This article was first published in Private Client Adviser on 17 December 2014 and is reproduced by kind permission (www.privateclientadviser.co.uk)
I can remember coming out of what must have been my first ‘careers’ session at school and thinking, “It really is very lucky that I want to be a solicitor…because I can’t stand the sight of blood“. I promise my logic was more sound than you might first think. You see, at my schools’ ‘careers’ sessions (please note the deliberate continued use of parenthesis) there were, in reality, only two viable options for our future employ: doctor or lawyer.
I am exaggerating of course. However, I do feel that it is important for children to be encouraged, not stifled, at this formative point in their lives. I recall the look of disillusionment on a fellow pupil’s face when he was told to ‘take it seriously’ by the teacher when he dared to share his aspirations to be a writer. While I do not think that I would have actually chosen a different career had I been aware of the other options that were available to me, the careers process should accurately exhibit the spectrum of life opportunities the different paths that are available following school have to offer.
I have written before about how Law is shifting from being a profession to a commodity, a transition that should be anticipated and proactively prepared for in other spheres of employment. The information given to school pupils should reflect this change and equip students with the armoury of potential avenues and options available to them.
Although I knew that a law degree was an excellent foundation for many careers and not just for becoming a solicitor, in that prospective employers often view the associated characteristics as universally valuable, I had not fully appreciated how true this was in reality. After completing my degree, I was surprised to discover that a large contingent of my contemporaries were pursuing a variety of eclectic jobs, utilising their Law degrees for anything and everything except for becoming a solicitor.
Even for those who do pursue the ‘traditional’ route after their law degree, the element of choice is by no means removed. Choosing the area that you ultimately want to practice in, for most trainees, is not a trivial exercise. I know that for many trainees, seat selection is highly tactical and the source of great angst during the two year training period. Often it is sensible to opt to go where the work is, but given my own experience I would say you should nail your colours to the mast if there is an area of practice that you love.
Ultimately, this could well be something that you are doing for 40 years. Only time will tell if my decision to choose family law was the right one in the end, but I know that it was the right decision to go with my gut and that I would have regretted being swayed into opting for a ‘safe’ option. I have previously warned prospective trainees against accepting any training contract out of desperation and I believe the advice translates perfectly to choosing your practice area.
Please note that I am not saying that people should follow their dreams at any expense. I am far too neurotic to offer such flippant advice. I would, of course, have accepted any job that I was lucky enough to be offered at Michelmores had a family law role not been an option. However, based on my own experiences, all I have to offer is; weigh up your options carefully, give your decisions time and be realistic about your expectations. I know that my career in family law is unlikely to be as glamorous or indeed as lucrative as my corporate/ commercial counterparts but I, just like them, have been true to myself in choosing my path. And if it doesn’t work out – I will just have to dust myself off and become a doctor.