Not too late for law
The change gang
18 February 2013 | By Becky Waller-Davies
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Bold ambition and fresh hope were in the air at L2B’s recent Not Too Late For Law event in London
More than 100 mature students and career-changers attended Lawyer 2B’s Not Too Late For Law event, held in association with the College of Law (CoL) in November 2012, to learn how to carve out a career in the law.
The careers evening held at CoL’s Moorgate centre featured talks by the graduate recruitment teams and trainees from Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, RPC, Addleshaw Goddard and Bircham Dyson Bell, plus a pupil from public law chambers One Crown Office Row.
Attendees were briefed first on the state of the legal market. CoL business development director Imogen Burton told attendees there are 121,000 solicitors and 15,000 barristers practising in the UK. She added that the average age of a practising lawyer is 44 for men and 38 for women.
She listed the Legal Services Act, globalisation, increased competition and technological developments as just some of the factors altering the legal market, and spoke of the increase in in-house work. Burton went on to say: “Things are changing in the legal market rapidly.”
Twenty eight per cent of lawyers now work in-house; a figure that has trebled in the past decade, Burton said.
There was a collective murmur at Burton’s mention of the Co-operative Legal Services (CLS). She reasoned that CLS would soon be bigger than many magic circle firms in terms of trainee intake.
She then advised attendees: “Think about the jobs and careers you have had to date. What skills will be most useful in becoming a lawyer? People skills, commercially minded, international background, languages, problem solving. These skills are not unique to law, which is why it’s great for career-changers.”
She added that her audience must “be fascinated by the business of law, the business of commercial awareness”. She stressed: “There’s no magic to being a lawyer, no magic to working in a law firm. Lawyers are really just problem-solvers.”
Clifford Chance graduate recruitment specialist Jane Croft-Baker encouraged attendees to think about the strengths they brought from all walks of life. “We take the intellectual ability as a given. We’re looking for how you use that,” she said.
Croft-Baker listed examples of candidates who had gone on to become Clifford Chance trainees, including doctors, teachers and members of the armed forces.
Croft-Baker also shed some light on why law firms ask for a 2:1 or first. “It shows consistency and highlights laziness,” she said. “Trainees need to do the areas or tasks they don’t enjoy just as well as the stuff they do.”
Age of reason
Meanwhile, mature trainees at DLA Piper, Mike O’Neill and Jenny Bishop gave a realistic picture of what attendees could expect should they make it onto a trainee scheme.
When asked whether older trainees are able to pick and choose seats or accelerate training the pair said that although career-changers might have a more specific idea of what they want to do due to previous experience, they would have the same odds of landing their chosen seats as fresh graduates because everyone is placed on the same level.
Nerves were calmed as the audience was reasssured that trainees are rarely under pressure to know everything or complete tasks in record time.
O’Neill, who retrained as a lawyer following a career in pharmacology, spoke about why he changed.
“I turned 30 and thought I can’t do this for the next 30 years,” he said. And on his experience of differentiating himself from the thousands of other graduates applying for training contracts: “I can be quite pushy, I knocked on doors to talk to graduate recruiters. Don’t be afraid of asking for a chat. But do it the right way - don’t go straight to Sir Nigel Knowles and say ‘can we go for a coffee?’”
One Crown Office Row pupil Jim Duffy, who qualified as a solicitor in Scotland and worked at Public Interest Lawyers for three years before taking the Bar Transfer Test, spoke to attendees about routes to the bar.
“Life and professional experiences will make you more marketable, but going to the bar is arduous and expensive,” he said, adding: “There are scholarships and fellowships available, but you need to keep your eyes and ears open. At the Inns of Court there’s a lot of cash available - about £4m a year.”
RPC trainees Florence Page and Jonathan Charwat gave a picture of their typical days, encompassing everything from attending hearings at court, to checking over statements, to the all-important trainee strategy of getting in early for the free breakfast.
Profile: Carol McDermott
Carol McDermott is a first-year law student at Croydon University. She left school at 17 and has worked in the public sector ever since as a local authority case worker dealing with homelessness, a leasehold manager, a consultant advising on changes to local authority business systems and an IT trainer in electronic documents and records management systems.
Now 44, McDermott says: “I am now at an age where I appreciate studying more. At this stage of life I feel like I’m raring to go. I have transferable skills and am used to the working environment.
“I’ve always been an advocate, always ready to be at the front, always reading up on stuff and always taking a proactive role. Dealing with homelessness I often went to court and as a leasehold manager I also had experience of the Leasehold Valuation Tribunal.”
McDermott wants to be a solicitor as she feels the risks of the bar are too great.
She says: “I was thinking about the bar initially, but I know how difficult it is to get in and how expensive it is. With solicitors now able to get rights of audience I’m looking at that route. Also, with the bar you’re self-employed - if I was younger I’d have gone down the bar route.”
Profile: Ivelina Chingarova
Ivelina Chingarova is from Bulgaria and is juggling her LPC at BPP with a full-time job as a commercial manager at an engineering and design company.
Chingarova has wanted to be a lawyer for some time. She has a supportive employer and her company does have in-house positions, but lawyers need to be at a level of 3+ years’ post-qualification experience.
She finished her part-time LLB at the University of London in 2011 and is now in the second year of her LPC, but has found the networking aspects of entering the legal world difficult.
She explains: “It’s difficult for me to attend networking events and law fairs, but it’s important to know how to sell your experience in the right way so that law firms will not think you’re not as interested in law as a recent graduate.”
Chingarova knows her role as a commercial manager stands her in good stead for a career in law.
She adds: “I work closely drafting joint venture agreements. That definitely helps as I know I’m interested in the law and it gives me transferable skills.
“At this event I found aspects of the presentations on how to sell your skills as a career changer very helpful.”
Profile: Joseph Trakalo
Joseph Trakalo is a Canadian research scientist. After five years working in Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, curating DNA and tissue collections and working on the genetics of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, he moved to the UK in 2004 to work at Imperial College. Two years later he switched to the Wellcome Trust at the University of Oxford, where he is a research assistant in the genomics section.
Trakalo has two reasons for wanting a change of career. He says: “Science is changing. For those of us who have 20 years’ experience but with no PhD, there’s a ceiling - I can’t get a management position.
“I thought about the things I was interested in and they were evolution, philosophy and law. The payoff is a lot better if I train to be a lawyer than if I do a PhD - that’s the practical side of it. The other side is that I find that at 44 I’m still an idealist.
“I’ve spent 20 years at a bench, changing the world by tiny increments. I want to spend the next 20 directly influencing it, so I’m going to try and go down the barrister route.”
Trakalo expresses an interest in human rights and employment law, but knows the potential barriers of a career at the bar.
He admits: “There are financial challenges - an issue a few people raised at this event. If you have a stable income and a partner who can afford to support you it’s okay, but I can’t afford to stop working.”
He deems the evening useful, saying: “I’ve not only got valuable information but also a boost - it makes me feel like going for it,” then quips: “We’ve seen a shift in perceptions - lawyers are no longer the great evil; that’s now corporations and big business.”