Breaking into the legal sector – through the eyes of an investigator

Phoebe Waters 14 Jan 2022

With the New Year prompting a career rethink for many, our Associate and senior investigator Phoebe Waters shares her views on how to get into the legal sector as a non-lawyer in 2022, and what she’s learned in her year at Schillings.

As investigators, we work closely with law firms as our instructing clients. The opportunity to build a career within a law firm is more unusual – especially one like Schillings. The firm might be best known for law, but we are much more than that. Schillings is a multi-disciplinary firm that protects the privacy, security and reputation of our clients, by drawing upon the knowledge of our vast range of experts. My colleagues are specialists not only in privacy and defamation, but in fraud and asset tracing, kidnap for ransom, GDPR and cybersecurity – and we all work together to find solutions. The fact we have so much varying expertise under one roof makes us incredibly unique and was part of the reason I was drawn to the firm.

So, here is how I made my way into Schillings, and a year on, what my experience has been like.

In the summer of 2017, when flying around the world was a much easier affair, I boarded a British Airways flight to Budapest. I picked up the in-flight magazine, usually filled with endless perfume offers and features about far-flung luxury islands, when to my surprise, a sleek and bold advert caught my eye. ‘Sabotage the Saboteur’, it stated. The caption took up the whole page, and the moody background captured my curiosity. As soon as I could, I looked this firm up, and it was Schillings.

Fast forward to January 2021 (several Hungarian steins and a global pandemic later), I started at Schillings – the first law firm I have worked at – as an Associate in the Intelligence & Investigations team.

Exactly a year into this exhilarating role, I thought I would share a few tenets that I have kept routed at the forefront of my mind, and heart, during my career so far. I hope this may help one or two of you who are trying to either get into the legal sector or seeking to find a fresh role during 2022.

Be efficient

Balancing the interview process (Schillings’ process was particularly rigorous!) with a consistently heavy workload can be managed by strong time management. This is a skill that is key not only for acquiring a job but will also result in greater enjoyment and efficiency in your workday once you have landed the role. Moreover, this ability is paramount at a law firm where we as fee-earners need to meticulously record our time. ‘Work smarter, not harder’ is an ethic that, by my own admission, I have been toying with since high school, but in practice – it does help. I think time management and communication go hand-in-hand with feeling under control and being effective.

Be curious

Keen to continuously find out as much as I could about the area of fraud and investigations (and what feels like a lifetime ago now), I signed up to the mailing list of the Female Fraud Forum (FFF). In my previous role, most of my clients were law firms and I wanted to connect with like-minded professional women. I attended my first FFF event quite simply, because I wanted to know more about them. There, I met a group of bold, bright (and quite indescribably brilliant) women, all at different stages of their career, who were committed to seeing a more equal gender division in the world of fraud. I have now been the Membership Secretary of the FFF since February 2020 and am proud to help champion women’s accomplishments in the workplace.

When starting a career, it’s important to network with peers and to be curious about your industry and its satellite sectors – find out as much as you can about it and immerse yourself. Many networks grew during the pandemic, including the FFF, a result of people wanting to connect with like-minded professionals. These networks are invaluable, offering an incredible amount of knowledge, experience and insights all in one room (or a few dozen virtual rooms). So, be curious – go forth and network, wine in-hand, whether it be on Zoom at your kitchen table, or in a city bar in your long-forgotten (painful) heels.

Staying curious is an extremely powerful tool, and as cliché as it may sound, you just never know where you will end up (for me, it is the fiercely brilliant Schillings – all from being inquisitive sitting on that aeroplane).

Be confident

I knew I wanted my career to be centred around investigations at about 15 years’ old. Of course, like every teenager, university student and beyond, there were doubts in my mind about how to achieve what I truly desired. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and have the confidence to speak up when you think something needs to change.

A logistical tip about confidence when working from home is have your camera on during networking – we want to see you as well as hear your ideas. Non-verbal communication can make your messages more influential, and it is great to be able to connect a face to a name, so you will be better remembered in the future. After speaking up (with video) once during a session your self-assurance will naturally build. Reflecting on the past year, I can see how confidence is aligned with the ‘be bold’ tenet Schillings promotes – nothing ground-breaking gets done by keeping quiet and sticking to the status quo.

Be kind

Life is challenging enough as it is – be nice! I am strong believer in ‘lifting each other up’ and supporting one another. Plus, reaching out with genuine kindness to help someone may even lead to new opportunities for you.