updated on 14 March 2023
I’m in my 40s and thinking about retraining as a solicitor, but is there any point? I have heard that recruitment focuses on young graduates.
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The application and recruitment process at many firms can seem geared toward candidates who are trying to get into law as a first career straight after finishing university, but the reality is that many firms go out of their way to welcome career changers and value the wider experiences and perspectives that they bring.
While the legal industry is undeniably dominated by young graduates, commercial law firms, of course, still actively recruit mature candidates and career changers too. While many firms welcome applications from career changers, as well as host open days and insight evenings for them, applicants should continue to conduct research into their options. There’s a welcoming attitude towards mature students and career changers at many firms across the legal profession.
For more information read LawCareers.Net’s Feature 'Becoming a lawyer as a career changer’ and this LCN Says ‘Career changers: five tips for those switching careers to the legal profession’.
However, the competition for training contracts is intense, so pursuing your ambition will take a lot of hard work, compromise and perseverance. That said, the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) does offer more flexibility as what is now referred to as qualifying work experience (QWE) can be completed in up to four different organisations and there’s also scope to complete it internationally. This means that you might not need to compete for a sought-after training contract (counting as a two-year QWE placement) and could instead build up your QWE in multiple placements and at your own pace.
You must think about how to finance your studies as you requalify. If you have a non-law degree, you can complete a law conversion or non-law specific SQE preparation course, which will prepare you to take the SQE. The conversion courses and prep courses aren’t compulsory to be able to take the SQE, but they are advised to ensure you have the best chance of passing both stages of the SQE.
You can find out read about the SQE prep courses on offer via LCN’s guide.
Balancing the process of changing careers with other commitments will also be important. Many of the new SQE preparation courses can be studied part time or via distance learning, or a mixture of online and face-to-face teaching.
For more information on the benefits of virtual study, see LawCareers.Net’s guide to online learning.
If possible, gaining legal work experience would be hugely beneficial for you to demonstrate your commitment to and understanding of the profession you want to switch to. Begin your research into law firms that interest you early and then use this research to help you apply for a vacation scheme placement at a firm. Volunteering for a pro bono organisation such as Citizens Advice is also a great way to gain valuable legal work experience.
Find out how legal work experience you undertake can count towards your qualifying work experience.
Remember that your previous career experience is also an incredible asset. All your employment experiences are evidence of valuable transferable skills and it’s even better if your past role has some relevance to the firm you’re thinking of applying to (eg, a previous career in finance or business will stand you in good stead if you’re applying to a corporate firm).
You may encounter obstacles and be passed over unfairly by some law firms, but keep at it as there are many employers that welcome career changers and mature applicants. Attend law fairs, open days and other events, and network as much as you can – your local Junior Lawyers Network will also be able to help you in this regard.