National Careers Week – Climbing the Ladder
This week is National Careers Week and as part of that we’re celebrating some of our longest standing staff members who have been able to progress their careers with us at Bell Lamb & Joynson. It’s not just about professional development either, but about supporting our team to grow as individuals.
We caught up with Partner Laura Cartwright to find out about her journey and how she got to where she is today:
I was initially employed by Benjamin Kay & Co as a Legal Secretary to a Partner in the Runcorn office in August 1998. Prior to this, I had worked for 13 months at another Law Firm as a Junior Legal Secretary. In 1991, they were incorporated by Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors and we joined up with an office that they already had in Runcorn. Things were different in those days, and the partner I worked for handled a variety of matters including crime, divorce and family work, wills and probate and personal injury claims so I had an opportunity to develop my knowledge in a few areas of Law.
I bought my first house in 1991 with my partner, Chris, whom I went on to marry in 1994. We had our daughter Rachel the year later and after that, I went back to work full time, and I was lucky enough to have my mum who looked after Rachel whilst I worked. I was 28 when our son Nathan was born and I worked 3 days a week. When I was 33, an opportunity was offered to me to become a conveyancer with my own case load and I increased my days to 4 days a week. I did all of my own work on every file – from inception to registration which meant I provided quotes, opened files, progressed and completed conveyancing transactions, dealt with SDLT and HMLR applications and following registration closed files. At that time, we did not have a case management system and the regulations were not as intense and strict.
When I was 37, I felt it was make or break and I applied to CILEx to study at Level 3. I had 2 children aged 9 and 11 and worked 4 days a week - I had not sat an exam for 21 years! Miraculously, CILEx accepted me as did Chester College as a mature student and I began attending one evening per week for 2 years. I covered a variety of subjects to include Family Law & Practice, Criminal Law & Practice, Wills and Succession, Employment and Litigation.
I decided that as I was so busy with “life” I needed to study on the basis that I had no time to fail, I had to pass and first time, so I gave it everything I had and did really well. I said to myself that I would just take each year as it came and if I passed, I would carry on. Having not sat an exam for so long, it was difficult to get a feel as to how much you needed to do but once I started, I soon realised what the examiners needed. Having passed Level 3 I went on to study Level 6 and studied the third year at home in my own time.
Level 6 is at Honours Degree level, so it was quite a step up. I studied Criminal Law and Wills and Succession and smashed both! I had 2 exams left and knew that I could finish what I had started. Year 4 was Conveyancing, which I studied at home and I attended the Law Academy in Liverpool to finish off with Land Law. At 41, I had finished my CILEx studies and was lucky enough at that time to take advantage of being fast tracked to Fellow status due to my previous work history and I was admitted as a FCILEx on the 18th October 2012. For myself, my husband, children and parents this was a very proud moment - I had never imagined that I would have begun to study as I did, let alone finish and graduate with such success.
Approximately four years ago I was asked to be Head of Conveyancing Department at Bell Lamb & Joynson Solicitors and I accepted this role. I was 46 and it struck me that there were so many younger people who needed support, guidance and encouragement and I knew I could give them that, and knew it was now my turn to take on this role. Having 2 children who were just starting out in life, I would always want them to be treated in the same way that everyone starting out should be and being kind, having patience and offering support should not be a chore.
At this time, it also became apparent that to achieve success there is no “us and them” - all staff in the conveyancing department have a job to do and if each person does not do their job then it has an impact on someone else, so everyone has the same level of importance. I encourage staff to speak up and make themselves heard, if they have an idea about how to improve, let’s hear it. We are all in this together after all.
The systems changed quickly in how we worked, and we now have the benefit of a New Business Team who deal with the onboarding of all of our instructions together with a Post Completion Department. This has given Conveyancers an opportunity to deal with the legal side of each transaction more than the administration side and has seen the Department grow significantly in five years. We also have a fabulous case management system which ensures we can all work seamlessly whether we are in the office or at home.
Over the last 12 months as we have all worked from home, Microsoft Teams has been used by the whole firm as the main point of contact. We have weekly team meetings within the Conveyancing Department, at difficult times these were twice daily and we use it throughout the day to chat, assist with queries and of course for general banter. I really don’t know where we would be without Teams and I love how everyone has adapted to home working as a result.
On 1st July 2020 I became an equity Partner – approximately 31 years since I first walked through the door. My case load is still as it was before and I am still the Head of Department however I have additional duties such as capacity planning, compliance, general partner duties etc. The growth of the Department also includes supervising everyone as much as possible and ensuring that those who are seeking progression are striving to achieve this.
2020 has been a very difficult year for so many people, and as a Conveyancing Team we have had to deal with a member of our team being diagnosed with breast cancer and who is now undergoing treatment and also the sudden death of another – colleagues in our team are also friends, and the way everyone has continued to work through and achieve what they have is a credit to each one of them.
The Conveyancing Team are like another family to me and I am immensely proud of each one of them. I can’t say it has been an easy ride along the way, but I have certainly had lots of laughs, lots of tears and met some lifelong friends as a result.
What advice would I give to my younger self? If you want it, you can do it. You don’t have to be the best, but if you are committed and work hard enough you will achieve – and don’t let anyone tell you that you won’t!