Many lawyers enter the profession as a second, third or indeed fourth career. For instance, during my own transition from a detective constable to solicitor I encountered people from such diverse backgrounds as engineering, the military, finance and veterinary science.
Successfully navigating the switch is a significant commitment financially, and for part-time students also of their available free time outside of work. Having studied part-time myself whilst working for the police I’d like to share tips I learned along the way, which I hope will assist those of you who are contemplating a career change into the legal profession.
- Gaining Work Experience
This is crucial for transitioning into a legal career and can help prospective lawyers make a thorough assessment of whether law would be a good fit for them. One of the benefits of being a career-changer is that you may well already know experienced lawyers, particularly at smaller firms, who might be able to lend a hand by either offering work experience or introducing you to a contact who can.
Whatever kind of firm or chambers you aspire to join in the future, legal work experience shows a proactive commitment to the profession and can often be vital in going on to achieve further practical experience in the form of placements on vacation schemes and mini pupillages. With many law firms exclusively recruiting trainees directly from their vacation schemes, often two years in advance, as a prospective career changer I’d recommend putting yourself out there and applying for such opportunities. An increasing number of firms are open to accepting applications from mature candidates, as well as typical fresh-faced undergrads.
It’s important when applying for placements to bear in mind that candidates currently in full-time work may need to use annual leave to attend these schemes. Leave should therefore be carefully managed and, if possible, time-off-in-lieu accrued to help with attending them.
- Targeting Applications
Relevant work experience will undoubtedly help career changers confidently articulate to potential employers the reasoning behind their decision to switch to law. Having obtained it, career-changers should then have a better idea of the kind of future employer they wish to work for. Before making any applications, I’d recommend using guides such as The Legal 500 and Chambers to draw up a shortlist of employers that specialise in areas of interest, before then proceeding to their websites to explore cultural and other differentials further.
An additional consideration is to target employers that proactively encourage applications from career-changers. Many firms will express this directly on the graduate recruitment sections of their websites whilst some go further and run career-changer specific open days or insight evenings.
It’s also well worth candidates logging in and reviewing competency questions, even if they don’t yet plan on submitting an application. Employers will take time to develop these questions, and they’ll frequently look to use them to test a candidate’s experience against the role’s competencies and the firm’s values. Someone who has spent longer in the working world, perhaps in a demanding role like the police, is likely to have a significant advantage in evidencing the sought-after traits in future trainees, such as resilience, team-working, problem-solving and customer service.
An early look at the questions can help career-changers to evaluate their own experiences and identify areas for development. Certain previous careers are of course highly appealing to firms with similar specialisms, such as applying to a firm with a strong banking practice from a previous career in finance. Even if you choose to move into a different field later on, this detailed understanding of a key business area may make for a compelling personal USP.
- Planning & Developing
Planning each stage of a career transition will make it significantly less stressful. As I’ve already mentioned, employers often recruit two years in advance, so starting the process early is essential. LawCareers.net has a helpful calendar of key dates for application deadlines. It’s worth noting many employers are also able to offer financial support for at least part of the vocational training, and so beginning the post-graduate academic courses required to qualify as a lawyer without having secured a training position should be approached with caution, not least for the reason that part-time study and full-time work can leave little time for honing applications.
Personal development is also crucial throughout this process and there’ll always be ways you can enhance your prospects of making the change, be it approaching a university’s careers service for tailored support through to keeping abreast of commercial and legal issues. There are so many great free resources in this regard, from Lexology, which can provide legal updates in areas of interest, to great podcasts such as Business Casual where notable business figures are interviewed on a range of commercial issues. There are also tonnes of helpful blogs on this very website! Check out the “Learning Hub”.
Aside from desk-based learning and attending events/courses, volunteering is also always well thought of by legal employers, and pro bono opportunities should be pursued where possible.
- Final Thought
Whatever type of legal professional you want to be, being positive, networking proactively, and learning from any setbacks (sadly, none of us are immune from this) should help foster the ideal circumstances to transition from a past career to pastures new. Good luck!
Owen Griffiths is a newly qualified solicitor