From Paralegal to SYLA President: Chiara Pieri on Seizing Opportunities
Solicitor Chiara Pieri tells Scottish Legal News about her career journey – from working as a paralegal to qualifying as a solicitor and becoming president of the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association.
In 2014 Chiara Pieri graduated from Glasgow University with an LLB with Italian – and plans to go globetrotting before embarking on her legal career. She was faced with a dilemma, however, when one firm offered her a full-time position and the possibility of a traineeship the following year.
“Whilst working in a restaurant trying to save up money to go travelling, I applied for a traineeship at Digby Brown,” she said.
“As I was a year early in applying they offered me a job as a full-time paralegal, with a view to starting a traineeship the following year, depending on my performance.”
In a market in which students often struggle for years to get full-time legal work, it was an easy choice for the aspiring lawyer.
She said her plans to go travelling were “hastily set aside”. Yet she managed to satisfy her wanderlust with a jaunt around Southeast Asia before beginning her traineeship in September 2016.
“Fortunately, after my diploma and before starting my traineeship with Digby Brown, I was able to take a period of leave and travelled around parts of Thailand and Vietnam, which was an amazing experience.”
Like many trainees, she wasn’t certain that the area of law in which she was practising would be her focus in the future – but she knew she needed to make the most of the opportunity.
At the end of the period, which had focused exclusively on personal injury litigation, Chiara was ready for a change.
She said: “At that early stage in my career, I wasn’t certain that personal injury law was for me and believed looking for a new opportunity as an NQ was the best time to do it. While updating my CV, I knew that in applying for roles in areas of law where I had no experience, I had to consider what would set me apart from others applying for the same positions.
“One of my friends told me about the Scottish Young Lawyers’ Association and that their AGM was coming up. Before I knew it I was on the train to Edinburgh on my way to sign up! I decided to put myself forward as a non-executive committee member and was democratically elected.”
Chiara took up her role in May 2018 and has remained since, rising through the ranks to vice president before being elected president at this year’s AGM. Although her initial motivation for joining the committee was to set herself apart in a competitive market, the young solicitor has grown into her role and become passionate about it.
She officially takes over her duties as SYLA president next week.
In spite of the pandemic, the SYLA has still managed to run over 35 virtual events for its members. One advantage of virtual gatherings is that members from all over Scotland have been able to attend, and it is something the committee plans to maintain. Last year also saw the organisation launch blogs and a podcast.
Chiara said she hopes to continue the work begun last year, in particular the Connecting Trainees and Coffee with the Committee series and that “having spent the last three years on the committee” she was the right person to steer it through the challenges ahead.
Her tenure at the SYLA has been instrumental in advancing her career too. She credits it as a key factor in receiving a job offer with Shepherd and Wedderburn, where she now works as a contentious construction solicitor.
With three years’ post-qualification experience under her belt, she has developed a keen interest in dispute resolution and recently undertook the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CiArb) introduction course, meaning she is now an associate of the CiArb (SB) and has hopes to become a member in the future.
While juggling a complex job and a senior committee position has its challenges, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I lead a busy life, as I’m sure many other lawyers do, but I like it that way. I personally look after myself by doing physical exercise in the morning before starting work. This helps to clear my head and sets me up for the day.
“If I’ve had a stressful day, the best way to relieve that stress is to spend time with my friends and family, and now that the world is going back to normal I have made sure to do just that.”
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