Spotlight on - Jessica Hampson
At Spotlight, we got the opportunity to talk to Jessica Hampson, Owner of CEL Solicitors. We talked about following your own life path, overcoming business setbacks and her advice to anyone starting out.
I grew up in a deprived area where parents worked hard to provide a better life for their children. My mother wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer and I didn’t like blood that much so a lawyer it was. To both mine and my parent’s disappointment, the illusion of a fat cat lawyer was not real and instead, the majority of my legal career I was a struggling paralegal on £20K a year, saddled with student debt working 10 hour days and coming in on weekends to do filing. That’s the reality.
After a decade of working as a paralegal in the top 50 law firms, I had a huge insight into the good, the bad and the ugly side of the law. With no one believing in my vision or myself, I took matters into my own hands and went down an alternative route to qualification called “The Period of Recognised Training” which is essentially a dissertation to the SRA backed up by your own work and references that demonstrate that you do the equivalent work of that of a solicitor.
After I qualified, I was ready to go out alone and breathe a bit of life into a stale and traditional industry. As a female, millennial, first-generation graduate from a council estate in Liverpool, raised by a single parent I was doing just that.
My first goal was to create a happy place to work. For me, environment and culture are everything but you need great people to help create that and that’s why CEL Solicitors is a “People before Profits” law firm. So, what does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean we are a charity as profits are important for the survival of any business but it does mean that profits aren’t at the forefront of our model, people are. People meaning our staff and clients which includes simple but effective strategies such as appreciation of staff. At CEL this could be a simple thank you or a £100 shopping voucher or opening the 3 free bars every Friday afternoon or a 4 player arcade machine to say thank you for the hard work done in lockdown when we couldn’t take the staff out. And that’s why “Gratitude” is one of our companies 3 core values.
Not a lot of people believed in my people before profits model but what lockdown showed me is that it works. It showed that happy staff, make happy clients which in turn make happy profits and that’s why we actually expanded and thrived as opposed to survived during lockdown, having 3 record months.
For me, the worst day in my career actually turned out to be the best day of my career but only with hindsight.
My biggest challenge was obtaining a training contract because my face just didn’t fit at the firm I was practising, a top 50 large and faceless corporate firm. I would have been much happier at a smaller family-run firm but I could never seem to get my foot in the door and I was only picked up by much larger firms.
For years I tried to change myself to fit but never felt happy or authentic and I also tried to change a very ingrained culture at that firm to accept me but there was no bending. It was only until I had a very hurtful meeting with my 2 line managers that it was made clear that I was not good enough, in their eyes, to qualify as a solicitor. And so the penny dropped that I was never going to be good enough at that firm and that I had to believe in myself and take a risk and leave the firm. I had no other job and no plan B to fall back on but I knew I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t progressing and that I had to put myself out there. 4 years later I’m the owner of a 50 strong dream firm that practices over 4 different areas.
Sometimes you have to just have unwavering faith in yourself, even when it seems that the odds are against you. As my favourite TV character, Elle Woods says “You must always have faith in people. But most importantly you must always have faith in yourself”. I now have this quote backlit in neon as part of our 75 seat amphitheatre in the office.
Mentoring and helping others is something I am incredibly passionate about. Maya Angelou said your legacy is every life that you touch. I see my mentoring as my own gratitude for those who have helped and continue to help me by giving back.
I also strongly believe that mentoring the next generation of lawyers also helps you as much as you help them. I learn what makes them tick, their passions, their fears, their wants and needs. I have mentees from all different walks of life and that enriches my life and work in turn.
Drive to succeed
At first, it was proving everyone wrong, it was proving my teachers wrong, my managers wrong and trying to live up to my parent’s huge expectations of me. But that only gets you so far.
To truly succeed and be happy you shouldn’t do it for anyone else but yourself and for me it was when the chips were down and I was really alone that I dug deep and believed in myself and all my hard work and vision.
I’m really lucky now that I now have a fantastic support network in and out of work that believes in me and my dream but I always have that underlying understanding that I am enough without anyone else.
Attitude is everything. Having a can-do attitude whilst being approachable, helpful, inquisitive and a team player will give you that edge to everyone else that is just good at their job or intelligent.
Resilience. My generation is tarnished as being the “snowflake” generation so resilience really does make you stand out from the crowd. Embrace failure, roll with the punches and learn lessons. Do not be afraid to fail, then fail again, every failure takes you one step closer to your goal.
Be authentic and embrace your differences. The law is changing and there is a huge movement for diversity. Be a part of it, show that your differences enhance you as a candidate and help to break down barriers to entry into the legal profession. Be the change you want to see that goes for both candidates and employers.
Be realistic. My generation is terrible at wanting and expecting everything instantly. I have paralegals who have been working 2 years moaning about how they can’t catch a break with average grades. It almost took me a decade to qualify and I earned every bit of my career, I started at the bottom, I put in the extra shifts, I had the setbacks, knock backs but I pushed through. In a world where everything is a click away, sometimes you need to realise things worth having or building takes time and effort. It’s the journey and not the destination that matters. If I qualified straight out of uni I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Starting a business
If you are wanting to start a business first think about your “why” and make sure it’s purposeful. If you’re why to set up a business is to be rich, think twice as it was 2 years before I was able to take a salary and trust my money doesn’t get you out of bed in the morning after a hard month of failures and No’s but passion and your “why” does.
For me, my “why” is changing the landscape of law, modernizing law firms and authentically helping people with legal solutions.
If your boss gives you work to do, prioritize it above all else and do it first. Your boss is ultimately who you want to impress and learn from.
Don’t hold back, remember to inspire, put yourself out there and make sure you are right bang in the trenches with your team, it’s the only way to get respect, stay approachable and humble.
Fake it until you make it. There have been times where imposter syndrome has come into play and I've had to totally wing it, but be kind to yourself, everyone has to start at the bottom and work their way up, only with experience and putting yourself out there and outside of your comfort zone will you learn and grow.
Formula for success
The enemy of greatness is good. Most people settle for a good life but it’s that pain, that sweat that resilience, that extra effort that takes you from good to great and most people can’t be bothered if they are really honest with themselves. Especially if life is good. And that’s ok, each to their own, it takes a lot of sacrifice and commitment and risk to make it out on your own successfully. Not everyone REALLY wants that. If you do then keep pushing on and set your goals high and big.