Eirini Sakellari

Paralegal at Axiom DWFM 
LLM International Commercial Law, 2020

""Please describe your current role and the journey you took to get there.

Currently, I work as a Paralegal in the Property Department of a national Law Firm. I am based in Birmingham, the city where I completed my postgraduate studies. I moved to Birmingham in 2019 to attend my LLM at the University of Birmingham. As a student, I attended countless career events and workshops, volunteered for different organisations, and participated in every available competition, challenge and programme which would boost my CV.

I was fascinated by the city of Birmingham and the prospect of joining the legal industry being based in the UK’s second-biggest city, so I decided to work hard towards boosting my CV and investing in my prospects. In 2020 I graduated with distinction and straight away I engaged with my Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL). A few months before graduating with distinction once again, I managed to secure my first legal role. Ever since I have been working as a paralegal in Real Estate, aspiring to qualify as a solicitor in the near future.

Did you know what you wanted to do before you started University?

Before I started University, I knew I would enjoy a career which would offer me the opportunity to interact with clients and colleagues, be accountable and have the chance to learn something new every day. I always dreamt of a challenging career path. My environment suggested that Law would be a good fit for my personality and after careful thought, I recognised that the legal career is a career that I would enjoy. Indeed, I realised that a career in law would give me the chance to master my strength in communication, organisation, and multitasking skills while offering the opportunity to develop my innovation and problem-solving capabilities.

Overall, Law was an exciting path lying ahead and since I met the requirements set by the Law School of Athens, I decided to give it a go today my career progress in Law is all I am passionate about.

Did you have any work experience before your graduated?

Before I graduated, I worked as a part-time administrative secretary at a private tuition centre for high school students. Apart from hosting the reception and the calling centre, I managed the principal’s diary, the courses’ timetable, and the correspondence, I organised several events and dealt with printing, scanning, faxing, and typing. I would also make sure that the reception and all our classrooms were maintained well-organised throughout the day. Through this role, I realised that I do have a strength in communication and client-care skills.

I also grasped the basics of working in the office environment and understood that working in a busy office is something I enjoy I also mastered my prioritisation and organisation skills and developed my multitasking capabilities, which has helped me a lot both in my studies and my current role. Most importantly, I identified how much I enjoy working in a team, being accountable and providing services to clients. Finally, I developed an admin skill set which proved to be vital when I started my paralegal job.

What do you love most about your role?

What I love most about working as a paralegal is the constant and continuous interaction with different people and personalities. Being a member of my team, I have the chance to communicate effectively with my colleagues and supervisors daily. My work is genuinely based on teamwork so effective communication is key. As a paralegal, I am in contact with clients daily, whether over the phone or during in-person client meetings. To have quality communication with different clients I must get to understand them and build rapport timely with every single one of them. To provide top-level client, care I need to show empathy, be innovative and creative and be commercially aware, to ensure my communication with the client is fruitful.

What is most challenging about your role?

What I find most challenging about my role is managing stress when the team's stress level is high. Last-minute changes happen all the time, no matter how organised and proactive one might be. When the team is stressed and the clock is ticking, it is highly challenging to maintain team balance and composure. During these moments it is critical to take a step back and breathe to keep my thoughts clear and speed up to deliver top-quality performance in time. Working in the legal industry can be stressful, the volume of work is normally high and people skills are tested every day. Therefore, I consider the effort to preserve my team’s and my balance while being under pressure a constant challenge on which I am continuously working.

Have you faced any key challenges during your career journey, if so, how did you overcome them?

Of course, I have faced key challenges during my career journey, and to be more precise, I faced the biggest challenge right at the beginning of my journey. Having graduated from the Law School of Athens, I invested the first four months of my master’s in understanding the legal industry of Birmingham, identifying my career prospects and planning my next moves regarding my job applications.

This period of time was challenging itself, as I was competing with postgraduate students who already knew which positions, they were interested in and what it would take to get one. I did not even know how to answer applications/interview questions using the STAR technique. So, all I did during the first months of my studies at the University of Birmingham was to attend every event that would help me familiarise myself with as many employers and the recruitment system itself. By the time I was ready to submit a decent application the pandemic hit.

