Careers: Meet the Transformers

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  • My "radical switch": fighter pilot to solicitor (Ok maybe not so radical: fighter pilot to aviation lawyer).

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  • I do not believe these stories are representative of the current legal workplace. It is telling that some of these transfers occurred many years ago when the law was not so over-subscribed and was slightly more flexible. It would be much harder to transfer successfully today with law being even more conservative and openings even fewer than ever. Good luck if you want to switch from being a nurse to being a solicitor now; I would be stunned if you make it to a training contract let alone partnership. No way HR in any City / West End firm would even contemplate (or understand) promoting a candidate with a slightly alternative career path (unless they can bring a "following" of course).

    There is so much competition firms simply focus on candidates with no less than a 2:1 from a decent Uni, lots of (unpaid) work experience in the law, being the right fit and being the right age to be worked very hard for 5-7 years before being cast aside.

    Considering an older candidate with other life skills is too challenging (and potentially threatening) to most law firms. They may also have families and not want to dedicate 14+ hours a day to the firm which doesn't help in the current climate. Good luck to those who try.

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  • If the GDL could scrapped and career changers truly interested in law (rather than money, prestige and ego) had to do the LLB, the job market for lawyers would be much better. "Hey, I did a degree in XYZ. It had no prospects so I short-circuited the LLB, did a GDL and now I find myself way ahead of those oiks who slogged their guts to get an LLB."

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  • In response to Up North, as someone who did a GDL many moons ago, I can't agree more. Most barrister and solicitors in the top sets/firms seem to come from the GDL route. In hindsight, I don't think it makes for better lawyers. If you want to come to law late, you should do an LLB or something close not the by-the-numbers rote learning on the current GDL. The GDL doesn't pretend to give you legal training - just enough of the answers to get you through. I agree that the GDL needs overhauling, if for no other reason than to stem the overwhelming flow of people trying to become lawyers when there isn't room.

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  • You should be able to start life as a solicitor or barrister at any age, like Mary Smillie at 2Birds (50 years young). Yet the process is so geared towards the 20-22 crowd at certain firms that if you're any older the process can feel awkward.

    I took the GDL / LPC route and after enjoying a 6-year career. I've had vac scheme workshops on how to talk to clients. Great for freshers, not so for someone who does that on a daily basis. The TLT graduate site is decorated with cartoons such as a man sitting on a rocket about to shoot to the stars. It looks like a 5 year old's bedroom wallpaper.

    Considering that any job should be accessible regardless of candidate's age, I think some law firms are shooting themselves in the foot and, some might say, guilty of indirect age discrimination. Thoughts?

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  • I'm a 38 year old mum of two and just commencing the second seat of my training contract. My employer certainly recognises the added value that life experience brings. For the record, I really did start from the bottom. Following a career in the public sector and no degree,I gave up my job, embarked on the LLB and finished with a first. I was lucky enough to secure my training contract between graduation and commencing the LPC. My age and having children was such a help as it gave me the focus and determination I needed to succeed. I am enjoying every minute of my training contract and can't wait to combine qualification with hitting the big 40!

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  • I am 41, a mum of 2 and about to start my training contract having completed the GDL and LP after a successful career in the civil service. There were many other 'career changers' just like me on my course, many of whom have also secured TCs. Age and background are no bar to a successful (second/third) career in law, but in my experience, you do need to be wise as to which firms will consider a candidate like me. Do your research - a quick look at the 'current trainees' profiles on the web page will give you an insight into the mind set and attitude of the firm towards the people it recruits, while the presence (or absence!) of any diversity stats can also be quite telling! My future employer has been nothing but positive about my past career and the experience and skills I can bring to the firm. I am also looking forward to a new career as a solicitor which, in response to Up North above, has nothing to do with money, prestige or ego, but pure old-fashioned job satisfaction...

