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News > Life After Hymers > Females in Law: Fiona Tannock

Females in Law: Fiona Tannock

Fiona Tannock (née Newbould) was one of the first girls to attend Hymers

Last month (December 2022), we celebrated Females in Law, looking at the career of Natasha Saleh (OH 2001-03).  Since the school went co-ed in 1989, there have been many female students who have gone on to have a career in Law.  One of the first girls to go through the Senior School, Fiona Tannock (née Newbould), told us about how her time studying law, leading to a career in it.

How did you progress into a career in law?

I wasn’t from a family of lawyers but my parents had several friends in the profession and from a very young age, I used to enjoy hearing about their work, particularly criminal work. The first step was to convince my family of musicians (who fully expected me to follow suit) that this was my route, and at first they were sceptical, but as any budding lawyer would, I argued my case and they fully supported me.

I remember dragging my Mum to watch trials and hearings at the Crown Court in half-term for fun! Because I was certain I wanted to be a lawyer, I opted for a straight law degree, and applied in the first term of year 12. I then went straight to university from A-levels and took a very traditional ‘black letter’ law degree at Reading University. That was right for me, but it is just as easy to change your mind these days after a first degree in another subject and take a conversion course.  

I then spent a year or two in other commercial jobs clawing back some money after university and deciding where and what I wanted to do in terms of training. This actually set me in really good stead later to get a training contract straight away, as experience outside the law was welcomed. Eventually I applied for a training contract at a large practice specialising in crime.

Seven of us started at the same time and it was sink or swim; a week or two of intense shadowing others and tests, and then we were all appraised, giving advice at all hours in police stations. Within six weeks we were advising alone at police interview on everything from theft of cheese to manslaughter. At this point only three of us remained. It was gritty and sometimes complicated work that was not as well paid as commercial law but it was at times very rewarding. I loved it and spent ten years defending before moving on. I have also prosecuted, and spent time in insurance, civil and construction litigation too. I like variety, and law can really give you that. 

How did the teachers at Hymers help shape your career journey? 

There are so many ways Hymers and the staff at the time supported all of us in careers advice. The careers advisor herself at the time was very helpful, and gave me the confidence to believe this was an accessible and suitable choice for me.

There were no law, psychology or sociology A-level courses at Hymers at this time and so this advice was really encouraging as at that stage I had no practical experience either. That changed when I had a week of work experience arranged through the school with a local firm of solicitors. I remember asking questions non-stop to the point of driving the criminal solicitor to distraction. The experience was invaluable in several ways as I also spent 7 hours of my life that I won’t get back looking at every last detail of a complicated land transaction, which at least showed me clearly what I shouldn’t be doing!

Any advice that you would give to your younger self starting a Law career? 

Take your own path. I took very creative A-levels (Music, French and English Literature) but all my teachers advised me to study my strongest subjects and not worry about what A-levels ‘suited’ law. This was absolutely spot-on advice.

A law degree at University, and the practice of law later demands a really hybrid set of skills. You have to be able to read and absorb a vast quantity of information quickly and be efficient in identifying what is relevant and what is not relevant from it in a given situation. You can take a creative approach, an analytical approach or indeed a scientific approach to problem-solving, and the best is often a combination.

I cannot think of any academic subject at Hymers A-level that wouldn’t prepare you well for this. My teachers’ advice at the time, which I would definitely echo now, is to choose what you love.

What skills do you consider essential for a career in law?

You have to be tenacious, as training places can be hard to secure and some rejection (unless you are extremely lucky) is unavoidable. Hours in law can also be long (private practice) or unsociable (in public law or legal aid).  You also have to have patience for a lot of reading and enjoy that, and be able to take a calm logical approach in what can be very emotional or tense situations for your clients. In law you are usually dealing with problems someone experiences with something critically important to them. A client’s business, liberty, estate, marriage or money is often at stake, and you have to be able to remain impartial and focussed on problem-solving while still being able to empathise. Strong reasoning skills are key, you will in most areas of law have to guide someone through your argument or advice at some stage and you need to be able to justify your reasoning. Above all, passion. 

When you look back at your time at Hymers, what are some of your fondest memories?  

Strong friendships, and a very healthy balance between hard work and fun which I have carried through. I have just as many memories of sharing Walkman headphones (the iPods of the 90’s) on a summer’s day on the playing fields, dancing and drinking (mainly Diet Coke until I was 18 of course) at balls, parties or nights out and gossiping over toast in the common room as I do of the work.

My favourite memories are mainly to do with music and the wide range of musical groups, trips and performances we were lucky to be part of. I still would not say that running through the suburbs of Hull in the pouring rain in short red gym skirts followed by three laps of the field on a January day was character-building (or useful in any other sense). However, it did bond us in a unique way!

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