Hannah Giles | Paralegal Assistant at CMS
Our next guest is Hannah Giles. Hannah graduated from Napier with First-class Honours in the LLB and went on to complete the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow. Following the completion of her Diploma, Hannah commenced her role as a Paralegal Assistant with CMS. Hannah has taken part in an interview with the Law Review to share her experience from being a law student to what her role as a Paralegal Assistant looks like day-to-day.
1. Tell us a bit about your background. What university did you attend? Did you take a year abroad? What were your favourite/worst subjects in university? Did you participate in any societies?
I originally grew up in England and moved to the north of Scotland at the age of 14 and continued my studies here. I became dead set on studying law when I was around 12 years old, a big change from my initial wish of becoming an air hostess! When it came to applying to universities, it sunk in that I did not wish to move back to England at any stage, so I opted to go to university in Scotland and study solely Scots law.
I undertook the LLB (Honours) course at Edinburgh Napier University between 2016 and 2020 and later went on to study the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at Glasgow University. I didn’t take a year abroad primarily because I maintained a busy part-time job during my studies that I didn’t want to give up.
During my undergraduate degree and the diploma, I enjoyed subjects that related to criminal law such as Evidence, Advocacy, Contemporary Issues in Criminal Law, and Advanced Criminal Litigation. I also, surprisingly, found a great interest in Succession Law and went on to write my dissertation on that area. Despite knowing next to nothing to do with sports, I enjoyed studying Sports Law in the final year of my undergraduate degree. I wasn’t the biggest fan of Business and Company Law; I’ve never had a great interest in the more corporate side of law.
Whilst at Napier, I was a student advisor with the Edinburgh Napier Law Clinic. In my fourth year, I took part in Mooting, thanks to Gareth Harris for encouraging me to take part, I acted as Junior Counsel and thoroughly enjoyed both the preparation and presenting involved in mooting. Taking part in both taught me many very valuable skills and I encourage people to consider both the clinic and mooting no matter what stage you are at of the LLB.
2. What made you choose to pursue a career in the legal profession?
I decided I wanted to study law after reading a crime series by James Patterson. Within the series, there is a trial attorney and the court scenes within the books drew me in. I believe this is probably also where my interest in criminal law comes from.
3. You completed your Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow; how did you find the course? How does studying the Diploma compare to studying the LLB? Would you recommend applying to the University of Glasgow?
I found the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice to be challenging. I’m unsure whether this was due to the Diploma being entirely online or just due to the large workload. The Diploma is much more practical than the LLB and it gives a taste of what it is like to practice law. One thing I certainly missed during the Diploma was the smaller class sizes and personal aspects that I experienced whilst studying at Napier. The Diploma is undeniable a huge step up from the LLB and there is a significant amount of work. The Diploma at Glasgow is made up solely of coursework with no exams so that took the load off a bit. It is important to be prepared for the workload as there will be weeks where you will have multiple pieces of coursework due in. I would definitely recommend buying a diary and writing down when different pieces are due in, my diary became my bible!
4. When applying for roles after graduation, how did you find the process? Did you already have a lot of experience before applying?
Applying for roles after graduating was extremely daunting. It is a very competitive market, both attempting to get a traineeship and other roles that can help you gain relevant experience.
I had absolutely no experience before applying. It wasn’t really an option for me to take on a summer placement when I worked full-time during the summer to be able to cover costs. Despite this, I believe that the roles I worked in helped me gain a number of transferable skills.
5. Did you always know you wanted to be a Paralegal in your career?
I didn’t consider applying for paralegal roles until I was studying the Diploma. I wanted to take a more relaxed approach to securing a traineeship but knew that I certainly wanted to get a role that would give me a taste of what it is like to work in a firm.
6. Do you think enough was done to address the alternative career options available in the legal profession? Do you have any ideas on how more awareness can be given to students?
We were made aware of alternative career options. There is certainly more law firms that appear at law fairs than those from different fields, maybe an increase in professions that are outside of the legal realm would be of benefit.
