How to go about leaving law on qualification

The months leading up to qualification can be a very anxious time for many final seat trainees. Will you secure a newly qualified lawyer (NQ) job in your first choice department? Should you opt for your second choice or look for external NQ roles? How will you cope with the transition from trainee to NQ? Or more dramatically should you quit law altogether and take your career in a new direction?

Whether it’s entirely your own choice or partially forced, changing careers at the end of your training contract is a big deal. As I advised in my last article, any decision to follow an alternative career path should only be done after very serious consideration because it may narrow down your future choices. Saying that, changing careers needn’t be seen as a negative. For many change brings with it boundless opportunities.

So how does one even start to navigate their way through a career change and what are the alternatives to life as an NQ?

I’ll deal with the latter question first because the simple answer is that as highly qualified individuals the options available for NQs are plentiful. Many lawyers opt for non-lawyer roles within law firms in areas such as graduate recruitment or learning and development.

Others, including me, have pursued opportunities within the legal sector such as publishing, recruitment or teaching. As job-hunting goes focusing your search on roles that have a link to law will arguably result in the most leads. However, plenty of lawyers have gone the whole hog and have successfully switched careers and sectors in one fell swoop.

Before committing to any route I’d strongly recommend doing your homework. First and foremost it is very important to spend time thinking about your key motivators, transferrable skills and achievements. Also, what’s your attitude to risk and how do you feel about a potential pay cut or indeed re-training? If you do identify potential gaps in your skill-set what steps could you take to fill them?

Secondly, start networking and reach out to close contacts and ask them to help educate you about different professions and sectors. And if they are career changers themselves ask for tips on how they managed to make a successful switch. Some of your contacts may even be able to introduce you to potential hiring managers etc. So it’s also worth asking some of your contacts to keep their ears to the ground and to let you know if they hear of any suitable opportunities.

Once you’ve identified potential routes you believe are worth exploring then I’d recommend pulling together a job-search step plan to include action points such as CV preparation, research into potential employers/vacancies and interview practice and coffees with senior contacts who may be able to broker introductions to relevant organisations.

For some this process may progress quite rapidly while for others it may be a slow burner. So please be patient if your efforts are not being instantly rewarded and stick with it because for every ‘no’ you get means you’re getting closer to that all-important ‘yes’.

 Husnara Begum is a legal recruiter, career coach and outplacement specialist and works with lawyers with all levels of PQE.