seen before. Because of how varied the cases are, there are always new challenges to overcome.
However, I am looking forward to embarking on my legal career as I feel ready for a new challenge and I’m looking forward to having my own clients to represent rather than remaining impartial as a mediator.
What is your pROUDEST MOMENT?
I am very proud of achieving a high distinction in the first year of the LPC. I set myself a personal goal to achieve a distinction and worked very hard to achieve it. I’m really pleased that my hard work paid off.
I’m also really proud to see my younger sisters succeeding in their chosen career paths!
What regret'S DO YOU HAVE in your career journey, and what would you do differently if you could go back in time?
I don’t really regret anything in my career because even though I didn’t take a straight path to my dream career in law, I have had great experiences along the way. I have benefitted from being a contractor - we don’t get holiday pay so can take as much time off as we like. I took full advantage of this and went on lots of holidays, including travelling around America for five weeks and visiting Texas, Miami, New York - something that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do if I went straight into a career in law. I also made lifelong best friends in my current job.
However, if I could turn back time I would have listened to my teachers and stayed at sixth form rather going to the local college. I don’t think I was quite ready for the freedom of college and should have stayed at sixth form where the teachers were much stricter! Underperforming at college had an impact on my academic confidence and made it harder for me to enter the legal profession, so I do regret that in some ways. However, I think that having to work harder to make up for my earlier academic shortcomings has made me a very resilient person and a great problem solver – every cloud has a silver lining!
What are the key lessons you have learnT from your journey?
It is so important to have confidence in yourself! I learnt that confidence has such a big impact on the decisions you make subconsciously, and the way you present yourself. I suffered from low confidence until quite recently which I believe was part of the reason why I delayed pursuing my dream career for so long.
One of my very first legal mentors told me that the biggest problem I will face in pursuing a career in law was my confidence. Knowing this, I learnt how to re-programme my mind to become more confident using daily written affirmations. After becoming more confident, I began to approach applications and interviews in a different way. Instead of thinking that I wasn’t really good enough to be a lawyer, I started to believe that the firm that eventually hired me would be really lucky. I certainly think this shift in mindset helped me to secure a training contract and so I would encourage everyone to work on their confidence! I made a video on YouTube explaining more about my own confidence journey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CkKzgFoEhX8
WHAT CHALLENGES are you facing in your current stage, and how are you managing them?
Time management is a daily struggle. I work four days per week in a highly targeted role, I manage The Student Lawyer Website, co-host a weekly podcast, run a YouTube channel and study the LPC part time.
I organise my time by using Notion, which I like as it contains a lot of handy features such as calendars, to do lists and you also can create mini-project pages. This makes me feel like I am in control of my time, but I do still have to work later than I would like to on most days to keep on top of everything.
To keep a healthy work-life balance, I make sure that I carve out time to go to the gym on most days, go to violin classes every week as a creative outlet, and treat myself in some way. This weekend I have booked a haircut and a microdermabrasion facial which I am looking forward to!
Do you feel like YOUR ethnic background OR SOCIAL MOBILITY HAVE hindered your opportunitieS?
My mother is a stay-at-home mum, and my dad was a mechanic and car trader when I was growing up. Neither of my parents went to university - although my dad has very recently gained a masters-level qualification in his field.
I do feel that I would have benefitted from having family members in professional roles because I didn’t really know what jobs were accessible to me so lacked direction as a teenager going through the school system. My school also was not very helpful in terms of careers advice. The only classmates that ever spoke about possibly pursuing a career in law were the very academic ones. I wasn’t particularly academic at school; I achieved relatively good grades at GCSE without revising very much (As, Bs and one C) but my school report cards were full of comments like “Camilla is very bright but she doesn’t stop talking long enough to do her work”. I viewed school as more of a social event than anything else.
Throughout school I didn’t even consider going to university. I’m not sure why, it just wasn’t something we really spoke about at school or at home. Due to not having much money growing up, I didn’t know who would support me financially if I stayed in education. I didn’t know that there were student loans available.
Truthfully, a large part of the reason I stayed at college was to claim the £30 Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) whilst I was also working three jobs on the side. I did freelance work for a tech company, worked in a supermarket, and in a nightclub three nights a week to help my mum pay the rent and bills and support my two younger sisters. I worked day and night shifts back-to-back at least three days per week which left me very little time for sleep or studying.
Making as much money as I could in the short-term was my priority and I didn’t think about my long-term career prospects. I didn’t enjoy studying software development, so I didn’t see myself pursuing a tech job after leaving college. The extreme hours I was working plus lack of interest in my course meant that I underperformed in terms of grades. This made it very difficult for me to get into university when I did decide to go. Luckily, I was able to negotiate with the University of Kent who let me study Law after providing myself in the first year of Criminal Justice Studies – I am very grateful for the opportunity that they gave me!
I graduated from university in 2012 when social mobility and contextual recruitment was not quite as prevalent as it is now, which meant that I didn’t meet the A-level criteria at any of the law firms I looked at. This also contributed to the low confidence I mentioned earlier.
I am very glad to see that things are now changing, and that my success in the workplace was valued when I applied to the law firm I will soon be joining.
What is the one part of your daily routine that was essential to your success?
I think there are many aspects of my routine that have helped me get to where I am today. Mainly things like not watching television during the week, going to bed early, reading self-improvement books and also journaling and writing affirmations to improve my focus and confidence.
However, if I had to pick one thing it would be waking up at 5am when I was applying for training contracts. I have more energy in the mornings, and I think that I produce my best work when I have good energy levels. I recognised this and ensured that I woke up early to write my applications. This enabled me to put in the hours required to write high quality law firm applications around my 9-5 job.
Do you take part in any extra-curricular activities that have helped you gain essential skills that have been found helpful in your job?
I started playing the violin in 2016. This has had a profound effect on what I like to call my ‘grit’. This is a term used by Angela Duckworth in her book by the same name. I read this book prior to starting violin classes and learnt that children who played musical instruments or played sports were more likely to be successful because they have had the experience of persevering through struggles and building resilience when learning something new.
I decided to start playing the violin to develop my resilience which was life changing. In my first lesson I couldn’t even hold the violin for ten minutes without feeling faint (it’s an uncomfortable and unnatural arm position). However, I persevered and now I am working towards my grade four exam! This had an impact on my ‘grit’ and resilience when applying for training contracts - I learnt that I really can achieve anything I set my mind to!
Aside from playing the violin, I am co-host of The Student Lawyer Podcast and I also started a YouTube Channel (https://www.youtube.com/c/camillauppal). This has helped me to develop my public speaking skills and confidence in front of a camera and when interviewing legal professionals. I am certain that these skills will come in handy when I start my training contract.