Tag Archive for: careers in law

Sarah Gill

From dental nurse to Senior Paralegal

Senior Paralegal Sarah Gill joined our busy Wills & Probate Team in 2017. Here she talks about her former career as a dental nurse and what inspired her to retrain in the law.


How did you get into the law?

I grew up on the Wirral and when l left school I did a secretarial course at my local college, then started my first job as a receptionist for a firm of solicitors.

After being promoted to secretary, an opportunity came up to work in the NHS and train as a dental nurse – my original ambition. I worked for the Community Dental Service on the Wirral for four years and absolutely loved it.

My husband’s job took us both to Yorkshire for a number of years. I couldn’t find a job as a community dental nurse so went back to work for a firm of solicitors.

When we returned to the North West in my early thirties, I was offered a job as a paralegal and spent two years studying remotely for a Specialist Paralegal Qualification in Wills, Probate and Administration through the University of Strathclyde.

It’s a very rare qualification to have in England and there are not many of us. But it’s excellent because it provides you with the knowledge and understanding of the procedures involved in the preparation of wills and the administration of estates.

It also provides formal learning and a recognised qualification to bolster my many years of experience in wills and probate.

What do you love about your work?

It’s just brilliant. As a Senior Paralegal I’ve got my own case load of about seventy files at any one time. These can range from straightforward wills and grant applications to making a lasting power of attorney. I am also able to assist charities on occasion, such as Cancer Research UK via their free will service.

Like many of us on the team, I’ve had Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends training which teaches you about the signs and symptoms of dementia and the small ways you can help people through a better understanding of the condition.

The training is really helpful when you’re giving advice on wills and considering a person’s capacity to sign.

It may sound cheesy but I want everyone to have what they have the right to. I also like helping people. I get calls from people every day who have lost a parent or sibling and it’s good knowing I can help them at a time when they are most distressed and grieving.

Most people see probate as a bit of a minefield, but I carefully guide them through it step by step. You are the one on their side and who is thinking straight for them at a time of need. It makes it all worthwhile when someone drops you a little note afterwards to thank you for making a difference.


Would you recommend a career in the law?

Yes, definitely. My career journey shows that you don’t have to get into the law via a traditional path such as taking a law degree. I’d love to see more people coming in to the legal profession as paralegals.

Many will want to work their way up to become a solicitor but there are exciting career opportunities to grow and stay as a paralegal.

I was 41 when I qualified, and I believe my life experience brings a lot to the role. It’s also good fun to now be mentoring some of my younger colleagues who have joined Cullimore Dutton in their first jobs.

Life outside work?

The supermarkets recently announced a shortage of fruit and vegetables in the UK so I’m pleased I’ve been growing my own for years. In my small garden I grow all sorts from potatoes, onions and garlic to herbs, rhubarb, tomatoes and lettuce.

I’ve got strawberry plants and golden raspberries ready to go this summer too.

There’s nothing quite like growing your own produce, picking it and eating it minutes later. Any surplus I don’t need I exchange with my local fruit and veg swap shop.

Baking is an absolute passion and I’m known at work for my gooey centred cupcakes which I often make for work fundraising events. I love watching Bake Off but I’d never want to go on it – far too stressful!

Like quite a few of my colleagues, I’m into running too. I’m a run director for Parkrun, helping over 100 runners walk, jog or run 5km every Saturday morning, and involved with the Whitchurch Whippets, a friendly road running club for adults of all abilities.

I was initially terrified of joining a running club – I thought everyone was going to be Paula Radcliffe standard – but a pal persuaded me to give it a go. We have everything from an injury group for runners who want to walk while they recover to people new to running who can only do a minute and want to build up to 5km.

Staying fit, being social and having fun are just three great benefits from doing it.


Brenda Spain

How volunteering at a law centre inspired Brenda’s legal career

Cullimore Dutton’s Head of Family Brenda Spain is a highly experienced family lawyer who specialises in the financial aspects of divorce and separation, private children matters and co-habitation disputes. Here she talks about what inspired her choice of profession, what she loves about her work and how she is working with the next generation of solicitors.


What inspired your career in the law?

Growing up in Liverpool, I volunteered at a law centre while I was doing my A-levels. The centre helped people with family, housing and welfare issues and I was impressed with how well everyone worked as a team and their passion to make a difference to those people’s lives. I saw the human face of the law and I liked it. I wanted to help people too.


How did you get started?

I studied law at Liverpool University and then started working for a Liverpool law firm in their family department, receiving fantastic support from my then Principal. Thereafter, I spent 25 years as a partner at a legal firm in Worcestershire before heading back north and joining Cullimore Dutton in 2019. I’m a member of the Law Society family law panel and I’m also a mediator, which means I’m trained to work with people whose relationships have broken down and to find solutions that both sides can agree on.


What do you love about your work?

Chester is a wonderful city to practice in and I love the collaborative approach we foster as a business here at Cullimore Dutton. We do not cover every aspect of law but what we do, we do to an excellent standard. Everyone is very positive with a can-do attitude and I’m proud that we have built such a dynamic team. Whether you are a legal assistant, a secretary or a partner, client care runs through the heart of the practice. Changing lives is in our DNA for our clients and our colleagues alike.

As my team understand, we are keen to help people through one of the most difficult times in their lives and I believe our client care and level of support singles us out. It’s not a 9-5 job. We are all very accessible and support our clients from start to finish, wading through what can be the fog of divorce into what we hope to be a better new chapter in their lives. We are more than solicitors.


What does your mentor work involve?

I’m Cullimore Dutton’s Training Principal which means I mentor and support colleagues who are coming into the legal profession.

It’s an exciting role and I care passionately about people joining our team. I want them to be the best they can be because they are the next generation.

We have taken on four legal assistants recently and it’s great seeing them progress. One is about to qualify and another is half way through their training.


Tell us about life outside work

At the weekends, I love getting out and about into the countryside with my Labrador Barney, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.

I enjoy getting involved in charity work because meeting and helping people and giving back to communities is important to me. I am proud to have helped a number of charities over the years and continue to do so.