As someone who came late to the legal profession – I was 34 when I started the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) – I am frequently approached by friends who are thinking of changing career to law.
These are my responses to the questions I am most often asked.
1. I haven’t been a student in such a long time. How will I cope?
The GDL is certainly hard work and should not be underestimated. You will study the seven core subjects of English law over one academic year. There are a lot of contact hours and you will need to study in the evenings and at weekends.
That said, it was no more tiring or demanding than a busy week at work! Mature students are often better equipped to deal with the pressures of a full workload.
2. What about the cost?
Most people who ask me about re-training to become a lawyer are shocked when I tell them the financial outlay required. University fees for the two years of study required (that is, assuming you already have a degree) range from roughly £12,500 to an eye-watering £28,000. There are also your living costs to think about.
You will undoubtedly have more financial commitments than your younger peers. You may or may not have savings. You will probably not have the bank of Mum and Dad to support you. Whilst a few firms may offer to pay your course fees or even give you a small stipend, this should not be relied on to finance your studies as it is incredibly difficult to obtain such funding.
Of course, the rewards when you start earning can be substantial, but it can take some time to get there. In short, think very carefully about your finances before making the jump to law!
3. Will law firms be put off by the fact I have come late to law?
Most training contract application forms or interviews will ask candidates ‘why law?’ In every interview I went to I was also asked ‘why now?’
I don’t think the interviewers were trying to catch me out, I think they genuinely wanted to know why a barmaid (my profession for 15 years) had decided to become a lawyer! Make sure you are clear about why you want to change careers and be prepared to explain it to potential employers.
The majority of law firms welcome applications from mature candidates precisely because of the additional experience and skills they bring.
4. I’m in! Where do I sign up?
I have not regretted my decision to do law for one second. But it took a lot of soul searching and preparation. I do not recommend simply rocking up at University in September without a game plan.
Speak to anyone you know who has some connection to law. Volunteer at Citizens Advice Bureaux. Get some legal work experience, even if this means giving up your holidays. Sign up to traineesolicitorsurgery.co.uk, lawcareers.net, lawyer2b.com, rollonfriday.com and traineesolicitor.co.uk.
5. And finally….
Before even applying for the GDL I heard a lot of horror stories of how ‘impossible’ it is to get into law these days. I don’t deny it is difficult. But the opportunities do exist, so work hard, plan ahead and go for it!
Image: Robert Couse-Baker