Bolton School Former Pupils
Stephanie Perplus (1991-2001)
Barrister, 15 Winckley Square Chambers, Preston
Qualifications: BA English and Spanish, Graduate Diploma in Law, Bar Vocational Course
Favourite subjects and teachers at school: I always loved English and had my head in a book for most of my childhood! I really enjoyed doing English Language and English Literature at school as it enabled me to do two of my favourite things – read English novels and poetry but also do some creative writing. Mrs Hadji-Georgiou really encouraged me with the creative writing side of things and I always remember looking forward to lessons with her.
Ever since I started going to Spain with my family each year I was dying to learn Spanish and I have kept up with it ever since. I love everything about Spain from the language and the culture to the literature. Spanish lessons just would not have been the same without Mrs Patterson who taught me as much about organisational skills as she did about the Spanish language, for which I am eternally grateful!
Further Study: From school I went on to read English and Spanish at the University of Leeds. Whilst there I decided to go into law and so did the Graduate Diploma in Law at the College of Law in London followed by the Bar Vocational Course at BPP in Leeds. Doing it that way meant it was a long slog but at the same time I wouldn’t swap my years studying English and Spanish, which has given me the added bonus now of being fluent in a foreign language (not to mention being able to spend a year living in Spain as part of my degree!)
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role? I specialise in family law which means I am in Court most days. It is fast-paced as you tend to only get your papers the evening before so you need to be prepared to work in the evenings when you get home from Court and also at weekends. My working week is made up of court hearings, conferences with clients and then working from home preparing for the next day’s cases.
In order to become a Barrister you either need to do a degree in law followed by the Bar Vocational Course (although I think they have changed the name of this recently), or if you do a degree in a different subject you need to do the GDL before you do the BVC, which is what I did.
Then comes the tough bit which is applying for pupillage. These are thin on the ground and you have to be prepared to pull out all the stops to make yourself stand out from the other applicants. I was lucky to get a pupillage near home and which was also a specialist pupillage in the area I wanted to practise in. I did a lot of work experience first and lots of ‘mini pupillages’ in various Chambers, seeing all sorts of different areas of law to make sure it was the right thing for me. Luckily it was!
What/who influenced your career choice? I’m not sure I could pin it down to one person or thing really. My parents always instilled a good work ethic in me I think and I knew from a relatively early age I wanted to do a job which would be both challenging but rewarding. I was also drawn to the idea of qualifying in a profession and law had always appealed to me. But it was only when I did some mini pupillages and saw the reality of the difference that doing this job makes to real people that I knew for certain it was what I wanted to do.
What skills do you consider essential for your job? Being willing to work hard! You need to be able to read and assimilate information quickly and also be able to think on your feet in Court.
You also need to have good communication skills and be able to relate to your clients, who may be from all walks of life, and manage their expectations at what is likely to be one of the most difficult and stressful times in their life. Some of my clients have learning difficulties or mental health issues and you need to be able to explain things sensitively in a way which they will understand, which is different from client to client.
You also have to manage your own work and the time you spend on each case so you need to be organised.
What is your biggest challenge in your current role? Coming up against new things each day which is both exciting but sometimes quite scary! The law is constantly evolving and you need to be on top of the most recent developments if you are going to succeed. It is also a constant challenge to try and juggle your work, being self-employed, and your home life.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement? It was great to win the Bracewell Essay prize during pupillage, which is a national competition which is usually won by someone in one of the top London Chambers. I am a Northern girl through and through and it made a nice change for the prize to go to one of the ‘provinces’!
In my day-to-day job, the greatest achievement is getting a good result for your client, especially in the face of adversity.
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career? I loved my time at Bolton School and I think as well as teaching you about Maths, History and English etc, you are taught to push yourself to achieve to the best of your ability. I hope I have carried that through my studies and career since then and would hope to do so for years to come.
Please give advice to our pupils interested in your field of work: Do your homework on what the job entails and try to get as much experience as you can early on, seeing as wide a variety of things as possible.
Get some experience in organisations related to your chosen area of law. I did voluntary work in a women’s domestic violence refuge, a family mediation service and a children’s contact centre as I wanted to do family law. I also did voluntary work at Citizen’s Advice Bureau which is useful for developing skills in researching information, interviewing clients and advising them, whichever area of law interests you.
Be aware that you need to make yourself stand out from all of the other applicants. That may be voluntary work or work experience, it may be academic achievements or it may just be an interesting hobby/time abroad spent doing something worthwhile.
Don’t feel you need to do a degree in law. Many Chambers actually prefer it if you have a wider skill and knowledge base by doing something else first. Do a degree in what you love – if you enjoy it you are more likely to do well at it which can be your springboard to the next stage.
Be prepared to be resilient and persistent. There are far fewer jobs available than people who want them and it can be a long road to get there, during which there will inevitably be frustrations, disappointment and rejection. You have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and don’t give up if it is what you really want to do. The end result is worth it.