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October 24 2018

5 tips on transitioning to law from a non-legal background

Legal Career Tips

Alanood Sinjab

5 tips on transitioning to law from a non-legal background

*Based on a true story*

I knew a friend who told his interviewers he “always wanted to be a lawyer.” His interviewers cut him off. “Always?” they asked. “But you weren’t always on this planet!” He stuttered. Got agitated. Went red. His palms got sweaty. It was as though every second lasted a hundred seconds longer. He just couldn’t wait for it all to be over.

Sounds familiar, right?

There are few things an interviewer likes hearing less than how much you always wanted to be a lawyer. It doesn’t tell them why. It doesn’t explain what you’ve done in pursuit of that ambition. It doesn’t sound convincing. And it doesn’t make you stand out.

Transitioning to law from a non-legal background is perfectly possible - and also warmly welcomed in many law firms - but you’ll need to talk your interviewer through it. And in order to do that, you need to understand why you made that transition yourself.

This may take some time and self-reflection, but here are five ideas to get you started:

  1. Was there something you specifically came across whilst pursuing your non-legal degree/career that made you start considering  a career in law? What was it? Was it an article you had to discuss? A piece of news you read? A particular problem you had to solve?

  2. What was ‘missing’ from your non-law degree/career that you felt could be found by pursuing a career in law? Was it that it wasn’t client-facing? Too insular? Not dynamic enough?

  3. What skills did you gain from your non-law degree/career that you feel could be transferred across? What skills do you think a legal career would help you build on and develop?

  4. Since deciding to make that transition, what did you do about it? Your interviewer needs to see that you were serious about this decision - it’s a big one after all! What work experience did you seek? What societies did you get involved with at university? What about pro bono or volunteering? Nothing is too big or too small to mention.

  5. Perhaps most importantly, you have something your fellow colleagues may not. You have another undergraduate or postgraduate degree or even real career experience in another industry. Don’t underestimate how valuable that may be! Law firms remain competitive in large part because of their nuanced commercial judgment, and that varies from firm to firm. Try and target law firms whose practice areas would benefit from your insight, as this is what you bring to the table and is how you will ultimately add value as a member of their team.

Long and short, you need a (true) story to tell your interviewers about how you transitioned to law from a non-legal background. But first and foremost you need to understand that transition for yourself!