Associate at HRC Law, Manchester
From a young age I knew that I wanted to make the world better. With maturity, came practical realities. Though I was privileged (born into a great home and country at a time when there was a degree of equality of opportunity) I still needed to justify my university education by earning money in a ‘real job’. And if my youthful idealism was to stay alive, I needed a degree that would help me serve that greater purpose.
I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy a law degree. I didn’t know any lawyers and there was no law A-level to test the water. I did a joint honours (LLB Law and German) at Bristol in case pure law wasn’t for me. But it was right up my street – so many interesting things rolled into one: words, logic, philosophy, sociology, ethics, politics, business and real-life stories.
I did a vacation placement at a City firm in my second year. It was fantastic and opened my eyes to the opportunities. I applied to firms which sponsored their trainees through law school and was lucky enough to get a place at the firm I wanted.
Despite my training contract, each career junction felt huge and scary in those early days. As a junior lawyer, there are points where you can’t see your future path with any certainty. Will I be good enough? Will I get a job after my training contract? It can feel like you’re waiting on the cliff edge of your career for someone to throw you a bridge. But that feeling diminishes with age and experience. Now I’d probably be brave enough to jump off the cliff, trusting that a bridge would (somehow) appear. I only feel like that because of the opportunities and experiences I’ve had.
Throughout my career I’ve had memorable moments – from being a small cog in an international environmental arbitration in The Hague while at Freshfields, to a day seeking a warrant to access a foul drain, followed by a dog fouling prosecution while working in-house at a council.
While law has always been a love that has shaped both my career and me (desk-belly included), writing was my first passion. I’ve been writing for 15 years but my creative endeavours vie for attention with other ambitions and the demands of being a working mum.
Each legal role I’ve had has taught me so much – not just about law, but about myself and the wider world
Some minor successes have kept me going. I was longlisted for The Times/Chicken House children’s fiction competition in 2015 and for the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award in 2017, and in the same year shortlisted for the Mslexia Women’s Novel Competition.
Becoming a solicitor was easier than becoming a published author. Though the legal profession is highly competitive, there are at least attempts to allow access to those from different backgrounds. There was something of a meritocracy – if you met the grade. I’m not sure the same is true for the literary world. And, just as I didn’t know any lawyers who could have opened legal doors for me, I don’t know any children’s literary agents or publishers.
I’ve got work to do before I can climb on to the ‘successfully published’ ladder, so I’ll keep on grafting. I’ve been working on the strength of my story. I’ve just written a play to help me to cut the waffle and I so enjoyed doing it. I’ll try a screenplay next.
Juggling being an author with a legal career is not without challenges, but there are benefits. Currently, I’m part-time and have a varied role which includes factual writing. My long journey to work gives me valuable thinking time and being super-busy helps with my creative writing. Self-doubt is the enemy of the writer. If you don’t have time to overthink things, you just do it. I enjoy both my job and my writing, and all the other roles I have in life, so (other than needing more sleep) I know that whatever else I achieve I’m already doing okay.
Every experience shapes you. My legal career has made me resilient; lots of literary agent rejections have made me more so. My position at HRC Law has made me braver and bolder about suggesting and sharing creative solutions. An opportunity to take my creative writing to the next level will come my way. I just have to find (and push open) more doors.
In the meantime, each legal role I’ve had has taught me so much – not just about law, but about myself and the wider world. Sometimes we take our knowledge and skills as lawyers for granted. It’s good to take a moment and appreciate just how much our careers have given us. Thank the law for that.
Debbie Nuttall is an associate at HRC Law, Manchester