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back to square one for a career changer?

11 April 2016

When I studied Computer Science in the US, I was encouraged to consider a future career in law. In the meantime I did IT support at a New York-based video game company, then moved to the UK and mangaged my husband’s record labels, performing computer visuals on his DJ tours. Then I decided to give a legal career a try when it felt like the right time to transition from the success of running a small business more efficiently, onto becoming formally trained to advise businesses on how they could achieve their commercial aims within legal boundaries. Although the journey to land a training contract was tough, the real challenge had only just begun: can I succeed at retraining in a new (and potentially hierarchical) profession, on a path potentially fraught with ego-bruising and few opportunities to make use of my life skills? Below are a few quasi-mantras I have used to take take charge of my time at the start of my legal career.

Getting used to knowing nothing

As a career changer you may have your own ways of working , how you communicate with clients, your own recipe for success. During your training contract at BJs having to change or reset your habits may be jarring since you are effectively starting a new job up to four times (more on seat changes in Sophie’s & Kate’s blog entries). And until you start developing your own client relationships—which does happen occasionally at trainee level—you’ll likely be researching or ghost-writing advice correspondence to the client on behalf of your supervisor. Embrace this safety net while you’re feeling your way around new areas of law, your team’s culture and supervisors’ preferences for how your work should be presented. The feedback you receive will not only bring your work up to the standard the team wants, but also give them an indication on what you’re able to take on next.

Promote yourself with BD work & socials

Ask your colleagues what business development (BD) work they’ve been up to and you’ll find that nearly everyone, regardless of their role, will have something on their plate. Since trainees have lower billing targets than solicitors & associates, this is an ideal time to get stuck into these projects and building your profile beyond your seats. You may also get invited by colleagues to wining & dining dos to with clients and/or the legal/business industry; your efforts to give up a night watching Gogglebox expand your professional network will be appreciated. One highlight was going to a black tie dinner with partners from various departments and offices attending with their key clients. Yet, at another event involving accompanying a colleague to an IP dinner at Lincoln’s Inn (they have their own chocolate!) I had to creep past the judges’ table during the after-dinner speech to catch the train back to Birmingham—worse still was recognising one of the judges from a trial I worked on a few months ago; swings and roundabouts.

Making the most of your skill set

Make sure your seat supervisors are aware of your professional background, but ultimately it’s down to you to spot opportunities which could be put to use within your team or for the firm. My previous job involved web & graphic design and associated admin, which led me during my Commercial/IP seat to facilitate domain transfers for a client’s IP acquisition of another brand, as well as editing the Pangea Net website (a network of independent law firms whose website is maintained by the team). My web experience will also be used in my current seat to update BJ’s Employment websites. Other trainees have also made their mark with their knowledge around Excel formulae, project pitching and event planning skills—if you’re lucky your extra skills could be used for chargeable work too!