Jacqueline Smith shares her journey to becoming a magistrate, whilst continuing her role as an Assistant at a City law firm

If you were to create an album that mirrored the tracks of your life how would it sound and would you download it?  What would that album say about your life?

I’m going to tell you about a time when the music of my life was my favourite track, but on constant repeat.  I remixed that track by reinvesting the professional skills I had, which strengthened my firm’s corporate responsibility values and gave me a transparent view of my personal strengths and weaknesses.

Like a lot of things in my life, an opportunity presented itself almost “by chance”.  I say that not because I am unfocussed, but because I hadn’t yet realised the positive impact of evaluating your focus on the core outcomes you want to have, with the people you are working with.

Many of us get to a point in our working lives where challenges become limited or the opportunity to become a stakeholder in projects is no longer fulfilling or viable.  At this point we begin looking externally for other opportunities, re-employ and then two or three years later we are back in the same place – when every day feels like “Thursday” (day four of the hostage situation!).

But what if you didn’t have to leave?  Chances are that before leaving you had a conversation with those you work with that was something along the lines of “I don’t feel that I am currently fulfilling my potential …I’d like to get involved more”, and whilst I can completely relate to this conversation, ask yourself this – if you don’t know what that actually means for you, why should anyone else?  Good employers want you to do more and will support you.  They will invest in you because, fundamentally, it ensures their success – but what does that mean in real terms for you?

Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow

Ralph Waldo Emerson

For me, when I asked myself that question, it was answered very clearly by someone who was able to assess my skill set and make a judgment about what they knew my underlying values to be.  I was voluntarily assisting a community project at the time, working with young adults with social challenges, and one of the organisation leaders became my quasi-mentor.  Almost every time we met her mantra was “You can do so many things … if you want to make a real difference and serve your local community, become a magistrate”.  I would always smile but immediately rule the possibility out as being unattainable.

So why a magistrate? The fact that I worked in a City law firm was just coincidental and not a factor at all in my application to be a magistrate, which has no resemblance to the type of legal work I do in any event.

When I looked at the judicial website (www.judiciary.gov.uk/about-the-judiciary/judges-career-paths/becoming-a-magistrate/), amongst all the other outline skills you needed to be appointed, it listed six key characteristics.

1. Good Character

I once had a speeding ticket (which I declared) but other than that have always been honourable and honest in all areas of my life and consider integrity and respect to be fundamental to anything I do.

2. Understanding and Communication

Communicating effectively both in writing and verbally as well as being able to understand and interpret documents (in terms of relevant facts) is a large part of what we PAs and EAs do within our roles daily, so this definitely did not faze me.

3. Social Awareness

4. Maturity and Sound Temperament

Discounting my annual April Fools jokes, I consider myself to be mature and of sound temperament. 

    It went on to say that “you must also be assertive when required, decisive and confident, fair and have respect and courtesy for everyone”.

    5. Sound Judgment

    “As a magistrate, you must be capable of making sound judgments that are not based on your own personal feelings, prejudices or biased opinions.” My daughter was at primary school at the time and she was able to endorse this for me because she felt I always gave her the correct punishment if she did anything wrong! þ

    6. Commitment and Reliability

    OK sign me up!

    If only it were that simple.  The actual process, from applying to being appointed, took just over 18 months, although now it takes an average of 3 to 6 months.  Before deciding whether or not to apply, you need to visit a magistrates’ court to observe magistrates sitting – you are advised to do this about three times.  Once you have submitted your application, you undertake an assessment and a series of panel interviews and then, if successful, you are appointed.

    I was appointed as a magistrate and took the judicial oath in January 2000.

    You are then trained before starting to hear cases and throughout your career as a magistrate, you will be trained and appraised regularly.

    All criminal cases start in a magistrates’ court:

    • Indictable offences (eg murder, rape, manslaughter which can only be dealt with in a Crown Court before a judge and jury).
    • Either-way offences (eg theft, fraud where the defendant may be dealt with either by magistrates or in a Crown Court).
    • Summary offences (eg road traffic offences – for example, careless driving, drink driving and unlicensed driving, minor assaults, minor theft, and offensive behaviour are only dealt with by magistrates).

