There is no set route to working in law. Proving this point, three professionals from contrasting backgrounds talk about how they made it into the legal sector. Lynda Ashton worked in the arts, Kate Lambert was in advertising and Mark Briegal was a banker and management consultant.
The College of Law, the UK’s leading provider of professional legal education and training, has reported a significant increase in the number of people from a creative background joining the legal profession. Although it may seem like the legal sphere and the creative world are poles apart, there are many parallels such as working with clients, copy writing and the production of documents and problem solving. Many arts specialists are attracted because they want to develop their skills in a new environment, take on a new challenge or fulfil a dream that may once have seemed impossible.
The College’s Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is open to graduates who already possess a university degree other than law but who want to qualify as a lawyer. The course is a prerequisite grounding in law before applicants go on to take the professional qualifications, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors or the Bar Vocational Course (BVC) for barristers.
The College runs the GDL to fit around the working lives of many of its students and can be completed on a full or part-time basis, over one or two years, during the day, evenings or at weekends. A new College centre is due to open in Manchester in September 2009, making it even easier for north west career-changers to study and gain the necessary qualifications.
Some GDL students worry they are at a disadvantage compared to law graduates this is not the case because the course is focused and offers a comprehensive legal grounding. Non-law graduates are highly sought-after in the legal employment sector. They account for up to 50% of the trainee intake at many law firms mainly because they are viewed as ‘well rounded’, especially where they have had commercial experience of working in business.
Lynda Ashton, 39, moved from London to Warrington last year, after changing career from working at the BBC to studying for the GDL, at the College of Law’s Chester centre.
“For 13 years I worked at the BBC in London, in co-production for the music and arts department. My job mainly included arranging funding and buying rights for various BBC programmes. I had to maintain business relationships and look at contracts, much of this was very similar to the contract law I’m studying now.
“I stopped working at the BBC because everything was being reshuffled and eventually my department closed down. I was offered voluntary redundancy and decided to use the time to pursue a legal career because law is something that’s always interested me.
“In fact whilst I was at the BBC I was already working with contracts and everyone thought I was a trained lawyer anyway. Law suits my personality because I love proof reading, I’m pedantic and tend to focus on detail.”
Lynda is undertaking a part-time GDL course and decided to choose the College of Law because of its reputation:
“An ex colleague who went to Cambridge told me that all the tutors are qualified lawyers, the teaching is second-to-none and the links with regional law firms are excellent.”
Similarly, Kate Lambert, 44, made the leap from working in advertising to being solicitor and is now a lecturer at the College of Law.
“After graduating with a history degree from Cambridge in 1994, I started working for the London-based advertising agency McCann Erickson and then moved to JWT.
“Throughout my history degree my lecturers were always keen for me to switch to law. There are so many parallels between history and law, particularly the academic side of things. After graduating I went as far as accepting a place on a GDL course but decided to pursue advertising instead Whilst working at McCann Erickson I headed up a team of 15 and worked on major London-based clients with international brands including Kellogg’s, Esso and Nestlé.
“My role in the agency wasn’t as creative as it sounds! I was in charge of account management and led an experienced team in media buying. We specialised in working with TV, magazines, radio and ‘above the line marketing’ such as advertising on supermarket trolleys.
“After eight years, I felt I’d gone as far as I could in the world of advertising and made up my mind to change direction. In my heart I still knew law was the career for me and enrolled on the conversion course at the College of Law in London. I loved the course and went on to complete a training contract at Osborne Clarke Solicitors which had offices in the City and Bristol. I qualified in 1998 and worked as a commercial property solicitor until 2003.”
Kate used many of the skills she developed in advertising and translated them to law:
“I’ve always taken a commercial view of law. These days lawyers are consultants who advise on every aspect of enterprise. Business is about selling a product, working with clients and negotiating a settlement, this applies to any type of sector - advertising or law.”
“In 2003 I settled in Chester and had a baby. Then for two years I worked as an in-house solicitor at Legal Marketing Services. In 2007 I got itchy feet again and made a sideways career move by becoming a lecturer on the GDL and LPC courses at the College of Law, Chester.
“I love working at the College where we structure learning in a very different way from the traditional teacher and class set-up. We now run workshops in which the tutors facilitate group work. Without my experience as a lawyer I wouldn’t have been able to do this and this is my dream job it is so rewarding in all sorts of ways. “
Mark Briegal, 47, started his career at Nat West and Chase Manhattan Banks and then spent time in management consulting before re-training as a mature student at the College of Law. He is now a partner at law firm Ralli in Manchester.
“It’s amazing where life can take you. I started out as a graduate management trainee in the International Division of Nat West Bank and now I’m a partner at a law firm. In a sense these career choices have been surprisingly similar as both require commercial acumen.
“I left banking after running Trade Operations at Chase Manhattan Bank because I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of training my team was receiving. I seized on a gap in the market and set up my own training business. This was great but I missed the cut-and-thrust of the business world and decided to make the move into law.
“Although I’d considered law as an undergraduate degree I rejected it because, at the time, it didn’t turn me on as a career choice. 20 years later I came to the profession with a different outlook and saw it as an exciting challenge. Law with 20 years business experience becomes a tool, rather than being an academic exercise. I loved being a mature student at the College and enjoyed going back into studying.
“After completing my training contract at Ralli I was offered a partnership only three years later. I feel my swift career path has definitely been supported by the commercial experience I gained from banking and management consultancy.”
Lynda, Kate and Mark’s career histories prove that it’s never too late to retrain in law. A legal career can always be an option because the GDL allows graduates the flexibility to fulfil their dreams and move to a career in the law.