After suffering a horrific injury whilst playing rugby for St Helens, Preston solicitor James Pearson is back on the field, playing for Orrell Rugby Union

James Pearson, playing for Orrell Rugy Union.'Photo by Orrell Penguin - Bryan Fowler
James Pearson, playing for Orrell Rugy Union.'Photo by Orrell Penguin - Bryan Fowler

From the age of 14 James Pearson knew he wanted to be a professional rugby player.

He loved the thrill of the game and the team spirit and was elated to be part of the Saints youth team in St Helens.

James Pearson after he suffered his injury

James Pearson after he suffered his injury

But sadly that dream was trashed when he was badly injured following a tackle and suffered a fracture to his neck and partial paralysis.

Now James has found a new career, practicing law in Preston and Manchester, and after two years of rehabilitation, he has been able to pick up his rugby passion again.

The 30-year-old, who lives in Orrell, says: “I started playing rugby at St Peters RC High School and was encouraged to go and play for my local team, Orrell St James’ and so I did. I loved every second of it and made friends for life.

“I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to play with Saints when I was 14 or 15 and that was going really well.

James Pearson, playing for Orrell Rugy Union with Sean Long and Martin Gleeson'Photo by Orrell Penguin - Bryan Fowler

James Pearson, playing for Orrell Rugy Union with Sean Long and Martin Gleeson'Photo by Orrell Penguin - Bryan Fowler

“But I ended up suffering an injury when I was 16 which stopped me from playing.

“I was playing with my amateur team, Blackbrook Royals RLFC, against Widnes and I got involved in an unfortunate tackle. It was not an illegal tackle, but was very dangerous. Three large lads brought me to the ground and I landed in a bad way,

“The break was not that horrific, but I fractured my neck.

“I was in and out of hospital for two years, with treatment.

James Pearson, playing for Orrell Rugy Union.'Photo by Orrell Penguin - Bryan Fowler

James Pearson, playing for Orrell Rugy Union.'Photo by Orrell Penguin - Bryan Fowler

“I had partial paralysis and could not walk for a considerable amount of time.

“It was really intermittent and whilst in hospital I was in a wheelchair, as although I could walk, I could fall over as my legs would give way.

“I remember sitting at school and all of a sudden I would start to loose feeling in my left leg. It was a strange sensation in the body, not knowing what was going on. It was really intermittent and was caused by the damage to my spinal chord.

“It was a really tough time, as I was a 16-year-old, starting college, with no idea what to do, having decided I wanted to be a professional rugby player.

James Pearson works as a solicitor

James Pearson works as a solicitor

“I had always wanted to be an RAF pilot but because of my injuries, I was unable to do that.

“It also had a huge impact on my family.

Over the course of two years, James was able to recover fully and he was given the all clear.

He is now able to play rugby again and he has switched codes to play for Orrell Rugby Union, which has an easier pace for him.

James is also involved in supporting his club’s executive team to deliver their project of obtaining a new ground.

He adds: “People say I must be mad to be playing rugby again but there is such a good vibe around sport. It also has a such a significant impact on my social life, enhancing my physical and mental wellbeing.”

But looking back, James admits that his injury was a massive blow after his two preferred options were scuppered.

After he left St Peters RC School, he began to figure out a near career path and attended Winstanley College, where he is now chairman of the board of governors, and then studied law at Edge Hill University.

His impeccable record at the university led to him becoming the Inaugural President of Edge Hill University Law Alumni Association and he now sits on the Professional Advisory Panel.

He adds: “People kept telling me I was good at arguing and someone suggested I train to be a lawyer. I decided then to become a barrister as I thought it seemed pretty cool.

“I went to Edge Hill University, obtaining a first in law and did work experience with a barrister.

“After that I decided that whilst I wanted a career in law, I didn’t want to be a barrister, so I trained to be a solicitor.

“I got a training contract with a top international law firm, which was really fortunate.”

Alongside his training, James set up a company providing consultancy services to other organisations.

He adds: “When I started to train to be a lawyer, it meant taking a significant pay cut from my previous job and so when my employer at the time asked me to continue to work with them as a consultant, I jumped at the chance.

“Before long, people that I had worked with also asked me to work with them too. This was exceptionally demanding and it felt like I was doing two full time jobs so I set up a company to help me develop the business.

“I knew that I needed to grow the company into a more established and sustainable business, and to get in staff to replace myself, which enabled me to focus on being a solicitor.

“This experience was also extremely valuable because I still use the lessons that I learned about starting a company, running, growing a business in my role as a solicitor.”

Whilst at the firm, James qualified as a solicitor and joined Brabners, in Preston, last year, practicing sports law.

He is a member of the sports and leisure sector team with a particular focus on sports related rules and regulations concerning sports governing bodies including FIFA, The FA, Premier League and Football League and RFU.

He advises on commercial and sporting contracts relating to transfers, intellectual property rights exploitation and protection, management and representation and playing contracts. He is also an UK Anti-Doping accredited advisor and he has a special interest in the education sector, providing commercial contracts advice to schools, colleges, universities and private training organisations.

James adds: “It is a hard job and is mentally demanding, but I love it,

“I love working with different types of organisations. I enjoy helping them to overcome their problems, for example, a professional athlete with a sports ban, looking at transfer contracts or the impact of changes in the law because these things have a huge personal impact for the people involved.”

Knowing the struggles of pursuing a career in law, James has become a professional ambassador for Aspiring Solicitors, a group to encourage diversity within legal profession

He reveals: “People who want to be solicitors, aspiring solicitors, email me questions through the Aspiring Solicitors portal about ‘life as a lawyer’ and ask for hints and tips that can help them to succeed in a career in law.

Getting into the profession is incredibly difficult and so I do what I can to help people to get access to the profession, particularly if they are from a disadvantaged background.

“I get asked how to approach certain questions on application forms, what types of firms should people apply to, what’s the difference between different types of law firm etc.”