COVID-19 found me away from home and family trying to secure a job in a market which instantly froze. It took me a few days to get myself together and reflect. I realised that I was not alone in this unprecedented situation and the best I could do was to continue working on applications and continue looking for a legal job, as per my initial plan. Looking for a legal job was not fruitful, so I started applying for non-legal jobs. No progress was made either. Therefore, I decided to look for opportunities to volunteer from home, and experiences to boost my CV, and I did. These experiences kept me active and productive throughout our first summer with COVID and proved to be extremely helpful once the job market started moving again.

How did your time at Birmingham help you prepare for this role?

Birmingham proved to be the perfect place for me to enter the legal industry while completing my postgraduate studies. The University of Birmingham provided me with access to their massive Law Careers Fair, exclusive events with law firms and introduced me to PGDL and LPC providers, helping me continue with my PGDL studies.

As a student at the University of Birmingham, I had the opportunity to participate in its Masters’ Consultancy Challenge, even though I was a Law student and a career in Consultancy was not among my aspirations. Once I came across this opportunity, I realised that it would be the perfect chance to interact with master’s students coming from different disciplines, work in a diverse team and deliver a pitch on a given topic within a set timeframe. This experience boosted my confidence and made me hungry for a similar experience.

My research on similar programmes drove me to participate in the Linklaters25 innovation competition as a student at the University of Birmingham and was among the best twenty-five candidates out of thousands and was invited to an exclusive event in their London office. During my LLM I also had the opportunity to participate in Bright Network’s experience programmes online and volunteered as their brand ambassador promoting these particular programmes on social media.

My course mates introduced me to the Citizens Advice Bureau, where I volunteered until I got my paralegal job, as a telephone adviser. Finally, as a student in Birmingham, I attended events hosted by national and international law firms hosted in their premises before the pandemic hit. This was an excellent opportunity to get an insight into the offices of many law firms and be introduced to their culture and people.

What are your career plans for the future?

Working as a paralegal for a year now, I aspire to qualify as a solicitor in the near future, either through the SQE or the LPC route. As I am based in Birmingham, a city I genuinely love and believe in, I am continuing my legal journey in the city where this journey began. Soon enough I am also changing my work environment, joining a big, full-service UK law firm famous for top quality client service and excellent office culture. My plan is to continue working hard as a paralegal in Real Estate, learning as much as possible and giving back to the community in any possible way, remaining focused on my ultimate goal which is to qualify as a solicitor.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in getting into your industry or role, or if they’re unsure what they want to do?

The legal industry is a challenging industry and competition is high. There can be times that one wishes to quit. The key is to understand why a student wants to pursue a legal career and always remember that there is a reason they try to succeed in this field.

It is important for everyone to enjoy their profession otherwise the job turns into a burden. The best way to understand why one enjoys this profession and why they seek a way in is to gain relevant experience. Law firms are quite transparent these days, thanks to social media and ambassadors. Follow as many as possible online, subscribe to their newsletter and attend every event which you find interesting, go to Open Days, apply for Vacation Schemes, attend networking events, and speak to people.

I was surprised by the insight people are willing to share when I sent them polite messages on LinkedIn. If you can shadow a professional for a couple of days or obtain a few weeks of work experience in a law firm, you should not miss the opportunity. It takes time and effort to understand if this is what you want to do in life. And only when you find the reasons why you want to join the industry will you be able to persuade your interviewer that you are the best fit for each role you apply for.

What would be your key piece of career advice for a student just entering the employment market?

Keep an open mind. Stay focused on your ultimate goal but always remember that there are more than one routes to get there. Some routes are quicker, others are slower. Some routes are easier, while others are more challenging. If you cannot take the quick and easy path, do not be afraid to try any other alternative way that can take you where you wish to get. Every experience one gains is a step closer to their aspiration, even if it seems irrelevant.

No experience is a waste of time. Make the most out of every stage of your life and studies, not only for your CV but for yourselves, so that you can learn, enrich your network and gain confidence.

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