From lab coat to law firm

Converted Mancunian Caroline Stockwell believes students should keep their career and job options open. Caroline Stockwell is a trainee solicitor at Addleshaw Booth & Co.

Working as a chemist in a laboratory is, admittedly, an unusual first step into the legal profession.

After leaving university with a degree in chemistry, I opted for a career at a multi-national pharmaceutical firm in Hertfordshire. Nine years later and a couple of hundred miles further north, I am training with Addleshaw Booth & Co in Manchester.

But the leap from the laboratory to the law was not as unusual as it sounds. I had become interested in environmental engineering and management while working in the pharmaceutical industry, which led to a switch of role to the corporate environmental field. The job involved developing systems to prevent or cut emissions by ensuring companies complied with environmental regulatory requirements.

When a part-time Masters of Science degree in Integrated Pollution Management at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) followed, the links between the environment and law became more apparent.

The switch in career direction was a big step, as was choosing a provincial law firm. The decision to move north on a permanent basis was made while at UMIST. My professor mentioned Addleshaw Sons & Latham (as Addleshaw Booth & Co was known in 1994), and I promptly made inquiries into the firm's work.

After taking into account all the relevant factors, I decided that working as a trainee in a thriving provincial law firm would provide the most opportunities to gain experience. Addleshaws had a good quality client base in a city with a large industrial background – perfect credentials for gaining broad commercial legal experience and responsibility.

Manchester appealed as I had prior knowledge of the city through my studies and visiting friends. Its reputation as a vibrant and modern environment also proved irresistible.

After approaching Addleshaws with a view to obtaining a training contract, I undertook the Common Professional Exam and Legal Practice Course at the College of Law in London – eventually beginning my training contract in August 1997.

The firm proved to be a rewarding choice for many reasons. With a first-class training programme, it has given me the best start to my career.

Trainees undertake four six-month seats during their training contract. The larger departments within the firm include corporate finance, banking, litigation, property, and intellectual property (IP) amongst others, giving trainees ample opportunity to develop their skills and to some extent develop areas of specialisation.

There are also opportunities to work with outside client companies on secondment. Seats are currently available with Zeneca Pharmaceuticals and Airtours. If desired, trainees may undertake seats in Addleshaws' Manchester and Leeds offices during their contract.

My first seat, in IP, was of great interest because of my scientific background, which I felt helped in understanding clients' requirements. During my time in the department, I participated in a trial involving copyright infringement at the High Court.

My second seat was spent on secondment at Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, which offered the opportunity to apply law in a commercial context and be part of a team at a level where people make commercial decisions. My current seat is corporate finance, where I have already been involved with a wide range of deals and had a great deal of client contact.

The move north for a new career was never going to be easy. Now, more than 12 months later, I feel that my decision has been vindicated. Moving to London would have been easier, but I doubt whether I would have gained the responsibility and experience that I have in Manchester.

The capital does not have the monopoly on the country's leading firms. As I have discovered, the opportunities outside London are vast. For me, the drive north up the M6 was easily the best career move I made.