Trainee Blog: Career changes to law

Not everyone follows the same path to becoming a lawyer. Some people know from school age that training as a solicitor is for them; for others this decision can come later. Some will follow the "traditional" route of university, law school, and training contract whilst others will decide to pursue law after working in a non-legal profession or another career.

With its dizzying array of acronyms and buzzwords, from the outside the legal sector can seem like a difficult nut to crack for the prospective career changer. As a (albeit early) career changer myself, I decided to talk to some of the lawyers within Michelmores who pursued different careers prior to going to law school.

Edwin Richards, Senior Associate, Corporate: previously a Chartered Accountant and spent his career working in banking and later running a corporate finance boutique firm.

Helen Bray, Solicitor, Agricultural Property: worked in children's publishing for five years.

1. Know that you are not alone

At law school I met former teachers, scientists, immigration caseworkers, customer service managers, MP assistants, shipping brokers, publishers, marketing executives, retail workers and ski instructors, all of whom came to the legal profession for different reasons and many now are working in roles across the industry.

Both Edwin and Helen spoke too about the range of people from different backgrounds that they met on their courses. For instance, Edwin remembered a fellow student with a previous career in IT who was able to secure a role in Commercial Law, developing IT contracts. Whilst Helen commented that her class was made up of students from a range of different ages.

2. Find out what a lawyer does

"Just speak to people" counsels Helen. Edwin also advises that in order to pursue a career in law you have to "really want to do it" and be "dedicated". The best way to research your future career really is by speaking to practicing lawyers, finding out what they do and what drew them to their role. 

If you are lucky enough to have friends, family members or professional connections who work in and around the legal sector, great. If you don't, try to attend legal events and webinars (events websites such as Eventbrite and Meetup.com and the online graduate legal resources are great starting points) as well as official law firm open days. If other commitments prevent you from attending events such as these, a couple of my friends at law school had great success from sending (polite, targeted) LinkedIn messages to lawyers working in practice area of their interest.

Also remember, sometimes your hobbies and interests can lead to opportunities. Edwin first met his future employers through playing tennis. So it is always good to keep your ear to the ground.

3. Going back to study after working full-time

The idea of going back to intensive study, whether that be on a full-time or part-time basis can be a daunting prospect. Edwin advises potential career-changers to "take heart", as he managed to balance his personal and professional life with the rigours of law school. Moreover he found that having worked full-time helped him manage the competing deadlines of different academic submissions. I, too, certainly found that the organisational and project management skills I picked up in my previous jobs prepared me well for organising my studies.

Despite the difference between law school and her undergraduate studies, Helen commented that she loved going back to university and breaking into a new area of learning.

4. Remember to enjoy it

Sometimes it is easy to forget to enjoy yourself or even the reason you are doing it in the first place when you are busy planning a new career. Remember to take a step back and see the wood for the trees. I loved studying law during the GDL and the LPC, I met friends for life at Law School and feel genuinely lucky to be able to "learn the ropes" at Michelmores. Be confident that the skills and experiences you have gained so far will stand you in good stead at both law school and in the work place. In the words of Helen "just go for it". 

If you need any further tips about how to present your non legal work experience for applications, try my colleague Andra's excellent blog post.