Embracing sliding doors moments - why things not going to plan can be a good thing!

Remembering that the decisions you make as a school leaver can have long-lasting, far-reaching life and career consequences is a thought that many rightfully feel is fear-inducing. Factor in an unprecedented global pandemic to the mix, 18-year-old me who was used to feeling like she had it all figured it out, felt completely panicked and in unknown territory. 4 years later, I am nearly halfway into my solicitor degree apprenticeship, an award winner and completely grateful for the many sliding doors moments I have encountered.

Looking back, I realise that my goals and where I thought I’d be at 22 have changed often, due to factors both in my control and also out of it. I started out like most people - being state school educated and without any contacts to get my foot in the door into my industry - though I wanted to find a way to stand out and get ahead with the cards I was dealt.

I have always taken the initiative and had the drive to make things happen, and it was when I was in my final year of high school, after being prompted by a change in personal circumstances, that I found out about degree apprenticeships through independent research. Up until this point, I was adamant that I was going to attend the University of Edinburgh to study Spanish and History (MA Hons), as I had dreamed of for years. In the UCAS application cycle 2019/2020, I applied for five universities as a safety net, and applied for an apprenticeship at a company where I had previously undertaken work experience as my first choice.

I vividly recall the day in March 2020 whereby I was told college would be closed indefinitely due to a rapidly growing and unknown illness that was sweeping the country. The pandemic pulled the rug out from under me as it caused the Company to be unable to complete the rest of their assessment centre interviews (including mine), meaning places went to candidates who had already been interviewed. I was devastated by this setback, but reminded myself that this was something out of my control. 

Shortly after this, it was revealed that I would not be sitting my A Level exams and that grades were to be awarded on the basis of mock exams, coursework, class engagement etc. and in calibration with my college’s historical A Level performance. The fantastic yet fleeting feeling of having months off college suddenly felt frightening – was I now at a disadvantage due to classroom learning being inaccessible? Would I do worse than expected and there would be nothing I can do about this? Jumping to August 2020, I received A*AA in my A Levels which reflected the hard work I had invested into my studies in the year and a half I spent at sixth form before it was unpredictably cut short. Whilst I felt incredibly proud of myself, I was met with lots of comments of a demeaning nature that ‘I didn’t work for those results’ and that I was ‘handed my A Levels’. Alongside this, because of the months of no learning, exams or being in a classroom – complacency got the better of me and my attitude towards learning and my attention span wasn’t nearly as good as it was pre-pandemic. I have always taken great pride in being forward thinking and enjoyed being told I would “go far” in life, but the recent months had thrown me off track and I did not feel good about the place I was in.

Caving into my expectations of going to University and being afraid of it looking like I was doing nothing with my life if I took time out to wait for the apprenticeship applications to reopen, I acted on a whim and rejected my place at Edinburgh to study BA History and Spanish at the University of Manchester to be closer to home. I vividly recall the day I moved into my accommodation; my intuition told me that this wasn’t right. I anxiously opened up to my parents that I had rushed into this choice and was unhappy, and decided to defer my studies (fortunately before the academic year had started and I wasn’t charged fees) and take a year out to think things over. I ended up in the exact same place as I was scared of people seeing me in, but I knew that I wanted to do a degree apprenticeship and could now take the time to research and apply. Whilst I highly regret committing myself to those two weeks in Manchester, I am eternally grateful for what it taught me. 

During this year off, we were still facing intermittent lockdowns and closures as a society. I felt completely isolated and like I had nothing going for me. I happened to be on the train home from Liverpool one afternoon when I did some research on degree apprenticeships near me with location settings on, and fatefully stumbled upon the Weightmans solicitor degree apprenticeship. It was the perfect fit for me – an all-inclusive package that fosters your workplace skills, network and work ethic and provides an opportunity to gain your qualifications simultaneously, and most importantly, without spending a penny. This was certainly a way of getting myself ahead.

Knowing I had my place at Manchester waiting for me in September as a contingency, I had put all my eggs in one basket with this apprenticeship. I was absolutely delighted to have found out months later that I was part of the 13 successful applicants out of a pool of hundreds. It felt like the first success in a long time! In a stark contrast to when I step foot in my Manchester accommodation, I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be when I came for my induction at Weightmans in September 2021. All the setbacks were worth it and were meant to happen!

My life thanks to my degree apprenticeship is completely different. I decided to reap the benefits of being a ‘part-time student with full student benefits’ and moved into accommodation in Liverpool city centre with my best friend who was studying at Liverpool John Moores University. Relocating for my apprenticeship, living in a city and being close to the office is an experience that has allowed me to take back the years I lost to COVID. Studying towards my LLB (Hons) in Law and Legal Practice with BPP University to obtain my degree is rewarding, and working in the legal industry on real client matters and learning at the hands of fantastic solicitors has led me to be more knowledgeable and skilled at 22 than I would be had I taken the traditional route. Amazing opportunities such as holding committee positions, featuring on regional and national apprenticeship promotion campaigns, being a mentor, awards, making life-long friends and contacts are a few of many that I have encountered on my path, and I am only halfway through!

The moral of the story is not to view setbacks or diverting from your plan as definitive, but as redirection. Nothing is ever as straightforward as we would like it to be, and change is good! 

Other advice and takeaways for those considering apprenticeships:

  • If you are looking to get into law, you do NOT need to have completed law at A Level.
  • Don’t be disheartened if things do not go to plan.
  • Sometimes putting all your eggs in one basket does work, but having backup plans is important.
  • Fortunately, due to the (well-deserved and needed) raised awareness of apprenticeships, there are plenty of platforms and resources in 2024 to inform everyone that their options are not merely limited to university or straight into employment - I would advise that even if you are settled on one of these choices, that you at least navigate the endless social media campaigns and websites, or attend the careers events hosted nationally to broaden your horizons and educate yourself. Don’t just rely on your sixth form to tell you, take the initiative! 

Charity Lockie

Solicitor Apprentice at Weightmans LLP

You can find out more and connect with Charity on LinkedIn.