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  • If you want to be a doctor, you do a medical degree. Want to be a lawyer in the US, then you have to obtain a juris doctorate from a qualified law school. I still can't understand why we let people who have spent three years studying philosophy or media studies undertake a 1 year paint by numbers course and then be on the same route as those who have spent three years studying law on an LLB. There is no substitute. Whilst everyone should have the ability to change, if I want to be a doctor I have to go and do a medical degree. A law degree should be a per requisite. I can generally tell those trainees who work for me who have not done a law degree.

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  • @ Anonymous 7:24am: these days a medical degree is not a prerequisite for becoming a doctor, you can do another degree (normally in science, but I don't think it's essential) and then do a fast-track conversion course. Basically it's the same as the GDL, but takes a bit longer. So your junior doctor might have a BA in history or a language or whatever without you knowing. The same goes for a lot of professions these days.

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  • Thanks for the replies; an interesting discussion. Please also see my earlier comments in this article:

    http://l2b.thelawyer.com/courses/legal-practice-course/national-college-of-legal-training-terminates-lpc-and-gdl/3005253.article

    Please note that my rhetoric is not that people who wish to career should not be allowed it. My empathy, rather, is with LLB undergraduates and graduates who embarked on a legal career from the outset and now despair at being rejected from jobs because somebody else with a diploma and a non-law degree was chosen over them. Unfortunately, university snobbery is also rife here, and I lament HR recruiters who have naff all to do with law, but hold the key to someone's career- they can decide, so easily, where you're going in life, because you went to a polytechnic and did an LLB, but someone who studied Classics at Cambridge then did a GDL was better than you.

    My belief is that if you wish to embark on a legal career, then get to the back of the queue. Lawyers seem to be allowing for the destruction of their own profession by allowing any old person to come along and proclaim, indeed be, a lawyer. As 'Down South' explains above, the GDL from their own experience was vastly flawed. I;m grateful to see that a non-LLB graduate agrees with me.

    The GDL undermines the LLB and those who worked hard to graduate with one, and who worked hard to build a portfolio to demonstrate they have had their eyes set on a legal career for a very long time indeed, perhaps with nothing else considered. This is in contrast to someone who did not like their job (because if they liked it, they'd have stayed) or faced the music and accepted that their degree in philosphy was, realistically, not going to get them very far in terms of career prospects. Now imagine being an LLB graduate and competing for the same job as someone who did a GDL, and then had to note that that person got the job in the end.

    How would you honestly, yes honestly, feel in that scenario? Again, I am not saying you have no right to become a lawyer, but that the route to be taken should be uniform. The GDL is a shortcut and an escape route, purely and simply. I am certain that if the LLB was the starting point, most career changers simply would not bother. If the legal profession is to survive, we need to get back to basics and combat the ego and money (I disagree that those are not factors in some, I said 'some', not 'all' career changers) elements that drive many lawyers. Those lawyers should also be weeded out as their attitude demonstrates no commitment or caring to the legal profession.

    I'd also disagree with the point above about certain firms not taking on people of a certain age. I have seen trainee solicitors at corporate firms; however, not every young graduate wants to strut around a city centre in a suit, and many can see straight through the glossy propaganda and brochures churned out by corporate firms. Those graduates do genuinely want to work for high street firms for the average person. Those firms are not the reserve of the more 'mature' lawyer.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Aug-2013 7:24 am : 'I still can't understand why we let people who have spent three years studying philosophy or media studies undertake a 1 year paint by numbers course and then be on the same route as those who have spent three years studying law on an LLB.'

    Neither can I. What this means is that you don't need a law degree to become a solicitor or barrister. It would sound surprising, if not horrifying, to hear.

    I can teach myself dentistry; so can anyone, but what kind of profession are we developing whereby a degree in the discipline itself can be side-stepped?

    The legal profession is now a free-for-all and it shouldn't be. Such a shame.

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  • I think it was Jonathan Sumption QC (a history don and allegedly one of the cleverest lawyers ever to practice at the Bar) who said: "doing a law degree stifles creativity and numbs the brain". I have no idea what point he was making.

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  • Ramon, Sumption was educated at Eton and Oxford and studied, as you mention, History.

    So three things:

    1) He has class status and clearly was not a serf;
    2) He did not study law;
    3) He is of the upper crust.

