Most people probably assume the only way to get into law as a career is to go to university first.

But that isn’t always the case.

David Cowin, who lives in Onchan, left St Ninian’s High School after his A-levels unsure about the traditional university route and the investment it required.

Instead, David sought a more practical approach that would provide him with real-world experience while pursuing his legal education.

David initially drew inspiration from the accountancy profession, where individuals could earn qualifications while gaining valuable on-the-job experience. He saw the potential to apply a similar approach to law.

‘I knew there had to be a better way to enter the legal field. The traditional university route didn’t resonate with me,’ he said.

‘I wanted to make the most of my time, apply my learning, and gain practical experience.’

After attending a student open day at Douglas law firm DQ and speaking to one of the firm’s team, David found out he could study for a law degree online.

This approach has the potential to offer the best of both worlds – a comprehensive legal education and the chance to work with a law firm in the Isle of Man.

After finding a suitable online law degree at the University of Essex, David pitched the notion to the Isle of Man Law Society – once it had approved the concept, he began approaching local firms.

He reached an agreement with DQ, offering him the role of a part-time trainee paralegal in October 2022.

David’s decision to pursue a law degree straight out of sixth form, and simultaneously work at a law firm as a trainee paralegal, was a first for the Isle of Man.

DQ became the first on-island law firm to embrace this ‘legal apprenticeship’ approach.

‘In my eyes, this was the best way forward,’ said David.

‘I could still study for a valuable and well-recognised qualification, but do so from the Isle of Man, whilst working and gaining crucial on-the-job experience. The team at DQ was incredibly supportive and saw the potential of this approach and helped me navigate the process.’

DQ says that David’s growth as a legal professional has been remarkable.

From having no legal experience to becoming a trusted member of the team, David’s exposure to various legal matters has been extensive.

He emphasises the importance of learning not just the law but also the inner workings of a law firm, a knowledge that will give him a competitive advantage in the future.

‘Working with the team at DQ has been amazing,’ David said.

‘They trusted me with responsibilities, and I learned by doing. This real-world experience is invaluable and sets me apart as a future advocate.’

As a trainee paralegal, David’s responsibilities encompass a wide range of tasks across different departments within the firm, including its corporate, regulatory and compliance, litigation, and private client and trusts teams.

This diversity has allowed him to acquire practical skills that cannot be taught solely from textbooks.

His involvement in internal work has also provided him with a deeper understanding of the firm’s operations and how the law industry works in the Isle of Man.

‘I get to work on various matters, from legal opinions and resolving disputes to attending several legally significant trials and being appointed as the contact for the Isle of Man Independent Covid Review, with responsibility for processing any physical submissions,’ David said.

‘It’s a truly fantastic opportunity to learn and grow.

‘On top of this, while there are many similarities between UK law and Isle of Man law, they are fundamentally different.

‘Learning these differences now will again put me ahead of the curve at the end of my degree and let me hit the ground running once I begin my training contract.

‘ I am fortunate in that it will put me in a much stronger position than many returning graduates.’

Balancing work and study can be challenging, but David’s determination and commitment is paying dividends.

He has been able to attend webinars and seminars by legal experts and is a member of the Isle of Man Junior Lawyers’ Association.

Despite the busy schedule, he has also been able to enjoy living in the Isle of Man.

‘I love a trip away as much as the next person, however, the opportunities the Isle of Man offers are pretty remarkable when you think of its size.

‘Where rural life perfectly blends with city living, I get to enjoy a thriving career in one of the world’s most renowned business centres alongside a vibrant local life, set against the backdrop of some of the most diverse and stunning landscapes in the British Isles. It’s the perfect place for my personal and professional growth.’

Recognising that David is still a student, DQ is allowing him to enjoy some of the experiences typical of university life, including a month of what it describes as ‘enrichment leave’ in lieu of an undergraduate’s traditional summer holiday which he undertook in August.

‘I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

‘I’m excited about completing my law degree and taking the next steps in my legal career,’ David said. ‘The journey has been rewarding, and I’m eager to see where it leads me.’

DQ says that as David continues to pave his trail, he leaves behind an ‘encouraging’ legacy for the next generation of aspiring Manx lawyers.

The company, which is based in Mount Pleasant, Douglas, says his dedication to forging his path, coupled with the support of DQ, sets an example for others to explore unconventional routes to achieve their career goals.

DQ says that its ‘forward-thinking approach’ has also set a precedent for other law firms – encouraging them to embrace new methods of nurturing legal talent here in the Isle of Man.