I am 50 years old and about to start my training contract in January 2012. I would certainly have benefitted from an event like Lawyer 2B’s ’Not Too Late For Law’ just over four years ago as I was about to start my CPE. I would like to tell you briefly about how have I got to where I am now and what were the obstacles that I have faced as a mature applicant.
Very briefly, my background is that I am an ex-professional actor who moved into insurance when I finally decided to settle down a bit. In recent times I have done 7 years of defended PI work and been a claims handler, auditor and manager.
Following redundancy I did some work for a solicitor friend and quickly realised that law was what I really wanted to be involved in. It’s true, I’m a late developer.
Here are just some of the main obstacles that I have experienced as a mature applicant:
The first obstacle was time. As a student in my mid-40s time was a critical factor, and I discovered quickly that if I wanted to achieve anything in a reasonable timeframe I needed to address early the decision about where I was going. At the half-way point of the two-year CPE I hadn’t yet decided whether I wanted to be a solicitor or a barrister. As a result I hadn’t started applying for anything and I was to find later that this put me at a massive disadvantage against undergraduates who had a clearer idea of what they wanted and had already started the application process.
I can’t stress enough that as an older student you do not have time to deliberate. Make a decision. Read the legal press, speak to tutors and professionals, look at your skill set and decide where you would be best suited, but don’t neglect to make a cold hard economical decision based on your chances of success. Make a decision and make it early. Don’t rely on your law school careers service, even if they are good they will not be much help to you until you know where you’re going.
The next obstacle was adapting to the law itself. Older applicants often study part-time as they still need to earn a living and I was no exception. I was not alone in struggling to adapt to law after graduating in another discipline. Despite what I’ve often been told, a drama and religious studies degree does not help at all if what you want to be is a lawyer. The change to law is a challenge. Lawyers do not think like normal people, and the quicker you realise that you must cast away all your analytical skills and start again, the better. I made the most of opportunities to meet tutors one on one and go over answers to legal problems I had written. Eventually the coin dropped, and I progressed rapidly.
Understanding the market and how law firms operate was another obstacle. The CPE followed by a part-time LPC did give me four years in which to learn about the legal market place and all its idiosyncrasies. I needed all of that time. I realised very early on that I knew next to nothing about how the legal market place works or how law firms are run. This is not something you “pick up” on a GDL/ CPE or the LPC so I devoured the legal press every week and interrogated anyone and everyone I knew who worked at a law firm. A thorough understanding of how law firms make money was invaluable when I got to interviews.
The final obstacle that I will look at now is the application process itself. This is a bit of a thorny issue as some applicants are certainly at a disadvantage due to their age, despite the protection offered by anti-discrimination legislation. I have no doubt that some firms are unwilling to take older applicants. It would be very difficult to prove discrimination even if you could be sure you were being discriminated against. I’m confident that for the majority of firms positive discrimination on the grounds of age is not an issue, but there’s no getting away from the fact that most graduate recruitment application processes are not designed with the mature applicant in mind. If you have 20 or 30 years of work experience, just try distilling examples of when you have shown leadership qualities into 50 or 100 words!
Finally I would say that focus and a sense of urgency is essential if you want to start a legal career as a mature person. As an older applicant there are a number of questions that you should consider and re-consider regularly, including:
- What am I doing?
- Why am I doing it?
- Where am I going?
- Why do I want to get there?
- And most importantly; how am I going to get there?
I start my training contract soon and I’ll be blogging again about how I get on.
Mark Pentecost is on the executive committee of the JLD and is the student representative.