    Through my appointment as a magistrate, I have also gone on to do further community outreach work by attending secondary schools and discussing the work I do and how we can all play an active part within the community.

    It has also made me think about the effects of crime within a community and how this can impact on life.  Knowing the issues of your local community is a necessity for this role, but of paramount importance is having respect for diversity and people from different cultures and social backgrounds.  This is fundamental in business and for many of us the minimum standard of what we expect to happen.

    For me, this appointment has been about fulfilling my potential as a person within business and supporting my local community and was the first time I realised that my own “brand identity” could be fully aligned with my company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Before applying I spoke to the current Managing Partner, and the current head of Division – both visionaries who were fully supportive of how the appointment would work both personally for me and for the business as a brand ambassador.

    Re-evaluating my professional competencies has allowed me to manage and control my own destiny in line with my firm’s critical pathway and key performance indicators, and was a significant factor in driving change for myself at a time of unprecedented opportunity.

    This appointment has also helped me in my journey of fulfilling my potential as a person.  It has been a perfect fit of applying my dexterity which has benefitted me in all areas of my life.  I have learnt new skills; gained valuable networking opportunities; expanded my responsibilities; and fully embraced leadership and it has given me the opportunity to collaborate and share effectively.

    Because magistrates are not paid a salary, the role requires a high level of commitment and motivation. You need to be motivated for reasons other than financial gain.

    I believe it is important to work with (as opposed to for) an employer who is not only focused on achieving its projected financial goals but also builds a sustainable and measured support framework allowing its employees the reality of achieving the best they can be in all areas of their lives.  For some this can be through agile working; both internal and external secondments; community outreach programmes; mentoring; and coaching – there really is a wide spectrum on offer.

    My employers pride themselves in being a leading law firm that combines local depth within a global platform.  With over 30 international offices we work in close partnership with clients each day to understand and provide solutions to local challenges.  Corporate responsibility (CR) is very much at the heart of the firm in each of its regions, but the focus is always the underlying goal of unlocking each employee’s potential.

    What if you want to get involved but your firm won’t support you?

    For many companies, corporate responsibility is no longer an add-on to the business or a banner added to a website to show that they can be diverse.  It has become an integral part of many businesses and is a reflection of what the company’s success and values look like.  It is an aptitude clients look for when ultimately deciding whether they should engage you for your services as a collaborative stakeholder. It is also an indication for us as employees to ensure that we align ourselves with employers who share our values and vision.

    This must be about achieving positive career development.  You are not outshining your peers but putting yourself in a position where you will be an ambassador for your team and organisation.  Or perhaps you would like to do something which is much more removed from what you do professionally.  Do you have a particular interest or something you feel passionately about that you could contribute some of your time to?

    As a starting point I would encourage you to take a look at the CSR work your company is currently doing and to align yourself with something that they have in place.  Speak with your manager and suggest how you can assist.

    Reach out to people within and across your network to establish connections, or perhaps ask to be recommended. Following that perhaps input the phrase “volunteer match” into your preferred search engine so you can review trusted organisations which you may be able to affiliate yourself with.

    Remember, in order to really maximise your true potential sometimes you have to consider doing things that put you slightly out of your comfort zone.  They could be things that you never knew you could do.  The one thing I have learnt is that, when you do that, you are on your journey to becoming a better and stronger person.

    I’m not suggesting you walk a mile in my shoes – frankly, anyone who knows me will tell you that I have many shoes, but none of them have ever walked a mile on my feet!  What I’m suggesting you explore are ways that you can use your current skillset to make a difference for your community and yourself.

    Re-evaluate this stage of your career for continued success and growth as there is a richness which comes from understanding your own personality when teamwork and innovation are essential.  This is a call to action if something you have read strikes a chord with where you currently are or perhaps would like to be.

    So I’m going to ask you again.  If you were to create an album that mirrored the tracks of your life how would it sound and would you download it?  What would that album say about you and your life?

    Every good album has a bonus track so it’s time to control your own destiny.  I can continue to be a magistrate until I am 70 so, for me, I’m going to ensure that I am living my life like it’s golden!

    Jacqueline Smith currently works as a Personal Assistant for a City law firm and has over 22 years’ experience providing high level administrative support for direct reports. Her core values of integrity and honesty have enabled her to be a great ... (Read More)

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