Changing your career to law: pros and cons
Many people don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and some don’t decide until long after they’ve grown up. According to the Financial Times, the average Brit will change careers an average of five times during their working lifetime.
For those considering a career change to law, they need to weigh the pros and cons of pursuing a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
Mature students account for one of the fastest-growing areas of admissions to the legal profession. According to The Law Society Gazette, the number of students aged 33-54 who studied for the GDL increased by 10.2 per cent in 2014. Here are some of the pros to making the leap to law:
• Previous experience. Although legal work experience is of great value, mature students and career changers can leverage all the first-hand experience and knowledge they’ve already gained in previous roles and life experiences to put them at an advantage. But it will be up to you to demonstrate the edge, valuable insight and experience you can bring to a law firm that’s considering offering you a training position.
• New skills. Studying law means you’ll graduate university equipped with a whole new set of skills, including research, critical analysis, the synthesis of complex ideas, presentation and writing, which will complement the highly transferable skills already mastered, making your job prospects that much better.
• Diversity. The quality of the education offered at the law schools in the UK means that a significant number of students come from overseas. This diverse cohort will not only expose mature students to individuals from different cultures and backgrounds, but also provide an international network of contacts that could prove beneficial throughout their entire legal career.
There are also several challenges potentially standing in the way to making a career switch to law, such as:
• Additional schooling. Earning a GDL is very hard work and should never be underestimated, particularly by someone who may not have been a student for a very long time. The seven core subjects of English law are covered in one academic year, requiring many contact hours and the need to study in the evenings as well as the weekends. But mature students are often better equipped to deal with the pressures of a full workload, particularly since they are used to juggling a busy week at work.
• Cost. University fees required to obtain a GDL (assuming you already have a university degree) can be as much as £10,000, not including living expenses and the cost of the Legal Practice Course (LPC), which ranges from £8,500 to £15,000, depending on course type and location. Those going back to school to make a career change typically also have more financial commitments than their younger counterparts, and may or may not have savings to finance this substantial investment. Without the bank of Mum and Dad, it can be difficult to obtain this kind of funding, although some firms might offer to pay a small stipend or cover your course fees in exchange for a firm job commitment.
• Attitudes. Most training-contract applications or interviewers will ask candidates why they chose law, a question that can be difficult to answer for someone who has spent years in another field and is now prepared to make a change. However, most law firms welcome applications from mature candidates because of the additional experience and skills that they can bring to the organisation.
Law is one of the world’s traditional professions, and mature legal graduates are generally well respected by employers, who value their ability to research, write, analyse and persuade, as well as the passion, focus, commitment and genuine interest that they show for the profession.