Our Not Too Late for Law event helped mature applicants find the confidence and practical advice they will need to enter the profession
Entering the law off the back of a previous career is a daunting prospect, but firms are increasingly recognising the benefits of mature applicants’ previous experience.
Yet graduate recruitment campaigns still tend to lean towards fresh-faced graduates. This is particularly evident in the popular online application format, which often prevents candidates from highlighting other experience sufficiently.
With that in mind, more than 70 career-changers and mature students attended Lawyer 2B’s Not Too Late for Law event, held in association with the College of Law on 18 January.
Addleshaw Goddard, Ashurst, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, the Bar Council and the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex), attended and hosted workshops offering key information to help delegates plan their routes into law.
However, the delegates’ hunger for information was matched with a sense of caution, due to the shaky and highly competitive recruitment market that they fear looks with more favour on younger applicants.
“Most of the applications online are very focused towards the young student, asking questions that are relevant to people who have done A-levels,” said attendee Julia Emmott. “This has been the most challenging issue to get around, as once you get to the interview you can market what you’ve done, and your experience.”
Another attendee added: “Firms may say they are giving greater access, but they’re not, unless you’re coming through the standard route. They say they do, but they don’t. They don’t go further than asking questions about A-levels.”
A common complaint is that questions are formatted as multiple choice or drop-down boxes, leaving applicants with little room to lay out alternative qualifications or experience.
A number of firms at the event insisted they install ‘additional information’ sections to tackle this issue.
“We feel that one of the strengths of our application form and its 850-word personal statement is that it allows people to demonstrate a variety of experiences and skill sets in no set format,” said Freshfields trainee recruitment manager Jessica Booker.
David Welch, a barrister at Alexander Chambers and Warwick House Chambers, offered prospective barristers some sage advice. “As a mature person you’ve got to get your financial house in order,” he said. “A mature student can’t take the same risk of getting into debt, while younger students are more blasé. If you’ve got a job, put away some money now.”
The hard sell
The first workshop of the evening was entitled, ‘Selling yourself to employers’, with Booker sharing her thoughts on what to do and what not to do when making an application.
“Try and focus on what recruiters don’t know about you – how you have been challenged,” she recommended. “Show how you adhere to the skill set rather than just saying what you do in your job.”
She also advised the career-changers to avoid cliches such as: “I relish the opportunity to…”, and instead to focus on “relevant and recent experience where you can demonstrate the core requirements, but don’t just focus on work – law firms want to see a wider range of interests.”
Ilex advised the aspiring lawyers on alternative routes into the law, describing them as part of “the zeitgeist at the moment with all the talk about broadening access to the profession”.
Ilex provides the opportunity for would-be lawyers to earn while they learn, allowing career-changers to maintain a decent income by avoiding a return to education.
Barrister Geraldine Peterson of Lamb Building told of her issues trying to achieve her dream career.
“When I did a mini-pupillage at 37, one barrister told me I was middle-aged and should think again,” she said. “I heard everything there is to hear about why I shouldn’t go to the bar, but if you really want to do it and you’re not closing your ears to constructive advice and you’ve looked objectively and subjectively at the issues, then go for it – the quality you need as a barrister is persistence.”
Peterson was concerned that the pupillage statistics were deterring people. Indeed, at Lawyer 2B’s first mature applicant event last year, 30 people attended the bar session. This year there were only six.
She concluded: “The bar needs you – it needs your experience and all the different things that can bring. I can only be a well of encouragement to you. You know what the statistics are, so did I. But it’s a wonderful career and I commend it to you.”