Changing careers to any industry is hard; changing careers to become a lawyer seems that little bit harder for those in their 40s and 50s.
Sadly, the majority of firms still struggle with the generational diversity question. It’s not that most firms don’t equally employ 25-year-olds and 65-year-olds, it’s just that they don’t tend to be interested in putting a ‘life-experienced’, two-year PQE 48-year-old under the supervision of a go-getting, ‘just made senior associate’ 28-year-old.
So what do you do if you are a second-career lawyer? Firstly, having previous industry experience in the area of law you choose to pursue pays dividends.
For example, nurses who become personal injuries or medical negligence lawyers are often sought out by insurance firms. Similarly, builders or architects who become construction lawyers, or bankers who become finance lawyers, tend to be employed as junior lawyers for their industry smarts — and then they often rise through the legal ranks at speed.
If a candidate doesn’t fall into the arrangement above, I tend to suggest to second-career lawyers to get experience at a smaller firm. These firms tend to have less structure and rigidity around roles and titles and the candidate tends to get a good overall grounding in law. Many second-career lawyers stay in the smaller firms for the remainder of their careers for that reason. Others find great success at the Bar where, at least on face value, no-one seems to care how old you are.
In fact, the Bar is probably still the only legal community where grey hair opens doors, regardless of your PQE level.
With Generation X starting to take on greater prominence in many boardrooms around the country, we have also found that general counsel and their teams have gotten younger. We find in-house roles don’t favour second-career lawyers unless their first career was in compliance or, again, in an industry related to the organisation they are joining.
The message really is that if you are entering the law later in life, planning out your career and knowing what will and won’t work (perhaps by speaking to an experienced career counsellor or recruiter) can really determine the trajectory of your second career.