    It is precisely this elitist snobbery that the legal profession needs to combat. Of course anyone without a law degree can fob it off as irrelevant once they've bulldozed their way in, but Sumption has clearly proven my point about Oxbridge/elitist alumni having an easy ride.

    Again, I do not care about his status or his academic credentials. If he did not do a law degree then he is in no position to pass comment and his absence of an LLB means he is a custard short of a pudding. Indeed, and especially with that sort of arrogant dismissiveness, he should have gone to the back of the queue inside of riding on his elitist academic background.

    If you agree with his comments then you imply, perhaps without realising it, that he and others like him are so good, that his opinions (and the opinions of those like him) are the benchmark. I disagree with that mentality. If anything, the law degree (as I have said before) could do with an overhaul: more practical aspects geared towards the professions. Who knows, perhaps intercalation could be offered, as medical students do.

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  • An LLB is not a pre-requisite of being a good lawyer in the same way that an MBA does not a good businessman make.

    When I recruit somebody to my team I am looking for somebody who is going to be a good litigation lawyer. They may have an LLB, they may not.

    On a personal level, my history degree has proved more useful to me in my career as a litigation lawyer than the CPE(GDL) and LSF(LPC) combined.

    What is important is education, not training. A good education at degree level, in whatever subject, will equip you with the real skills you need as a lawyer. The reality for most solicitors is that, unless you are brave enough to become a generalist high street lawyer (and I take my hat off to those who do) you can forget 90% of the law you learnt and will never miss it.

    As for the suggestion that you can tell which trainees have not done a law degree - well yes you can. In my experience they are often the ones with the most rounded skills, honed whilst their LLB peers were stuck in a library researching some arcane point of jurisprudence.

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  • I think those saying 'LLB only' are looking at it from the wrong way round. Do non-law degree holders make decent lawyers? Might they be able to use non-law related experiences in the work place?

    The answer to both of these must be yes otherwise they wouldn't get recruited. Therefore, asking for change doesn't seem very sensible.

    Saying they should 'get to the back of the queue' also sounds a bit like sour grapes.

    ...."All the foreigners are taking our jobzzzz"

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  • Ramon, you say Jonathan Sumption QC is 'allegedly one of the cleverest lawyers ever to practice at the Bar'. Well I'm sorry to anyone who thinks he is, but this narcissism towards those at the top and this submission in complete awe to those at the top is one of the banes of the legal profession. Based on what standard or scale is he 'one of the cleverest'? Because of his schooling?

    Doesn't mean anything to me, sorry!

    And (yes I know it's not correct grammar to start a sentence with 'and') he did not study law at university, he studied history, so how can he possible comment on a law degree? If the narcissistic sycophantic flatterers of Mr Sumption et al. truly believe those remarks, then the same can be said for studying any degree, including history. Although having said that, how he can say that, after studying history and then stumbling into law, history allowed for him the opposite of stifling creativity and numbing the brain, is completely beyond me.

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  • Anon. above says: 'Do non-law degree holders make decent lawyers? Might they be able to use non-law related experiences in the work place?

    The answer to both of these must be yes otherwise they wouldn't get recruited. Therefore, asking for change doesn't seem very sensible.'


    Would a non- engineering degree engineer make a good engineer? Possibly. Would you prefer a doctor with a medical degree over someone who did a conversion course? Almost certainly.

    I don't know what you mean by 'non-law experiences'. How do you mean? Please enlighten me on how someone, to quote Up North, with a degree in classics might benefit the legal profession with knowledge of the Battle of Troy? How might a history degree holder benefit the legal profession with knowledge of Tudor England?

    So the answer isn't 'yes', it's all about pieces of paper, snobbery and numbers.

    As for The History Man (above), who says: 'As for the suggestion that you can tell which trainees have not done a law degree - well yes you can. In my experience they are often the ones with the most rounded skills, honed whilst their LLB peers were stuck in a library researching some arcane point of jurisprudence.'

    What rounded skills?

