Qualifying in Risk & Compliance: Charlotte Murray-Kohter
At AJ Fox Compliance, we work with thousands of candidates and have seen a huge array of different paths into the world of law firm risk and compliance. We are often asked about the different ways to qualify as a solicitor within this space. So, we're speaking with risk and compliance professionals who qualified in various different ways, discussing the pros and cons of the path to qualification they took.
In the second interview of this series, we spoke to Charlotte Murray-Kohter, Risk & Compliance Solicitor at Clarke Willmott.
There are so many different paths in to Law Firm Risk & Compliance. What was your path like?
Possibly more unusual than others. I had worked as a fee earner since 2007, initially as a paralegal in residential conveyancing and plot sales before a move to London in 2010 as a paralegal in commercial property. I stayed in commercial property after this, working in a number of London firms and US firms with London offices.
I progressed to a senior paralegal and eventually was working on similar matters to junior associates. Having attempted numerous times to find a training contract, I had stopped looking in 2014. In 2018, a colleague brought to my attention that I could qualify with CILEx and, because I had completed the LPC, then contact the SRA to be admitted to the role. I have to admit that this was a huge sigh of relief as, after working as a fee earner for 11 years at that stage, I felt like it was absolutely ‘my time’ to qualify! I qualified in early 2019 and was admitted to the roll of solicitors – a very proud day.
I went on maternity leave in 2020 and during this time, I re-assessed what was important to me. My maternity leave coincided with the pandemic which was a nice pause for a lot of people to reflect on their career choices. I’d had some prior experience in risk & compliance in 2010 when working for a US law firm start up in their London office. I decided that I wanted to move solely into this area, initially thinking that AML was the area that I wanted to be in. I undertook two ICA certificates whilst on maternity leave and started applying for roles. I joined Herbert Smith Freehills after my maternity leave as an Analyst in their Client Approval Team.
Around a year later, I realised that I wanted to move back into a lawyer position and wanted to focus on a more generalist risk & compliance role without a focus on AML. I was very lucky to log into LinkedIn one day to see a post shared for a Risk & Compliance Lawyer at Clarke Willmott. I immediately contacted Jennifer O’Donnell (Partner and Director of Risk and Best Practice) and the rest, as they say, is history.
What do you enjoy about working in Law Firm Risk & Compliance?
I love that no day is the same. Each day I am presented with a new challenge and am finding my feet 5 months in with the BAU work. I need to be intellectually stimulated in a role and risk & compliance has given me what I was looking for.
I have been able to tie in so many of my prior skills to my new role and particularly enjoy being able to review and amend documents again. One day I can be reviewing a tender agreement, another, updating policy documents and, on another, researching an area of law that I haven’t looked at before to assist the fee earning teams (such as family litigation funding). With those examples only being a handful of the things that I touch on in my role, you can see that the scope is wide.
Why did you take this path to qualifying as a solicitor?
For me, the standard route to qualification didn’t work out. Why, is anyone’s guess. I went to a state school, I didn’t get fantastic A-Level grades despite working very hard. I obtained a good degree but from a university that I now know is not very well respected in the legal field. I put myself through the LPC and again obtained a good grade. I then undertook a Masters, achieving a Distinction, but still, this didn’t seem to erase my prior educational history. I finished the LPC and walked straight into the recession in 2009 which I don’t think helped matters! I applied for TCs for many years but faced rejection after rejection.
In the end, I assumed I would remain as a career paralegal as I enjoyed my job and I was doing work similar to that of a junior associate anyway. But, when the opportunity to qualify did arise, I grabbed it with both hands – who wouldn’t?!? For me, I had watched many trainees come and go, some who openly did not intend to remain in law post-qualification. I think the frustrations of seeing this over and over does dampen the spirit slightly!
I think everyone’s path in law is very unique and it doesn’t matter how you get there or if you qualify with CILEx, or the SRA, or by another means entirely. What matters is job satisfaction and how happy you are.
What were the benefits and challenges of qualifying in that way?
The challenges I faced in qualifying via CILEx were completing a very hefty portfolio of evidence of work. Entirely worth it in the end, but a huge task in the moment and one I wasn’t ever sure would finish! As we have also seen recently, there has been a huge backlash against the CILEx route and the stigma attached to it – one that I am happy to openly defend. CILEx graduates/lawyers are some of the best I have seen and worked with. Whilst I am now on the SRA roll, I am not ashamed to say that I qualified with CILEx first. The route to qualification shouldn’t matter at the end of the day.
The benefits are quite simple – I qualified. I wish I had known about CILEx sooner as I could have qualified a lot earlier on! My dream was to become a lawyer and it feels really good to say that I made it. I am the only person in my family to have attended university and I know my family are very proud of what I have achieved. I don’t think my parents actually know what I do but they do delight in telling everyone that I am a lawyer!
Would you recommend the path you took? Why, or why not?
Yes – absolutely. Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise. I have worked with fantastic people and mentors. Some have been paralegals/trainees, some CILEx and others qualified. The distinction between great and not great lies not in the path you take but in the person that you are.
There have been many, many bumps in the road but I learnt a lot along the way.
Can you explain the reasons behind your decision to qualify? Did you foresee a negative impact on your career if you didn’t?
I had accepted a path as a career paralegal but when the opportunity did arise I absolutely grabbed it. The only negative I saw in my career in commercial property was a ceiling as a career paralegal that would be removed if I qualified. In risk & compliance, I think this is different. Risk and compliance managers (and other roles) can be qualified or non-qualified so I don’t think the same restrictions apply; it is one of the things I find refreshing about risk & compliance.
What is your advice to anyone in the Risk & Compliance space who wants to be qualified?
I think there are great opportunities in risk & compliance, whether qualified or not. So, my advice would be to get some experience working in different areas within risk & compliance to find out what area you want to progress in. Then, you can speak to recruiters and others in the field to get a sense of where the ceiling is, with or without qualification.
Most of the time, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to know that a lot of people at the top in risk & compliance are not qualified lawyers.
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