I grew up in a conventional Asian family of highly competitive medics and like so many others before me, aside from medicine, I thought my three principal post A Level options were: lawyer; accountant; or a wealthy husband. Or maybe it was ‘and’ a wealthy husband?!
I opted for a law degree but ultimately decided not to pursue a training contract or pupillage and instead moved into human resources (HR), which was probably one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had with my folks. But I’m really glad I had the confidence to face-up to them.
Reflecting back, I often got caught up in the need to conform and keep up appearances within the ‘professional’ Asian community social circles.
I remember chatting to my mum’s (she’s a gynaecologist) doctor friend at a dinner party who told me: “HRT (hormone replacement therapy) is a great specialism to be studying and it’s great that you’ve identified this so early on in your medical career.” At that time, I was working towards my career in HR. I didn’t stop her. It was easier just to smile sweetly and comment on her lovely jewellery.
I enjoyed studying law and was also attracted by its glamour, even though I was probably more Erin Brokovich than Ally McBeal/Suits. But in all honesty, I was one of those students who really had to put the hours in. I struggled to remember facts, judgments and legislation meaning Post-it notes adorned my bedroom walls.
Though it was tough, I kept going, listened to my tutors, learnt to adapt and became increasingly resilient.
Finding my niche
After graduation I wasn’t sure what to do next. It was a nerve-wracking time and I felt panicked about being judged if I didn’t define and execute my alternative plan soon.
I wanted to use my legal knowledge in some guise but what that looked like remained unclear. I secured a place on the graduate scheme of a renowned global recruitment consultancy and spent three successful years there, negotiating placements across the legal sector.
But I yearned for more. My law degree taught me how to think analytically and formulate thought provoking arguments and I wanted to use these skills in a different context. I became interested in the broader HR agenda, the psychology behind organisations and how they define their talent agenda.
So, I returned to university and studied a Masters in Human Resources and have been sourcing and assessing talent for professional services outfits and City law firms ever since.
Unicorns, realisations and purpose
Having now gained significant HR experience, it’s clear that partners and business services directors want to explore different perspectives and diversity of thought. And to achieve this they need HR and recruitment expertise to be the driving force behind that.
My parents can now rest assured that HR professionals have, in recent years, been afforded much greater credibility and respect and are no longer viewed as the glorified administrators responsible for note taking, filing and drafting the offer letters.
My role brings challenges with it too, which keeps things alive and interesting. For instance, devising appropriate recruitment strategies often involves a lot of discussion and explanation around why the hiring manager’s ideal candidate aka ‘the unicorn’ doesn’t exist. And though negotiating a different approach can be difficult, it’s extremely rewarding when the role is eventually filled.
Granted, unlike the medics in my family, a career in HR is a far cry from being in the front-line and I’m obviously not involved in life-saving research to find the desperately needed cure for Covid19. But my work has given me a purpose and I’m glad I took the plunge to pursue a career that was initially alien to me and on the face of it appeared to have very little correlation with my law degree.
But the journey has been tough. I recall feeling that I’d somehow betrayed myself after finally coming to the realisation a career in law wasn’t for me. I still remember the precise moment this happened. I looked up at the clock, having read 20 pages of a commercial property lease. Time stood still for a second and my mind was made up. I wanted out and wondered how to handle those awkward dinner party conversations with my parents’ friends. I still do sometimes!
Business Services Careers
HR and recruitment aren’t the only options for anyone interested in business service careers. I’ve interviewed many law graduates and qualified solicitors who have switched careers and now have great roles within law firms in knowledge and learning, business development, communications and marketing, and legal project management to name a few. These are fast moving divisions, often embracing new technologies to overhaul the way law firms operate.
There’s also a revolution happening in furthering the diversity and inclusion agenda, which we all have a massive part to play in against the current heightened global socio-economic and racial backdrop. The challenge to change mindsets has never been more relevant, so let’s breathe some life into those staid old boardrooms. Business services units always need bright, informed, effective communicators who can skilfully formulate arguments and solutions.
Life After Law
If you’re feeling disillusioned following the trajectory you initially set yourself, fear not – it’s okay to change your mind. On average, we spend a third of our lives at work, so we’d better make sure we’re enjoying ourselves. But if you feel you’ve not yet found your alternative path, keep researching and network, network, network.
However, remember your law degree isn’t necessarily going to be a free pass into business services roles within law firms – although it may give you an edge. Hiring managers will also want to understand how you plan to translate your skills to match their requirements. They’ll also need to feel reassured of your commitment to the cause in making the transfer.
Don’t underestimate the power of those softer skills either: adopting a growth mindset and emotionally intelligent attitude are vital. Be humble and hungry to learn. Be open to new opportunities and believe that there really can be life after law. And you’ll still get a chance wear those Ally McBeal/Suits power suits if you really want to!
Mona Rangar is the Resourcing Manager at top 50 law firm Charles Russell Speechlys