It’s time to bust the myth of the ‘ideal’ career path: embarking on a legal career – wherever

Jennifer O’Connell sheds some light on her experience of entering the legal sector via a less common route. 

  • Last updated Jan 24, 2020 11:49:13 AM
  • Article contributed by Hogan Lovells
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Image provided by Hogan Lovells

A career in law was once a straightforward and well-trodden path. Study law; become a trainee; qualify as a solicitor; practise law. 

The world has moved on. Remits have expanded, roles have evolved, boundaries have blurred—for the better. No longer is the international lawyer’s domain exclusively the law. Today’s solicitors are advisers, consultants and partners in the world of business. They are often introduced to—and work with—figures at the highest level; they are invited to inform and even influence the decisions that will alter the course of that organisation.

It stands to reason, then, that the skills needed to be an effective modern solicitor extend beyond pure knowledge of the law. You need an understanding of the commercial, a familiarity with the entrepreneurial—and occasionally a knack for the political.

Those skills will naturally develop during the course of your career, but of course, the seeds could already be there; picked up, perhaps, through a different course of study, an extra-curricular pastime, or even a different career. 

Jennifer O’Connell (now a partner at Hogan Lovells) is an excellent example of just how fruitful a different path into law can be. “I grew up in the US and studied International Relations and Languages at university, spending a year abroad in France”, said Jennifer. “I loved it so much that, after graduating, I returned to Europe and worked as a paralegal. When my year-long contract finished, I accepted a place at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Once I’d completed my master’s degree, I got a job with the World Economic Forum focusing on the Davos Conference.”

It was there that Jennifer began amassing the knowledge and insight that would prove so valuable. “I spent my days reading the latest books on business and management and designing the content of the conference sessions. My life was suddenly dominated by CEOs, heads of state, and top academics from Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard. I met some amazing people who were commercial to their core and gained unique insights about business.”

She realised, however, that she didn’t want to build a career in the world of NGOs. So, she moved to London and completed a law conversion course. “I wasn’t your typical trainee. While highly driven, I was 10 years older than my peers with a non-traditional path into law.”

She wanted to join a firm that saw the benefits her background could bring—and Hogan Lovells felt like a perfect fit. “At Hogan Lovells, my background was embraced and seen as an asset to the firm. There were many other reasons why I chose a training contract here too: the global reach, breadth of practice areas and focus on corporate and commercial work—something that was really important to me. Honestly, it felt like home from my very first visit.”

So looking back, what’s the advantage of coming at a career in law from a different angle? “Clearly, my journey here wasn’t your typical one. But all that different experience and learning allows me to better relate to my clients’ needs; I truly believe it’s made me the lawyer I am today.”

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