In September 2014 my Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) will start and, with it, begins the long and exciting journey towards becoming a solicitor. Although starting the GDL may feel like the official beginning of my career change, I have already taken action, prior to starting, in order to lessen the feelings of anxiety that, I’m sure, many career-changers are going through as they too begin to re-train.
In order to make the leap from a job as a service manager in the charity sector to becoming a solicitor, I first had to make sure that this was the right move for me. I have always had an underlying interest in the law, ever since secondary school where I saw the law to be an upstanding, respected profession that was, ultimately, useful to people. Beyond this, after several years of work, my understanding of the legal profession deepened and I came to experience some of the necessities of good navigation of the law. This happened both in my professional life (negotiating service contracts, employing staff, and managing risks), and also in my personal life (signing tenancy agreements, owning and insuring a car, and helping a friend through their divorce). I became attracted to the diversity, complexity and fast pace of the law, not to mention the feeling of satisfaction in winning disputes against insurers, landlords and companies supplying shoddy goods or services. At this stage it became important for me to better understand the role of a lawyer, so I could decide whether or not I wanted to be one.
Without a selection of lawyers to hand, the University of Law’s Future Lawyers Network provided an excellent resource to help me understand the work of a lawyer. This website provides the StEP programme, which is ‘a comprehensive legal careers programme containing a range of resources from written advice and online workshops to practical activities and useful weblinks’. The programme moves through ten steps, each one progressing the users understanding of the legal profession and how to access it. The steps cover topics to develop an understanding of the legal market and planning a career, through to applying to law firms and preparing for interviews and assessments. The StEP Programme and the wider Future Lawyers Network helped me to understand where I wanted to be, and the steps I needed to take to get there.
By the time I had completed the StEP Programme, I was ready to dig deeper into the legal profession. At this stage I started to attend lectures on legal topics to re-ignite my love of learning. In the winter of 2013/14, BPP University opened their doors to the public and delivered a free lecture series: Fresh Perspective on Law. I was able to attend most of these lectures, which focussed on topics such as the history of the law in the UK, the debate on the necessity of the European Union, the working lives of judges, and, my favourite lecture, a talk from Matthew Ryder QC of Matrix Chambers about his involvement in the case of David Miranda who was held at Gatwick Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. This case was prevalent in the news at the time. These lectures helped me understand the dynamic and fast-paced nature of the law.
Having decided that I wanted to be a solicitor working in The City, the time came to start researching which law firms I aspired to work with and how I would approach them. The most authoritative resource for researching firms, other than their own publications, is The Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook. This book is widely available from most law schools and university careers departments. However, the information contained in this book is also available online at LawCareers.Net, where an exceptionally useful tool is provided to help applicants search for firms, shortlist those they will apply to and even help them through the application stages. I used this tool to narrow down a list of law firms that I would like to work with and then used it to filter out any firms that were unlikely to want to work with me (mainly due to not having enough UCAS points).
The most enjoyable part of my preparation for a career in the law has been networking. Daunting to many, once overcome any initial awkwardness, networking can be great fun. I have jumped at the opportunity to attend events where there would be a chance to meet lawyers and recruiters. I’ve held some very useful conversations with people working at all levels and departments in law firms about their roles and how things work from the inside. I feel that a good insight into how the legal profession works is a good quality to have when applying to firms. When networking opportunities run dry, all is not lost: social media is a good way to spark conversations with people in the legal profession. Following lawyers on Twitter has given me a good indication of their day-to-day work and, often, a 140-character acknowledgment of this can lead to deeper interactions. LinkedIn is also a useful tool for following up any connections that have been made in the real world. A recruiter is more likely to remember you if your name frequently pops up on their LinkedIn feed.
One outstanding lesson I have learned from my preparation is that becoming a lawyer involves a lot of hard work and motivation. I expect there to be times, over the next few years, when I will not be able to see my family and friends as often as I would like. Priorities will have to change and I’ve been open and honest with my family and friends about this. Their understanding and support will help me through. Finally, I’ve booked a week in the sun, just before my GDL starts: one last blast before I knuckle down.