7. What advice would you give yourself as a law student looking back now as a Paralegal Assistant?
I would start by telling myself to compile study notes consistently throughout the semester, not just in the run up to exams. I would have saved myself a lot of time and stress if I had done this consistently and not just from third-year. I would also tell myself to not be so knocked back by rejections, and although cliché, rejection is just redirection.
8. What does your role as a Paralegal Assistant at CMS look like day-to-day? Do you get to work with partners or have any client contact?
My role at CMS can be described as feast or famine. I work within the employment department and there will be occasions where we are turning away work because we are rammed and other days when we have absolutely nothing on our desks. When working in the employment department at CMS, the associate responsible for the case is more of the client for us. I rarely work with any partners at the firm.
9. What is the most rewarding part of your role?
I find it very rewarding when we can complete and return work before the set deadline. On occasions, the deadlines can be extremely tight so it’s always great when we can exceed expectations. I’ve also made great friends with my fellow employment paralegal and it is so rewarding being able to work with someone who you get on with like a house on fire!
10. What is your work/life balance like? Do you find that your workload has increased or decreased since the pandemic?
I think working from home has caused me to struggle with finding the perfect work/life balance, especially when I’m working from my bedroom. Although, I rarely end up working beyond my usual 9 – 17.30 day. I’ve recently started using my lunch breaks to go on a walk to break up the day more, also great for making sure I get my 10,000 steps. Given that I didn’t work at CMS before the pandemic, I am unsure whether the workload has increased or decreased.
11. What is the firm culture like at CMS? Do you see yourself working here for the foreseeable future?
The firm culture at CMS is fantastic! A lot of emphasis is put on the wellbeing of the staff and absolutely everybody is very approachable. Although CMS is a great firm, I do not see myself going on and securing a traineeship with them. As alluded to in one of my other answers, I don’t see myself working long term in a more corporate firm.
12. With mental health awareness becoming more of a priority for law students and subsequently law firms; do you think there is an element of recognition and adequate help at CMS for their employees?
CMS are a great company to work for concerning this aspect. CMS run a number of webinars that focus on dealing with stress both in and outside of work. There are also weekly workouts that you can participate in across teams during work hours. Much like I said in response to the question above, CMS puts a huge emphasis on ensuring that their staff feel supported and have put measures in that can help assist their employees.
13. In your opinion, what are the most important skills required for a successful career as a Paralegal?
I believe that to have a successful career as a paralegal you have to be a very organised person. In addition, you must have the ability to prioritise your workload whilst being unable to work under pressure on occasions where there is a fast-approaching deadline.
14. You started as a Paralegal Assistant with CMS in August 2021; have you been able to work in the office or are you based primarily at home?
My work has been primarily home-based. I have gone through to the Glasgow office once since I started to meet some of the Legal Services Unit team.
15. How do you feel about the future of the legal profession? Do you think dealing with clients will become more virtual permanently?
I feel like the legal profession is going to face a lot of changes in the future. Whilst I believe that in some areas of law clients can be dealt with via zoom, I don’t think this is possible across the whole of the legal profession.
16. How do you stay commercially aware with current events and what would you recommend for students?
I’ve found that one of the best ways to stay commercially aware is to follow news channels and newspapers on Twitter then that way you can have some enjoyment between attempting to stay commercially aware. I believe that scrolling through LinkedIn is also great to stay commercially aware. I subscribed to Scottish Legal News during my undergrad and I still receive and read this.
17. How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Driven, compassionate, headstrong
18. What is your proudest achievement?
My biggest achievement to date is undeniable gaining a first for the LLB, it came as a total shock to me!
19. What is your favourite pastime/hobby you like to do in your spare time? What Television series are you watching at the moment?
I’ve recently taken up ensuring that I get my 10,000 steps every day it helps me get out of my flat and also stay healthy. I enjoy being able to get back up North to see my family are our three days. I’m currently watching Chloe on BBC, it’s certainly a strange one!
20. If you could write a book/film about your life, what would the title be and why?
Taking a leaf out of many other people’s books, I asked my friends and they came up with ‘Law and Borders’ due to my years across the border.
Interviewed by Sean Doig (President 2021/22). We would like to thank Hannah Giles for taking the time out of her busy schedule to participate in the interview for the Law Review. If you would like to participate in an interview with the Law Review, please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.