Get work experience and see it as an investment in your future career (essentially this is the whole article in a sentence!).
Changing Fields of Law
NB: this article is not intended to be about the reasoning for considering a move from one field of law to another which sometimes need to be thought through very carefully! For example in the past I have provided career coaching to corporate finance lawyers on salaries of £350k thinking about a move into the high street to do conveyancing, but not with any plan or reason for this other than potential future burnout.
Changing fields of law is an incredibly difficult thing to do. You might be thinking about changing from corporate law into high street law or you may have dreams to work in the city having been with a small niche commercial practice. Both of these things are very tough to make a change from but not impossible and I have noticed in recent times a couple of solicitors who have come through to us who have managed to make this move across in both directions. One candidate had trained and worked in a small high street firm and finished up a partner of a top London firm and another had trained and worked in a large Magic Circle practice but finished up in a legal aid firm.
The way they have done it is very simple – work experience in the area of law that the solicitor was looking to get into. Forget payment. Forget career progression and think instead about your future.
If you can find an employer who will take you on to work in the area of law that you want to get into then you can use this as a stepping stone to progress.
Some years ago we had a commercial property solicitor register with us who was fed up of doing commercial property work and wanted to get into wills & probate which they really quite enjoyed and and found interesting during their training contract many years before (over 20!). They called us up to ask us how to get into law how to get into wills & probate practice and we gave them our usual advice that unpaid work experience was the key.
We did not expect to hear from them again, but sure enough a few months later got back in touch to say that they had managed to persuade a local sole practitioner so let them go in at the weekend and in the evenings to do a bit of file admin, have a read through and then take a bit of time off their existing job to go into the office from time to time during their annual leave. They ended up with a reasonable length of time undertaking wills & probate work (the CV simply said ‘Jan-March 2019 – Wills & Probate work at local firm’ and this was sufficient to secure a job based on the experience they now had on the CV.
Should I obtain a qualification?
One of the reasons this candidate had contacted us in the first place was to ask us whether she should do a training course in the first instance because she had read the information on the training provider’s website saying that this was the only way to change fields of law.
We had strongly advised her not to do this because we think that training courses are all very well and good but they do not add anything to a career move. To add to a career you have to get work experience and it is the work experience that gets you into new jobs.
Returning to Law After a Break
If you are looking to get back into law having taken a break, whether for paternity, maternity, extended annual leave or a sabbatical then the advice is almost the same but slightly tweaked.
If you are returning after a break of less than 3 years then there should be no problem. If longer than 3 years then you may want to consider the work experience route but with a slight difference – if you are not changing fields of law then you should not need to go and get work experience. Instead you need to think about work in the field you have been in.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to register as a locum with a locum agency (coincidentally we happen to be one! and to use locum roles to start off with as evidence that you are back in the profession. If a permanent role comes up there is not then a huge gap on your CV.
There are quite a few employees who look at CVs where there has been a gap of more than say 24 months and they instantly reject the applications because they feel that the person has got reasons for not being in law anymore and does not want to take a risk on them coming back in. If that person has no gap because they have recently done a two month locum assignment then chances are they will be considered for the permanent role.
Starting out in law
Starting out in law is a similar thing because everybody you are up against has academic qualifications and in all likelihood quite a lot of them will have better academic qualifications than you. However this should not put you off – the vast majority of successful job applications are not made based on academic qualification but rather on the experience a person has under their belt. We have written copious articles over the years for new entrance to the legal profession on how to go about getting work experience and you can read our (free) guide on our career shop at www.ten-percent.uk.