Re-training made easy – sort of!
I admire anyone willing to change direction.
It takes real guts and hard work. It is even more amazing that some of us choose to change our job when we were competent and experienced in what we left behind. Making a fresh start can be cathartic and provide a real lift if our original area of expertise has become less appealing either through external changes or personal need.
Sporting heroine Victoria Pendleton has proved that no matter how much you excel at one sport you can, with hard work and determination, switch to achieve in another – in her case a move from cycling to horse racing; each no doubt providing an adrenalin rush.
Whilst changing from one area of law to another is not necessarily likely to be an adrenalin rush it might prove to be just the ticket in uncertain times.
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There are many reasons why now may be the right time to re-train.
Your clients are aging and no longer provide you with the work they once did but they expect you still to help them. Not with conveying their property or doing business deals but with drafting their Wills or looking after their money under a power of attorney.
The financial arrangements for payment for your services has changed – no legal aid for the work you used to do and less clients who are willing to pay to get divorced or cope with criminal cases because they can either do it themselves or even if they cannot, you no longer can act for them without an appropriate legal aid contract.
What should you re-train in?
Analyse your skills, be they contentious or non-contentious; an attention for detail or an ability to grasp the big picture; back room personality or great communicator and examine which area of law would suit your skill set best. Then check it is likely to provide you with a healthy income.
Some areas of law are steady earners. They are not affected by boom and bust yet provide interesting work. All areas of law are affected by people doing work for themselves and by competition from outside the profession – do some research and make a choice. I may be biased but death and taxes, as they say, are inevitable so provide regular work but you have to like attention to detail and dealing with predominantly older people.
How to re-train
A great place to start is to find a taster session which gives you an overview of the area of law – for example, I provide a one day re-training day for the Law Society on changing to become a private client lawyer, which, though intense, gives you a flavour for what is involved in practising Will drafting, Estate administration, contentious probate and trusts.
The Association of Women Solicitors also organises a Returner’s course which is aimed at helping with career guidance and interview technique. In the past this was a week-long residential course which included all the main areas of law as well but is now just a day or a couple of days.
Always check out your network for people who may practice in your preferred new area and quiz them about what is the essence of the work they do and how they approach it. Ask them for honest feedback as to your suitability. Explore any opportunities they can offer for work experience. Ask them for what they would be looking for in a colleague and how they would seek to find such a person.
When to start?
Once you have explored the free or low cost options to help you decide on the area of law then consider what will make you a useful practitioner as soon as possible:
- A more detailed course which is practical and includes helpful tools to get you started
- Relevant textbooks
- Websites where there is up to date information about the chosen area
- Groups you could join of like-minded practitioners
- Coaching and mentoring to progress in the re-training stakes
Where to get help – Using Private Client as an example
LawSkills also provides a managed website with a regular newsletter for which it is free to subscribe. This includes developments in all the above areas of practice.
The Law Society offers solicitors and legal executives the opportunity to join the Private Client Section which includes some free courses and webinars, an annual conference to network with your peers and a monthly journal.
The Society of Trust & Estate Practitioners (STEP) offers a range of qualifications including the highly regarded STEP Diploma which can be obtained by home study. As a student member you can attend local branch seminars and again network with your peers. They too provide a monthly journal and quarterly review e-mail together with a daily e-mail digest.
Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) is a more recent body aimed at supporting those who act for the elderly and vulnerable. They have an innovative qualification and again have a local branch system providing update training and networking opportunities.
The Association of Contentious Trust and Probate Specialists (ACTAPS) was established in 1997 for lawyers specialising in contentious trust and probate work. There is a system for qualifying as a member. They have a website to keep members updated electronically, via the Internet, and again put on conferences from time to time.
Grasp the nettle and set yourself a target deadline to become a new you. If you find private client is your niche then try a re-training course; join some of the groups mentioned above as a student member and get networking!
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