Training contracts are often described as being like gold dust, but for mature applicants and career-changers the competition is arguably even more fierce, with a vast number of law firm graduate recruiters appearing to gear their campaigns towards 21-year-old budding lawyers.
But a growing number of law firms are keen to change this perception by targeting mature candidates. The opportunities available to aspiring lawyers to interact with this market are few and far between, with individuals having to rely on open-to-all university law fairs to meet recruiters.
Eager to fill this gap, Addleshaw Goddard, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) came together for the ’Not Too Late For Law’ event, hosted last week (22 November) by The Lawyer’s sister magazine Lawyer 2B in association with the College of Law (CoL). A further event will be held next year in London, on 18 January.
The event, aimed at broadening the pool of candidates for law firms, comprised a series of workshops explaining the steps needed to train as a solicitor or legal executive.
“As a large international and regional firm it’s important that we recruit a diverse trainee group, and events such as this allow us to meet potential applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds,” says DLA Piper graduate recruitment officer Puneet Tahim. “It’s encouraging to see enthusiastic people who’ve taken time to research into a career in law.”
The majority of delegates, who came from a wide range of career backgrounds, felt that the lack of opportunities for direct contact with law firm trainee recruitment teams jeopardised their chances of breaking into the legal profession.
“Finding the opportunities to attend law fairs is difficult when you’re working full-time,” says one delegate, who preferred to remain anonymous. “And it’s hard trying to find out the best way to sell yourself.”
Fears over how to promote their unique skills came high on the list of concerns for the delegate, due to the worry that academic credentials will still carry a premium when firms are whittling down potential recruits.
Many mature candidates chose to leave education after their GCSEs to jump straight into the working environment. With A-level grades featuring more prominently on training contract academic criteria in recent years, lack of A-levels could be a barrier.
Together with this, more firm application forms now filter out candidates who have not achieved the necessary grades at A-level and degree level, automatically limiting the amount of space given over to extenuating circumstances.
“It’s hard to put your experience and skills into a 200-word answer in an application form,” says claims manager Heather Forrester, who is undertaking a part-time law degree.
Forrester left school at 16 and, despite going to college, did not attain the qualifications she wanted. She then started as a filing clerk and has been working as a claims manager for more than eight years.
“I see that being a mature student may be less preferable to law firms,” she concedes. “But I know it’s about turning the skills I’ve gained through my career into favourable selling points.”
Age and the fear of going back into education are other key issues raised by mature candidates.
“One thing that kept me awake at night was thinking about being older than everyone else,” admits DLA Piper trainee David Hopkins, who formerly worked in the special exhibitions department at the Imperial War Museum North. “But with the GDL I certainly wasn’t the standout old person on the course. The LPC was a bit more of a shock.
retty much everyone else was a lot younger, but the course was at least about working more than learning.”
To help the candidates at the event, firms hoped to provide them with tips on how to make successful applications and how to answer questions about academic qualifications if they had not completed the conventional education route.
“Hopefully, as a result, delegates will feel more confident and be able to show they have developed a set of transferable skills that will be valuable to firms,” says Tahim.
Any firms that want to find out about participating in the London ’Not Too Late For Law’ should call Mark Philbrick on 020 7970 4647, while delegates can register at www.l2bnottoolateforlaw.co.uk/
Rachel Turnbull, first-seat trainee
Despite being in only her first seat, Turnbull feels that achieving a training contract at DLA Piper is the highlight of her career so far. But she admits the transition was not easy, what with going back to education and coming to terms with being older than her peers.
“When I signed up to the GDL it was hard to go back to university and juggle that with working full-time,” she admits. “So I was worried about that, and also whether I’d actually get a job at the end.”
Turnbull previously worked as an environmental crime officer. The role involved helping to cut environmental crime and anti-social behaviour. She was attracted to the law after feeling frustrated that the evidence she collected had to be handed on to lawyers to take it to the next step.
“I mainly dealt with regulatory law at the Environmental Agency,” Turnbull says. “There’s an appeal to the idea of getting my head round cases and putting together a full investigation.”
Turnbull sympathises with mature applicants looking to break into the law, conceding that most law firm application forms are geared towards university students.
“However, some firms give you a chance to incorporate experience and demonstrate skills,” she adds. “This was the chance to show I’d thought hard about [changing careers] and hadn’t gone into it lightly.”
Turnbull suggests that mature applicants and career-changers could consider doing the qualifying courses part-time rather than relying on sponsorship.
“I’d recommend going part-time because it’s daunting going out of the work environment and back into university,” she says. “Also, you need to make sure it’s right for you, as you may have decided you like law but not considered where you want to work. Give as much time as you can to learning about the career.”
Devina Tweed, legal secretary
Tweed is arguably in a strong position to break into law, having already gained 20 years’ experience working at
a law firm.
Despite successfully carving out a career for herself since the age of 15, her dream has always been to qualify as a solicitor.
After completing a law degree, but struggling to get through the initial rounds of law firm applications, she feared whether she would ever be able to achieve that dream training contract.
“My biggest concern is the young ones,” she says. “On my next birthday I’ll be 37 and I think I’ve left it a bit late. My 14-year-old wants to be a lawyer and I know it’s people like her that I’ll be competing with.”
Tweed is based in Birmingham and has three children aged 14, six and two. But her determination to qualify as a solicitor means she is prepared to move across the country to work.
“I also worry because I didn’t do A-levels,” she adds. “My searches and applications so far don’t seem to have presented any positives. Perhaps I’m just not selling myself properly.”
After leaving school at 15 Tweed started work as an office junior at Irwin Mitchell before working her way up to become a legal secretary.
Tweed says she has considered going down the Ilex route as, with her law degree and her experience working as a legal secretary, she would only be required to complete the fast-track Ilex course.
But her goal is to become a solicitor and have the prestige associated with that qualification.
“My goal is to qualify,” she asserts. “In two years I want to be fully qualified, or at least completing a training contract. [At this event] I just want to learn how to sell myself properly and in a positive light. It’s made me even more determined now to get a training contract.”
Mark Walsh, journalist
Walsh is keen to retrain as a solicitor, feeling he has reached his peak as a journalist.
“I want the high-flying ambience and the chance for my hard work to be recognised,” he says. “I feel as though journalists who work hard have to do it for their own satisfaction rather than for recognition.”
Walsh admits that he is attracted by the career progression associated with being a lawyer.
“This is very attractive and different from journalism,” he adds.
However, like other mature candidates, he fears being a student again.
“I have the normal worries – I’ve made a start with my career and part of me thinks I should continue along this path instead of going backwards,” he explains.
“Then there’s becoming a student again and the fear of losing the status I’ve built up in my career so far.”
However, Walsh, who is based in Spain, is hoping his Cambridge education will stand him in good stead with his applications.
He has also developed a knowledge of relevant sectors through his work.
“I’ve done a lot of financial journalism, so I understand the financial corporate sector,” he reveals. “I want to find out how to make good applications, get more of an idea of different practice areas and match those with what I want to do.”