Kerry Westland: The lawyer of the future and her unique training contract

In 2010, Kerry Westland joined Addleshaw Goddard’s Transactional Services Team as a paralegal.

She’s now due to qualify as a solicitor – but she hasn’t done a normal training contract. Instead, she’s learned how to code and spends her time pitching to clients and strategising about how Addleshaws uses technology.

We caught up with her to talk about her experience.

Kerry Westland
“I taught myself how to code… future lawyers need to think more about that than they do at the moment. It’s really satisfying to build something that makes your people’s lives easier”

What’s your background – did you always want to be a lawyer?

I’m from Kent originally. I always thought I wanted to be a barrister, so I applied to do law at university and happened to end up at Manchester.

After uni, I still wanted to be a barrister, so I went and did a postgraduate certificate in criminal law and society because I thought that would be relevant. I did that part time while working, then did my bar course in Leeds.

While I was in Leeds I had my eldest child, I finished the course in the summer of 2008 and then I went on maternity leave.

I went back to work for a bit, running Pathways to Law at the University of Manchester, getting A level students in law. Then I had another baby and took some more time off.

How did you end up at Addleshaws?

After coming back from having my second baby I thought, ‘Now’s the time I need some legal experience so I can apply for pupillage.’

There just happened to be a job for a ‘transactional services assistant’ at Addleshaw Goddard. I though it sounded interesting though I wasn’t 100 per cent sure what it meant!

That was in December 2010 and I was one of the first 11 paralegals in Addleshaws’ Transactional Services Team.

That’s how I ended up at the firm. At the time, I’d done a bit of legal work experience and things like that and still thought being a solicitor wasn’t for me. But I really enjoyed working in the team and in May 2011 I was promoted to senior paralegal.

How did your time at the firm progress?

That summer I applied for a training contract at Addleshaws… and didn’t get one!

But I was doing more and more complex work within the team and in January 2012 I was promoted to team leader. That meant I was managing a couple of teams, and some of our really big projects. That summer I applied for a training contract at Addleshaws again, and that time I got offered one. It was due to start in September 2014 – because obviously firms recruit so far in advance. By that point the powers that be had agreed you could convert your bar course to the LPC so I did that conversion part time for a year while working.

Then in 2013, I was promoted to another role in the team – quality manager. That job involves looking at our processes and working out the best ways to ensure the work our team is doing is of a high enough quality. Over that year I started to think, ‘Do I really want to leave this?’ The team had grown to 80 people, it was really exciting and I really felt I was shaping something. The thought of going and leaving all this excitement behind… well, I started to wonder if that was what I wanted to do.

So what happened?

We had a discussion about whether I could do my training contract in the Transactional Services Team. I wanted to continue where I was, but equally I do still want to tick those final boxes and become a solicitor.

In summer 2014 the firm agreed I could do my training contract in the team, stay the role – that summer I was made senior manager – but I would start to tick off the competencies that allow me to become a solicitor.

How has it panned out?

I think I made absolutely the right decision. The team has exploded – we are 144 people now, with the majority based in Manchester, though we have a Leeds offering and people in London as well.

I get to do really exciting work – I go and pitch to clients, and I work with for people right across the firm. Along with Mike, the head of the team, as senior manager I focus on strategy and development and the use of technology. I manage a couple of people and they are very much focused on the technology across the firm – it actually makes my role wider than just the team. We also have another senior manager whose focused on the operational side of things.

I’ll qualify at the end of February, but it won’t change anything. It’s just a box ticked.

You mentioned a lot of your work is to do with the use of technology…

There’s a lot of talk in the legal press about the use of tech at the moment. Where someone like me will excel is because we understand law and how to apply to technology to law.

Sometimes, you have IT people and you have lawyers – and they don’t quite meet in the middle! People like me are able to act as translators between the two groups.

I taught myself how to code, I’ve learned how to build some of those solutions that we are building to demonstrate to clients. Future lawyers need to think more about that than they do at the moment. It’s really satisfying to build something that makes your people’s lives easier.

How do you see your career developing in the future?

I couldn’t have imagined I would be doing this job five years ago, and I suspect the role I will do in the future isn’t something that exists yet. I’m quite happy to see where it goes.

I think that having been in this team for five years, and this being one of the first teams of its kind, puts me in a good position. There aren’t many firms that would have allowed me to do the training contract this way.

Addleshaws recruits a lot of trainees from its paralegals one way and another…

I see people come though the Transactional Services Team as paralegals and I do think it makes them better trainees. I think that’s a really good message. A lot of people think they need to get a training contract in their second year and if they don’t it’s the end of the world. It’s not!

Addleshaw Goddard’s Transactional Services Team

Basically, the purpose of the TST is to provide support to all of the Addleshaws’ practice groups. It mainly consists of paralegals, though the firm’s apprentices also work in the group.

By centralising all the paralegals in one team, rather than dotted about different departments, the firm is able to design processes to help them work more efficiently. Since they’re based in Manchester, they can also get work done more cheaply than in London.

This may seem obvious stuff, but Addleshaws was actually one of the first to do it when it set up the TST in 2010.

Plenty of other firms have followed suit with similar ideas. For example, Freshfields has also launched a low-cost shared services hub in Manchester.

The interesting thing about the TST is the way it’s developed. As the interview with Kerry mentioned, it has grown massively in five years since it launched, and now has its own internal career progression structure: while some paralegals do go on to traditional training contracts with Addleshaws, those that don’t can rise to senior paralegal and team leader status.