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After leaving school at 16 Patricia Ewen, now 50, had various jobs - at a dole office, on an evening newspaper, sandwich delivery, etc. Almost 20 years later, she re-entered education to embark on a law career. Today she's one of three senior partners at Silverbeck Rymer in Liverpool specialising in personal injury.

I MANAGED to get five O-levels at my local grammar school but during the Sixties in Liverpool it was the norm for women to leave as soon as they could. My father was a civil servant; I decided to follow in his footsteps and landed myself a job at the Department of Employment.

Amazingly, I worked my way up to executive officer. I say "amazingly" because I'd been so shy. Dealing with people who had a lot of problems and grievances taught me so much about interpersonal skills and - in hindsight - I'd say it also introduced me to the kind of caring about people my work involves now. But six years later I began to feel I'd hit a dead end. I needed a change. I think you have to go with that kind of feeling - no matter what your role - as once your spark has gone, you may as well forget it. I got a job on the Liverpool Echo selling advertising space. That was fun, and a brilliant lesson in how to deal with the most difficult of people.

In 1979 I became pregnant and three years later I had another child. I devoted my time to raising them, but I also opened a sandwich delivery company and did some other part-time work.

Then I decided to become not just a solicitor but a partner. High aims indeed for a woman of 35 who'd left school at 16. But I told myself two things: this wasn't rocket science, and second, despite my lack of formal education, I had a good brain.

So I signed up at my local college to study part-time for legal executive exams. I could have done a degree, but that takes more time to reach the same level. The first year was hard. I hadn't been in a classroom for so many years and everyone around me was in their twenties. But a strong focus and a whole-hearted belief was all I needed.

For the second part of my qualifications - which, altogether, took six years - I needed to get work experience. It was the first time I became disillusioned because I just couldn't get firms interested in me - even when I was willing to work for nothing.

But eventually I got an interview at Silverbeck Rymer where I immediately felt at home. Had I not, I know I would have refused any offer as I totally believe it's essential to work in a company with an ethos and culture mirroring your own. If you don't, you have no chance of ever being happy.

Fortunately, I was offered a position as legal clerk - not unpaid work experience - and the firm funded my law society finals seven years ago - and then offered me a partnership the very next month, and a senior partnership some years later.

Interview by

Kate Hilpern