Connor graduated with a first-class degree in French, German and Spanish, but now spends his time drafting leases for clients. Here he shares the advantages and disadvantages of a non-traditional route into law, and asks: does it make sense to enter the profession this way?
In 2020 I graduated from the University of Oxford with a first-class degree in French, German and Spanish… Two years later, I am a trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths in the real estate retail team drafting leases for well-respected clients such as Waterstones and Poundland.
But would I recommend the non-law route into a career in law?
Shoosmiths typically attract applications from 30% non-law applicants, and this translates into a similar percentage for training contract offers. But with the competitive nature of a law career (18,927 law students graduated in 2021, while the number of training contracts registered was 5,495), coupled with the additional study time on the PGDL (previously the GDL) to prepare for the LPC or SQE, is it worth it?
I decided that I wanted to apply for training contracts after attending several law society events at Oxford which gave me an exciting glimpse of the life of a commercial lawyer. I began applying for training contracts in 2020 and was fortunate enough to have obtained training contract offers from two firms (including Shoosmiths) by summer 2021. There was never a shadow of doubt in my mind that Shoosmiths was the law firm for me – the quality of its clients (Mercedes, VW, Waterstones, Renault-Nissan to name a few) speaks for itself and the firm was recently crowned Law Firm of the Year at the EG Awards 2022 (what better place to train than here?).
Having now completed half of the first seat of my Training Contract, what then are the advantages and disadvantages of entering the profession as a “non-law” graduate.
It may well be clichéd to say, but you obtain a wealth of transferable skills from a non-law degree which can give you the edge once you start paralegalling or begin your training contract.
In my case, my background of doing an undergraduate degree in French, German and Spanish (language and literature) has proved invaluable in my career to date. Last week, for example, the commercial team at Shoosmiths asked me to review a document issued by the German Companies Register to confirm that the information it contained aligned with information we had received from the client themselves about their business. Not only was it great to utilise some of my language skills at work, but this experience also enabled me to foster ties with a team that I have not yet worked with during my Training Contract (my first seat is in Real Estate) and so has been advantageous to my own trainee profile and personal brand. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up working with the commercial team in my next seat?
My language skills also came in handy when I was working as a paralegal in the wealth protection team at Shoosmiths prior to the start of my training contract, as many clients had assets in Switzerland, and we needed to correspond with solicitors there in their native languages. Despite Shoosmiths being a national firm, it has a strong and expanding international client base and so the scope for interactions such as this are far greater than you would think.
Whilst these examples are specific to a language degree, the same applies for any other non-law background such as a literature undergraduate degree. Having a critical eye for detail and understanding how language can be construed and misconstrued is incredibly important for any trainee or paralegal when it comes to tasks like drafting.
For example, in commercial leases in real estate, the landlord’s solicitors sometimes include break clauses to say that the break will not be effective if the tenant does not provide vacant possession. But what does vacant possession mean? You might think that it is the tenant simply leaving the premises; however, case law has shown that there will not be vacant possession if the tenant even leaves a crisp packet behind. A literature graduate attuned to the nuances of language might well flag such drafting as an issue, and they’d be right to do so.
In summation then, non-law graduates are often equipped with a critical eye for detail and communication skills which are transferable to a career in law and hugely beneficial to their own personal brand in the workplace.
So then, what are the disadvantages of a non-law background when trying to enter the legal profession? The biggest challenge undoubtedly is navigating the application process of training contracts and postgraduate studies without the support provided by law departments at universities or a fellow cohort of law students.
I was fortunate that my brother was studying a law degree at the same time as I was applying for training contracts, so he could explain the tips and tricks that he had received from his lecturers and careers team. If you don’t have such a resource at your disposal, there is a brilliant network of law influencers on Instagram, and professionals who share advice on LinkedIn that you can tap into (be sure to follow @shoosmithsgrads and @ShoosmithsLLP too).
Shoosmiths also shares useful information and case studies about accessing the legal world from a non-law background on LawCareers.Net and if you have specific questions, then reach out to me or any other trainees at Shoosmiths who would be more than happy to answer you.
I can’t say I have experienced any specific disadvantages of being a non-law graduate since joining Shoosmiths. As a trainee, you’re on a learning journey and so you’re not expected to know everything just yet! The most important thing is that you don’t hesitate to ask questions if you don’t fully understand something and put time in your supervisor’s diary for regular catchups to maximise your own learning opportunities.
It’s safe to say then that it does make sense to enter the legal profession as a non-law graduate. A non-traditional route into law will equip you with a wealth of skills and qualities that prove invaluable in your career and do wonders for your own networking and personal brand. The diversity of backgrounds in the legal profession is what makes it so vibrant and exciting and if you want it, there’s always space for you to be a part of it.
If you enjoyed reading this, take a look at our other recent posts, or if you have any questions specifically about training contracts, you might find your answer on our FAQ page.
You can get in touch with us about career-related queries at [email protected].