Later Lawyers: How to secure the job you deserve

You’re a doctor, engineer, scientists, accountant, social worker, executive assistant, actor, artist, entrepreneur, and you decide to study law. You meet the entry criteria and study hard to get the JD, often working at the same time. Congratulations – you’re a “later lawyer”!

But the challenges don’t stop there. You want to work in the profession you have strived so hard to enter, and find yourself faced with conscious and unconscious biases and hurdles you hadn’t anticipated.

Here are some tips to overcoming those barriers and to help you put your best foot forward at interview in today’s very competitive job market.

Address the elephant in the room: you are older than the standard graduate (and maybe even older than the interviewer) and law is your second (or maybe third) career.

Focus on the positives:

  • Your ‘previous life’ means have the grey hair, gravitas and life experience that a young grad doesn’t have. Celebrate this!
  • You chose to study law, rather than “I got the marks so I did law”. That bespeaks motivation, focus, determination, commitment, ambition – all qualities an employer wants in their organisation.
  • You’ve juggled part time work and/or a family while you pursued the course: organisation, time management and flexibility are highly sought after skills. You are likely to hone in on the crux of a problem more quickly, adapt to work life efficiently without the distraction of learning how to work in an office.
  • You know what success looks like and how hard work is rewarded, because you’ve already achieved it in another field.
  • You offer diversity: to the firm as well as their clients.
  • Your previous discipline may be directly applicable to the firm: your claims management experience will put you in good stead to success in an insurance firm; your sound-producing career for a media and entertainment law firm.
  • You know your way around the work landscape: how to wrangle a bureaucracy, maybe experience in business development, restructuring, sales, marketing, budgeting – the skill set need not be specific.

At the same time, be aware of the possible biases (spoken or unspoken) that may be in your interviewer’s mind and think about how you’ll tackle them. Here are some examples:

‘You’ll be less malleable than a young graduate’.

There’s a perception that we lose flexibility and coachability with age. Come armed with examples of these attributes – after all, studying a brand new discipline is testament to these qualities alone! Back this up with examples from your previous life outside law: new skills acquisition, working with junior peers. Look at your interests and how they demonstrate flexibility of mind.

At the same time, think about how it will be to take direction from someone much younger than you. If you’ve imagined this, you can speak honestly about how you will cope with it.

‘You won’t be able to work the hours of a younger graduate.’

Sure, you may well have a family to go home to, or other commitments. Or you may not. But you’re less likely to leave the firm after 2 years to travel overseas or pursue another career direction. A lot of the rites of passage of youth are out of your system. And if you’ve already had a family, parental leave is not on the table either.

‘Don’t expect special treatment just because you were once a …(doctor/architect/cabaret singer)’

Emphasise the generic skills you learned in your other career and how these can be immediately applied in the new workforce. You’ve worked in a large hospital? You are adept at negotiating with a range of people within a complex bureaucracy. Been a claims officer? You are accustomed to dealing with customers who have a grievance.

Make it clear that if this were a move for money, you wouldn’t be there!

‘You know that trainee pay is $X – that must be a huge drop from what you were on’

Yes, maybe it is! But show that you’re a realist. You pursued this new field knowing that it would take time to rebuild to the same remuneration and prospects as those you left behind. This speaks to the determination and motivation they are getting when they hire you. It also means they are getting more bang for the same buck.

Good luck!

Keep a look out for a future blog on Social Media – Tip for Later Lawyers.

Katherine Sampson, Managing Director, Mahlab (VIC)