Career changers – a four-step plan for becoming a lawyer

Nick Sheerin is a career changer and trainee solicitor at Shoosmiths. After eight years in publishing, he finds himself on the daunting but rewarding path to completely remodelling his career. Here Nick offers his insights into the career change process.

Step one: make the change (aka ‘Is it too late for me to change careers?’)

Back when I was a book editor, I came across the idea of the ‘sunk costs’ fallacy. The sunk costs fallacy is the feeling that it’s harder to let go of something we’ve invested in, financially or emotionally. This feeling can trick us into making bad decisions about the future (which we can control) due to things which have happened in the past (which we can’t). However long you’ve been in your old career, you have a huge amount of built-up knowledge and experience. But rather than thinking about how much you’re leaving behind, think about what you have to gain. Think about where you could be in ten years’ time if you make the change vs where you might be if you don’t. Don’t let the past get in your way.

The flipside of this is that the future is what will keep you going when things get tough. When you change careers, you’re jumping down from one ladder to start at the bottom of another one. Sometimes, you might feel like you’ll never reach the top, and you have to keep yourself climbing somehow. Be clear about where you’re climbing to and why. Make sure you have good reasons for making the change and remind yourself of them when things get tough.

Step two: work out your skills and write a killer CV

There will be parts of your old career which have become second nature to you. You’re comfortable doing these parts of your job and you do them routinely, so it can be hard to think of them as valuable transferrable skills.  But being able to perform consistently is exactly what being good at something looks like.  Think hard about what you really spent your time doing in your old job and work out what value that will bring to your new career.

Step three: ace your applications and interviews

When putting together any job application, you have to strike a balance between ticking the boxes and standing out from the crowd. For training contract applications and assessment centres, make sure the way you talk about your experience covers the criteria the application process is screening for – this will be things like attention to detail and teamwork, and will vary firm-to-firm – but don’t forget to highlight the skills and experiences that make you stand out. Think about the skills that are hard to come by without substantial experience in industry, but which are valuable to law firms. This may include things like business development, negotiation and pitching as well as general soft skills, but whatever it is, this is where you should look to make the most of what makes you different.

Step four: hit the ground running in your new career

One of the major stumbling blocks for all trainee solicitors starting a training contract is the glaring skills and knowledge gap to everyone around you. This can be particularly disconcerting for career changers: you may have forgotten what it’s like to be starting out and not know exactly what you’re doing, and – whatever your previous experience – you are going to feel out of your depth at times as a trainee. The key is to stay curious, enthusiastic and open to feedback. The last bit can be the hardest: honest feedback is how we improve, and as a trainee starting out in your legal career you are likely to get a lot more of it than you are used to.

Finally, on a practical note for aspiring solicitors, you are probably aware that the routes to qualification are changing. As a result, some law firms’ training arrangements may be in flux over the next couple of years. For career changers, the quality and breadth of training you get in a full training contract with a firm like Shoosmiths is likely to give you not only a strong legal, professional and commercial foundation for your new career, but also a better array of options on qualification.

You may also be interested to read Rory’s blog where he talks about his journey into law.

If you have any questions you can email us at [email protected] or have a look at some frequently asked questions here.

Disclaimer

This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.

 

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