Handling life as a mature trainee
If you get a late start in law or if you transferred into law from another profession, you needn’t be overly concerned about obtaining or retaining a trainee position, for more than one reason. The UK has passed laws protecting employees against age discrimination, for example. Moreover, times have changed, and the rigid career path trodden by innumerable lawyers in the past is becoming more flexible—in fact, the average age of a qualifying solicitor is now approaching 30.
There are several reasons why a law firm might offer a training contract to a mature entrant—indeed, about ten per cent of the law firms in the College of Law have partners who were mature entrants into the field themselves. A lot depends on the reason for your late entrance, of course. You might face a disadvantage if you were an academic late bloomer, for example—but you might enjoy a distinct advantage if you’re coming to the legal profession after a successful first career.
Swallow your pride
If law is your second career, you may have to swallow your pride a bit as a trainee. If you’ve been used to giving orders, now you’ll be the one taking them. If your previous career allowed you to develop expertise in a field that’s relevant to your traineeship—financial markets, for example—you may find that your own expertise in certain aspects of your assignments exceeds that of your supervisor. Nevertheless, you’ll still be the one taking orders and receiving guidance most of the time.
Leverage your skills
You may have been offered a traineeship largely on the strength of your experience in a previous law-related career. This experience will set you apart from most if not all of your peers, and you would be remiss not to take advantage of this strength during your traineeship. The leveraging of your skills should start during the application phase. Seek a traineeship with a company that practices law in an area where you’re experienced—commercial law if you have a business background, for example, or clinical negligence if you have a medical background.
Leverage your network
If you seek to continue working for your trainee firm after qualifying as a lawyer, keep in mind that retention rates vary tremendously from firm to firm. Some firms may not retain any of their trainees. One way to maximise your chances as a mature trainee with relevant previous experience is through any network of business contacts that you may possess. If you introduce a client to the firm, your chances will be greatly enhanced—it’s not every day that a trainee acts as a “rainmaker” for the firm.
Adjust your lifestyle
You may have to make significant adjustments in your finances, since your trainee salary might be considerably less than what you were making before. If you support a family, you may need to consider how a trainee’s salary may affect your personal relationships (your spouse may have to work full-time, for example). Of course, regardless of how you arrived at the traineeship stage, your family may have already adjusted to the relative (and temporary) poverty of a traineeship.
You will also need to consider how a secondment will affect your family relationships, particularly if it involves relocation to a foreign country while you have children in school. Family responsibilities might not allow you the flexibility enjoyed by younger trainees who lack family responsibilities.