Every autumn law firm graduate recruitment teams pack their suitcases, hit the road and travel to university campuses across the UK in a bid to promote their wares to the cream of the undergraduate population.
But by focusing its trainee recruitment marketing campaigns on fresh-faced 19- and 20-year-olds, the legal sector is arguably missing out on a wealth of untapped talent.
Applicants who have either decided to change careers or to go to university later in life have the potential to become excellent lawyers and can therefore be real assets to employers.
Indeed, the experience gained in a former career or simply in everyday life, such as by raising a family without the support of a partner, is arguably more conducive to carving out a successful career in law than captaining the university rugby team.
What is more, such individuals will have made considered choices about their future careers and are therefore likely to be much more motivated.
Addleshaw Goddard diversity manager Mary Gallagher agrees.
“The practical, hands-on experience of such individuals can be a real asset to a firm such as ours as they’ve often gained a range of transferable skills and a commercial awareness that they can apply during their training contracts,” she explains.
That was the thinking behind a brand new event launched by The Lawyer’s sister title Lawyer 2B. ’Not Too Late For Law’, which was hosted last Tuesday (19 April) at the College of Law’s (CoL) Moorgate branch, was aimed at offering mature applicants an insight into a career in law.
The evening attracted more than 100 delegates, including a chef, a former model, journalists, people working in the property sector and an entrepreneur who runs his own security business.
CoL director of business development Imogen Burton says: “It’s great to have an event that helps to open up the profession to a wider pool of candidates. The people I met [at the event] showed real grit and determination to succeed.”
The event, thought to be the first of its kind in the legal sector, comprised a series of workshops explaining the steps needed to train as a solicitor or barrister.
Speakers also provided tips on how to make successful applications and explained how candidates without a conventional education should answer questions on academic qualifications.
The workshops were followed by an informal drinks reception, giving delegates the opportunity to do some networking.
Gallagher says the event was an excellent initiative and a “step in the right direction” in reaching out to a broader pool of candidates.
“Our graduate recruitment activities have tended to focus on students, partly because it’s difficult to know where to go to target mature candidates for training contracts,” she admits. “Giving [mature applicants] the opportunity to meet people in a similar position to themselves was hopefully a positive experience for delegates.”
Mature applicants, especially those who are no longer at university, often struggle to get information about how to break into law as they typically do not have access to a careers library or law society.
Consequently they do not have the same opportunities as undergraduates to attend law fairs or employer presentations, meaning they miss out on the chance to engage in vital networking.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer graduate recruitment manager Jessica Booker admits that this is potentially a problem for mature applicants.
“There isn’t a central place where career-changers can go to access advice on how to train as a lawyer as they typically can’t tap into the resources of a university careers service,” she says. “Similarly, we haven’t necessarily got an avenue to access such candidates.”
John-Paul Pitt, a soldier and part-time LPC student who attended last week’s event, says its success highlights the fact that the profession is finally taking mature applicants more seriously.
Pitt adds: “I just hope recruiters will now also be more flexible in relation to candidates’ academic backgrounds.
“The biggest challenge people such as myself face is grade inflation. When I did my A-levels many years ago three grade Bs was enough to get me into a decent university. Nowadays it seems that everyone’s getting straights A and A-stars.”
In addition to Addleshaws and Freshfields, the other organisations participating in the event were Blackstone Chambers, DLA Piper, the Institute of Legal Executives, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain and 3 Verulam Buildings.