‘Cambridge was a nightmare – but I rose from working class boy to top Doncaster lawyer job’

Tony Rawlings, president of Doncaster Law Society
Tony Rawlings, president of Doncaster Law Society

His dad was a fitter at a steelworks. His mum was a clerk at a bank.

But that was not going to stop Tony Rawlings from making his way to a place at one of the world’s top universities and becoming one of Doncaster’s best known lawyers.

As a child, Tony was a pupil at a comprehensive school in Scunthorpe. Non one in his family had gone into the professions.

But now the 53-year-old has become president of Doncaster Law Society, and is a senior lawyer at Paul Bullen and Co at South Parade.

Tony, from Cusworth, said: “My mum was a part time bank clerk , and my dad was a fitter at the local steelworks.

“But when I was about 14, I decided I wanted to be a solicitor.

“As a kid from a working class background, working as a solicitor seemed like a long way away. I wanted to get out and see what was out there in the world.

“My dad was quite concerned about whether I would get the grades at school. I worked hard and my mum would put me tea in the hall, and I’d picked up and get on with work.”

He focused on what he needed to do to pass his exams at school, and after passing his O levels went on to pass his A levels and went off to study law at Lancaster University.

Three years later, he applied to Cambridge to study for a masters degree – having been unable to go there for his first degree because he did not have a foreign language.

“For someone like me from a working class background, having a foreign language was like asking for the moon,” he said.

“But you didn’t need a language for post graduate degrees, so I finally got in.

“I went to Trinity Hall College, Cambridge for the masters degree. I didn’t enjoy it. I found it a very snobby place. but also a great leveller. Before I had always been near the top of my class. Suddenly, I was Mr Average.

“It was a negative experience for me, but with hindsight, that was probably partially my fault. It was clear where people were from, and there was snobbery in those days, and I often told people what I thought about that.”

It knocked Tony off course for a while, and after graduation, he spend time doing voluntary work for the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers, as working as an advisor for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau.

But he moved back into law, and in 1989 he passed his law society finals exams at Manchester Polytechnic.

He got his first job in Hull, but took eight months out after becoming frustrated with the way some of the firms operated, which he did not feel gave him as much flexibilty in how he worked as he wanted.

But he returned to law – and moved to Doncaster – after being offered a job by Paul Bullen, after an interview over a pot of tea at the Danum Hotel.

Soon he was spending part of his week working as a family lawyer, and half his week as a non-executive director of Doncaster Central NHS Primary Care Trust.

After he and his family spent some time in Hull, they moved back to Doncaster, because his wife was finding it difficult to find work in her job as a health visitor in Humberside.

Tony specialised in probate, working law the law around wills and their administration, and landed new community roles, including becoming a member of Sprotbrough and Cusworth Parish Council.

Having enjoyed politics as a student, he also became treasurer for the local campaign forum of the Doncaster Labour Party, vice chairman of the RomanRidge ward Labour Party, and the Black and Minority Ethnic officer for Doncaster North, with the goal of getting more minorities involved in the party. 

In September, Tony was appointed as president of Doncaster Law Society. He said the role was largely as a figurehead,which would see him chair the meetings. He wants to build links with organisations across the borough during his year in office. He’s now also the parliamentary liaison officer for Doncaster Law Society.

Tony believes what he has done shows a working class background should not stop anyone reaching for big ambitions.

He said: “I think you always need to think outside the box, and never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. But you have to be prepared to work hard justify that belief. It comes down to Carpe Diem – seize the day.”