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How I became a Managing Partner

Date 1.06.2021

University of Northampton graduate, Helen Carville, completed a Law LLB in 1999, graduating with a 2:1 Honours Degree. Here she shares her journey from work experience, to trainee, to qualified solicitor and then Managing Partner of a leading local firm Max Engel Solicitors, and why she believes it’s important to use her experience to support University of Northampton Law students.

Helen credits the University of Northampton for setting her on the path to her successful career, she said: “I remember my time studying at the University of Northampton with great fondness. The Northampton law degree is very versatile, as well as giving a well-rounded introduction to the Law, it develops your critical thinking skills, the way you research and interpret information, and encourages you to be succinct and on point in the way you communicate. A law degree can be a great asset in many career aspirations, and most certainly does not restrict a graduate to the traditional solicitor or barrister route.

“The variety of modules, from EU law to corporate, criminal, and land law gives you a chance to study the wide variety of specialisms and refine the areas of the law you’re interested in. In particular, the legal history module was fascinating for me, learning that there are still echoes of the feudal system in modern practice.”

At the end of her first year, Helen secured a summer placement with a local firm, Max Engel, which became the launch pad for her successful career in Commercial and Property law.

Helen said: “At the end of my first year, I began a summer placement with Max Engel, it was during this placement that I knew that a career as a solicitor was for me. Although I was enjoying the academic study, I really enjoyed working with clients applying the theory to practical situations and practicing the law. The then Senior Partner Richard Engel was kind enough to offer me an amazing opportunity and his guidance instruction and tutelage were invaluable then and now and gave me a solid grounding.”

As an undergraduate, Helen made an impression and was asked to come back for further summer placements, and during her final year she worked part time for Max Engel as a paralegal fitting this around her academic studies.

Reflecting on the value of this experience, Helen said: “The work experience alongside my academic studies was so important. I was putting into practice the things I was learning, which gave extra depth to my early understanding of commercial  and property law, and I was developing the important soft skills you need to be a solicitor, empathy, understanding and an ability to effortlessly translate complex legal issues into plain English. ”

Helen went on to complete her postgraduate studies elsewhere but immediately on completion returned to Northampton to take up the offer of a formal training contract with Max Engel to train to become a solicitor, qualifying in February 2002.

Max Engel offers services to small and medium sized businesses, providing services tailored to them including commercial property, corporate and general business advice. We also offer support when things go wrong with a strong dispute resolution team. In addition the Firm offers services complementary to that supporting clients through emotional and important life steps; from buying their first home to expanding a business they’ve grown, and planning their legacy, with Wills Estate Planning and Probate support.

Helen believes that it’s important to give people early in their law career the opportunity to develop these important personal skills, she said: “I firmly believe that students should take every opportunity for work experience alongside their studies, which is why I’ve expanded the work experience opportunities as part of the Max Engel Memorial Bursary.

“It is only half of the battle to be technically brilliant, you must also have the right level of emotional intelligence to understand your clients and build rapport with them.”

Looking back at her career from trainee to Managing Partner, and the adjustments the Firm has made during the pandemic, Helen said: “Our culture is something I believe sets Max Engel apart from other firms, we were founded on the values of putting our staff first. If the staff are happy and engaged they will provide a much better service to our clients, so ensuring that we are the best starts with them.

“I’ve spent my entire legal career with Max Engel. For me, there has always been a new challenge or new opportunity here, which is one of the exciting things about being part of a firm that’s focused on people. The pandemic has been hard for everyone, but at Max Engel, we very quickly adapted to those challenges.

“As a company which has a predominantly female staff, we made the transition to remote working very smoothly. Many of us are already well used to working flexibly and juggling to fit around our caring responsibilities and maintain a good work life balance, so it was almost a natural extension to that when we immediately had to start working full time from home. The type of law we practice often lends itself nicely to being done more flexibly. When you have background research to do or contracts and documents to draft or review, it doesn’t matter where or at what time that is done it just matters that you can do it with focus and attention to detail to give your clients the best possible support.”

Now with almost twenty five years’ legal experience, Helen hopes to take a more hands-on approach to inspire the legal professionals of the future. Helen has already expanded the work experience opportunities offered through the Max Engel Memorial Bursary, to offer one work placements to the successful candidate alongside the financial bursary, and a further two summer placements open to all final year students.

Speaking about the bursary, Helen said: “I encourage all students to take every opportunity that comes along, especially the Max Engel Memorial Bursary. I have been on the judging panel for the bursary for a couple of years now, and I’ve always been very impressed by the passion and aptitude of University of Northampton law students. One of the successful candidates from last year joined us for her work experience and she was a delight to have around the office – she arrived with an interest in Commercial Law, but having been inspired by the dedication and devotion of our Rebecca Walker to her clients (another solicitor and graduate of UON) she left us with an entirely new outlook on her career, aspiring to a career in Estate Planning and support of vulnerable and elderly clients. I’m very much looking forward to meeting the students who apply for the 2021 Max Engel Memorial Bursary.”

The Max Engel Memorial Bursary will provide an award of £2,000 and the opportunity for the successful student to secure a two-week work placement with the firm. The award is intended to support a graduating undergraduate student who will be undertaking postgraduate study leading to a law-based career.

Applications are now open for the Max Engel Memorial Bursary, with a deadline of 15 June.