If you are thinking of a career as a solicitor three women from Essex law firm Birkett Long tell of the differing routes they took to achieve their dreams.

One of them, Caroline Dowding, started as a trainee legal executive without a law degree. Today she is not only a qualified solicitor but partner at the firm.

Two other colleagues are, Molly Frankham, 25, who started working for the firm as a secretary and Jess Elwell, 26, who was a paralegal with Birkett Long.

They both have law degrees and have just started their 18 month training contracts to become solicitors.

Caroline’s legal career began with the firm in 2000 when she was taken on as a trainee legal executive. It took five long years of study while holding down a part-time job with the firm before she qualified as a legal executive.

She went on to study for an Open University law degree. Qualifying as a legal executive gave her some exemptions but she still had to do certain elements of the graduate law degree course over two years.

She said: “Working and studying at the same time as looking after two children was hard work and needed a lot of diligence and discipline.

“To be honest I don’t really know how I did it when I think back to how many hours I was working, studying and bringing up a young family.

“My best advice to anyone thinking of a career in law is this: Work hard, keep focused and achieve your dream as it is worth every stressful moment!”

Molly Frankham, from Colchester, studied law at university but knew that without completing a Legal Practice Course (LPC) her chances of getting a solicitor’s training contract were slim.

“Some people are lucky enough to be able to go from university to an LPC and straight into a training contract but the reality is it often doesn’t happen like that.

“For me I decided to get into a law firm at another level, I then had the opportunity to learn the way things work from the ground up.

“I started as a secretary then applied internally to be a paralegal, then a trainee. This may seem as though it is a longer way around at the start line, since I finished university in 2012, but for me, 17 months from qualification, it has gone so quickly and I have absolutely no regrets about the way in which I got to this point.”

Jess Elwell, 26, from Writtle, near Chelmsford, took what is fast becoming the normal route to a training contract: she became a paralegal.

She gained her law degree from Chelmsford’s Anglia Ruskin University and studied for her LPC part-time whilst working at a paralegal with Birkett Long.

She said: “I hoped that if I worked hard and proved myself that I would eventually get a training contract with the firm – when it paid off I was ecstatic!”

Birkett Long has offices in Basildon, Chelmsford and Colchester and is a full service law firm with 21 partners.