When Vanessa completed her law degree in 1994, the plan was to become a criminal lawyer. After a year working as an outdoor clerk, she realised that she could not manage on an income of £7,000pa, couldn’t afford the LPC and had little prospect of a training contract. The subsequent career re-think led Vanessa to other posts in various advisory and management settings, including criminal justice.
But the LPC still beckoned. With funding support from the Law Society, she was able to study at night while also holding down a full-time job. Vanessa’s hard work paid off – she completed her training contract in just 18 months, thanks to prior experience – and admission to the Roll came in 2004.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It doesn’t respect what you do for a living or how much you earn. Successful professional women become as trapped in abusive relationships as anyone else.
Vanessa’s practice as a solicitor was, however, more short-lived than she’d anticipated. She might have recovered more easily from sudden redundancy (her firm was unexpectedly closed due to conveyancing irregularities) were it not for the darker narrative of domestic violence that had begun to play out at home.
“Domestic violence does not discriminate,” says Vanessa. “It doesn’t respect what you do for a living or how much you earn. Successful professional women become as trapped in abusive relationships as anyone else. In my case, I’d gradually been isolated from all my own friends and family and it just seemed easier at the time to stay than to go.”
Vanessa stayed for over five years. The trigger for action was the overriding need to take her young son out of such a damaging environment. They fled their home in 2010 and went into refuge until 2011. “The local authority accepted us as homeless and in priority need and eventually we were accommodated,” Vanessa recalls. “While it was lovely to be back in a normal home, the house itself hadn’t been decorated for 40 years! There was no carpet, no flooring, no blinds and no furniture for my son’s bedroom. Financially I was in a very bad way and we really needed help.”
There is where The Solicitors’ Charity came in, not only covering the expenses to refurbish and redecorate, but also paying for outdoor security lighting and a panic-button alarm system. Life for Vanessa and her little boy began to stabilise. But the trauma of living with an abuser can leave deep psychological scars. It takes time to rebuild shattered self-confidence and a sense of emotional safety. When Vanessa re-approached The Solicitors’ Charity in late 2014, she was offered a new service, provided by specialist employment transition consultancy, Renovo.
“When I was offered the Renovo programme, my initial thoughts were, “what am I really going to gain from this?” Things were still very challenging in my life. I didn’t think I could go on, let alone focus on my career,” says Vanessa. “When my adviser first asked me what I was good at, I couldn’t think of a single thing.”
But as each week passed, Vanessa’s confidence began to grow. “My adviser supported me, guided me, encouraged and believed in me, all the way, even when I did not believe in myself. I began to come off the phone feeling upbeat and hopeful. I’d never written a functional CV and I did find it a challenge. I was encouraged to dig deep into my employment history and pull out the bits that I enjoyed and was good at. This went on to form the basis of my CV. My adviser guided me but I did the work.
“During the programme I had a few bad days personally but my adviser was supportive and respectful throughout. I then started looking at job ads and saw so many I could apply for. I could feel my confidence building and when I applied for jobs, I received the best coaching around answering the job specification. Then I was coached on my interviewing skills. I applied for two jobs and I was offered both of them!
Without The Solicitors’ Charity and the Renovo programme, I would not have secured my job and begun to believe in my worth again.
“This process took approximately 5 months. I am now working as a Caseworker for Victim Support. Part of my role will involve spending time every week at both the magistrates’ court and police station, so none of my old skills as a solicitor are going to waste. I can honestly say that without The Solicitors’ Charity and the Renovo Programme, I would not have secured this job and begun to believe in my worth again.”
* We change the names & images of our beneficiaries to protect their identity