    People skills? Eccentricity? Able to engage in a bit of non-legal conversation? Showing off the fact they did a degree that would lead to a dead end? If LLB students 'were stuck in a library researching some arcane point of jurisprudence' (which isn't exactly true, although were you sadly of the impression that an LLB is a mickey mouse degree?), then firstly what is the point in doing a degree in anything if you're not going to learn about it, and what benefit to the legal profession are history graduates who were stuck in a library researching some arcane point of the War of the Roses? Your argument does not make sense. Anyone would have more faith in a lawyer who studied law inside out than a so-called 'lawyer' who did a rushed, basic diploma in law known as a GDL, and anyone with the slightest bit of sense would know that in so most professions and disciplines, many people find a niche (and there can be overlap, of course). For example, between organic and inorganic chemistry, English language and English literature, podiatry and opthalmology.

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  • I studied the GDL and am in agreement with those who say that it is not fit for purpose. The idea of being able to do a 1 year course and be up to speed with someone who has done a 3 year LLB is laughable. There are a couple of points made above by some people who start with that premise with which I disagree though.

    I am not sure that I equate the academic study of law with the practical application of it as a solicitor. Perhaps it is because I have not done a law degree, perhaps it is because I am following the solicitor rather than barrister route. Regardless, I think that performance in any academic, essay-based degree shows whether or not someone has the aptitude for becoming a solicitor. I believe the skills developed on those degrees are those which are essential for practising law; research, comprehension, analysis, eloquence, critique etc.

    My first degree was geography, which is perhaps seen as a dead end degree by some. However it is not the knowledge of geography that I came out with which I cherish and use the most; it is the skills I developed in my learning and this is why I think the GDL is useless. You are spoon-fed information, with no chance to explore the subject and develop research and writing skills. That was not a problem for me, and others who had studied similar academic, research and essay-based subjects. For those who had not and yet who still passed the GDL, they did not and do not have the skill-set that I think is necessary to be a solicitor. It’s not degree snobbery, it’s just a fact that your learning should be appropriate for your goals. My geography degree and subsequent legal qualifications would be pretty useless for other fields.

    I would also argue that not everyone who has done a law degree is suited to becoming a solicitor or barrister. I think conflating academic study and professional practise is a mistake. The GDL/LLB issue is really a separate one to aptitude at work. I believe the GDL is ridiculous because it is supposed to equate, academically, to the LLB. This is clearly not the case.

    I think that a conversion course should be permissible, however I think that entrance to it should be based on having a ‘qualifying degree’ as with the medical short course; to be eligible for that, it is necessary to hold a relevant science-based degree. What is wrong with compiling a list of degrees which provide the relevant skills for legal study? It should not be a case of ‘any degree will do’.

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  • I think it reflects more upon the inadequacy for purpose of a theoretical law degree that a non law graduate can rock up and do just as competent a job at trainee level.

    Trainees learn for more useful 'stuff' about being a good lawyer on their training contract than anyone learns on an LLB, GDL or LPC. Once the contract is completed, I very much doubt non law NQs are of lesser quality.

    The issue here seems to be about LLB graduates who are a bit cheesed off that those with a bit less direction (or a bit more foresight) have an easier route into the career.

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  • 'The issue here seems to be about LLB graduates who are a bit cheesed off that those with a bit less direction (or a bit more foresight) have an easier route into the career.'

    No. The issue is not as simple as that, and it is not simply a matter of 'foreigners taking our jobs', but given you're so dismissive, you obviously carry snobbery with you into the legal world which is a contributory factor in its demise.

    The difference between a foreigner taking jobs and a foreigner taking jobs is that the former is doing jobs nobody else wanted to do but the tabloids don't portray it that way. With the latter, an LLB graduate wants to work in any legal capacity but is denied this. If the degree could be more in-depth, stringent and for a longer duration, this might help, but if anyone can come and exercise any profession through a flash-stop course, then all professions are certain to deteriorate. I do also believe that if an LLB was compulsory, most chancers would not bother, which demonstrates a lot about their mindsets and attitude towards a career in law and the wider profession.

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