Alison has almost exclusively specialised in running brain and spinal cord injury claims since qualifying in 2007. She was recently named a “Next Generation Partner” in the 2023 Legal 500 and has worked in some of the industry’s leading legal teams, all of whom are top rated by both Legal 500 and Chambers. Alison was a paralegal and trainee solicitor at Stewarts at the start of her career and rejoined the firm as a Senior Associate in 2018.
Nobody in my family had been to university, let alone been a solicitor, but I decided that this was the career for me by age 14. Like many I was initially attracted to criminal law, having binged on crime dramas in my teenage years! Whilst studying for my A-levels I applied to a couple of local firms for work experience who specialised in criminal law, and whilst I found the cases enthralling, speaking with junior solicitors I soon realised that the work was not for me.
During my university holidays I worked at my local hospital, where my mum was a medical secretary. I had understood that I would be working as a clinic clerk (checking patients into out-patients), but on my first day I was somewhat surprised to be handed a Health Care Assistant’s uniform! I spent the next three summers at the hospital, chaperoning (and occasionally assisting) in clinics, which I found fascinating. This led me to consider combining law and medicine, and I completed my dissertation on the subject of medical negligence claims and the reasons why patients decide to bring litigation.
Not having any contacts in the legal world, I knew how vital a wide breadth of work experience would be. I undertook various placements whilst studying for my A-levels and at university, including a mini-pupillage and working as a clerk taking verbatim notes in criminal proceedings. This led me to spend a lot of time around the crown and magistrates courts in London and equipped me with a vital skill of taking a quick and detailed note!
In my second year of university, I used the Legal 500 and Chambers to research the top firms undertaking clinical negligence work and came across Stewarts. I contacted the then-head of Clinical Negligence and he arranged for me to spend two weeks shadowing him on his cases. It was an incredible experience in which I was fully immersed into an interesting case load, including a memorable train journey to the south coast to visit a family whose child had sustained cerebral palsy at birth. Seeing first-hand the struggles people face following catastrophic injury drove my determination to work in an area of law where I could make a real difference to people’s lives.
Training and qualification
I completed my law degree in summer 2001, but leaving with student loans and other debt I was concerned about taking out a further loan to study for the LPC without having secured a training contract. I had kept in touch with Stewarts following the work experience placement and secured a paralegal role in the Personal Injury department. This was a perfect opportunity to gain real experience of working in a law firm whilst I considered my next steps.
In September 2001, I was catapulted into the unique world that was working with Paul Paxton, a career defining experience. Paul’s breadth of knowledge was invaluable and I was fortunate that he entrusted me very early on with drafting documents and most importantly direct client contact. This was, and still is, the best part of my job – having the privilege to work alongside those who, despite facing life-changing catastrophic injury, continue to live with such positivity and ability to adapt to the hand life has dealt them. I remember the first client meeting I ever conducted at the spinal rehabilitation centre, where we met a young man who had been involved in a motorcycle accident only weeks before and was now facing life in a wheelchair.
Whilst meeting a client at the lowest point of their lives was daunting, I could see how reassuring a meeting with someone like Paul could be. He was able to explain the legal process and that we would seek an early interim payment which would provide early funding for care, equipment and accessible accommodation.
I continued to work with Paul for the next three years. While I was doing interesting work with a great team of paralegals and solicitors, Paul recognised that I was stagnating and helped lead me towards discussions about training contracts. I was fortunate that the firm offered me their second ever training contract and agreed that I could complete the LPC at the same time.
Work as an Associate
Following qualification in 2007, I took a role as an assistant solicitor at Irwin Mitchell in the neuro-trauma team, during which I gained excellent experience of running my own caseload of lower value personal injury and clinical negligence claims, whilst assisting on spinal and brain injury cases with more senior solicitors. I enjoyed seven fantastic years there, during which I worked alongside an impressive team of female role models who demonstrated that you could manage a fulfilling career and home life. During my time at Irwin Mitchell I had my two daughters and was lucky that the role provided flexibility to work part-time so I was able to enjoy those precious early years.
After years of commuting and missing my daughters’ bedtimes, I worked for a local firm specialising in spinal cord injury claims. It was a small team which enabled me to develop other skills including management and business development. Four years later, I returned to my first home, Stewarts.
Partner at Stewarts
I had now come full circle, working in the Clinical Negligence department where my career began as a work experience student over 20 years ago. I was delighted to be promoted to partner in 2021, a dream I have always aspired to achieve at what I have always considered to be the premier firm for catastrophic injury claims.
Juggling a career as a working mum is never easy. There is no easy solution, but I agree with former Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg who said that “the most single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner, and who that partner is”. As a couple we decided from day one that we would share the childcare and that has been crucial in ensuring I have been able to develop a rewarding and fulfilling legal career.
Whilst the firm has changed significantly over the years, from the days at Lincoln’s Inn Fields to now employing over 350 staff, what remains at the core are the fundamental principles of providing exceptional client care, a fantastic and supportive working environment and always striving to keep moving and developing with the times.
Being the first generation in my family to go to university presented its own challenges when it came to pursuing a career in law, but I was fortunate to be given the opportunities at Stewarts to succeed. I recognise that social mobility issues have sadly worsened over the last 20 years with tuition and legal education fees now around three times higher than they were in 2001.
This is something that I am passionate about and I have recently become one of the firm’s diversity champions, working on the Social Mobility and Disability focus group. It is really positive to see the commitment the firm have to improving diversity and I am excited to see the firm’s policies and initiatives continue to develop.
View Alison’s profile.
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