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Age is no barrier to legal profession — at either end of the spectrum

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Age is no barrier when it comes to the legal profession, as two Bermudian lawyers at Cox Hallett Wilkinson (CHW) have proved in being called to the Bermuda Bar.

Last week Olga Rankin became the oldest person to be called to the Bar at the age of 65 while Cratonia Smith was only 23 when she received her calling four weeks ago — making her the youngest woman to achieve that accolade.

Despite being from opposite ends of the age spectrum and having completely different backgrounds and experience, the duo, who are both associate attorneys, bring their own unique qualities to the job.

Mrs. Rankin was the first to admit that she entered the profession late in life, having successfully completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and a Masters in Humanities and Social Thought from New York University prior to embarking on her legal studies at the University of Kent Law School in the UK and subsequently graduating with a first-class Bachelor of Laws degree in 2007.

On completion of her legal practice course at the College of Law, she returned to Bermuda last year, and what started as an interest had soon turned into a fully fledged career in law.

"I can never underline strongly enough all this firm has done for me in hiring me at this age and I am very grateful for the opportunity they gave me to practice law," she said.

Believing that law is a key component of everything in life, Mrs. Rankin got her first real taste of the subject through her studies at university and was keen to apply what she had learnt in the classroom to a real life scenario.

"I did it against the odds and to everybody's surprise, but I just thought to myself 'Why not give it a try?'," she said.

Ms Smith, who was just beaten to being the youngest member called to the Bar by fellow Bermudian lawyer Justin Williams at 22, said that the biggest shock people had was finding out her age, displaying a maturity belying her years, but once they had seen her conscientious and hard work ethic she soon won them over.

"It feels good to be able to say that I was called to the Bar so young — it goes to show that age really shouldn't be a barrier and rather it is about the quality of work you produce," she said.

Citing a keen interest in justice and people's rights as her motivation, Ms Smith knew that law was the career for her from an early age and was taken under the wing of Bermudian lawyer and mentor Victoria Pearman at 16, working at the firm during her holidays and going on to attain a law degree from the University of Kent Law School, where her path briefly crossed with Mrs. Rankin, and her formal qualification at the BPP Law School in Manchester.

Ms Smith, who was the recipient of CHW's Legal Scholarship Award in 2008, excelled in the medium-sized firm environment at CHW, being given a freer reign than in some of the larger firms and the exposure to senior management at partner level.

Her advice to any aspiring young Bermudian wanting to follow in her footsteps is to gain as much experience as possible trying out as many different areas and firms as necessary to find what their calling. Above all, she said, they need to start early, do their research on the law firms, get their face out there and known, network with the key players, sign up for scholarships and most importantly enjoy the work they do and never become discouraged.

Drawn towards property and land law, as well as litigation and court work, Ms Smith hopes to focus on mortgages, conveyancing and property disputes, in addition to wills, estates and trusts, with an ambition to be made a partner by the age of 30.

"I just want to have a successful practice and work in an area that I enjoy and above all to serve the community and our clients," she said.

"There were a lot of people who mentored me in terms of my schooling and helping me to fulfil my goal of becoming a lawyer, so I want to give something back and help others to achieve their ambitions."

Prior to going into the legal profession, Mrs. Rankin, who is originally from Greece and undertook a tutelage at Greece's National Theatre, enjoyed a long acting career in European and American films and TV series in the 1970s and 1980s.

She moved to Bermuda 30 years ago after stints spent in Paris, Italy and the US, marrying her husband, Bermudian broadcaster Arthur Rankin, in 1986.

In the future, she is just happy to work in whichever field CHW requires her to, but has already developed a passion for the research side of the business.

"Anything is possible, and I think I have proved it," she said. "If you set your mind to do something and you keep trying you can achieve it."

Jonathan Betts, senior associate at CHW, said what had impressed him most about the pair was their energy and enthusiasm for the work they did, adding that he had seen a trend of more females going into the legal profession as greater opportunities present themselves.

"We want to keep people like Olga and Cratonia for as long as possible because we realise the value and benefit they offer to the firm," he said.

"From the firm's perspective we just want the best people for the job. It doesn't matter if they are male or female."

CHW has operated a successful training and scholarship programme, developing a relationship with the prospective students and lawyers from an early stage as an ongoing process, with eight of its pupils being called to the Bar in the past six years, more than half of whom still work for the firm and the others who have joined bigger practices or re/insurance companies.

Craig Rothwell, a partner at CHW, explained that the pupillage programme involved participants working in the private client, corporate and litigation departments at the practice during the first year and then their preferred choices in the second term, before selecting their favourite one and specialising in the area they want to go into.

"We are always looking for talented Bermudians to join the firm and the door is always open because they are the future of the firm," he said.

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Published October 26, 2010 at 12:00 am (Updated December 09, 2010 at 7:33 pm)

Age is no barrier to legal profession — at either end of the spectrum

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