Are You Ever Too Old to be Brand New?

Q:

Dear newlawyerlanguage

I have a question about starting in the law as an ‘older’ lawyer with no experience.

From your experience, what is th e best way for a person, with no experience in the law to get their first job?

I started law ‘late’ in my late 20’s (yes I know that is not old!). After having a family and moving around the world with my husband for his work I will return to Australia to practise in the next year or so.

I will have completed my PLT and will have studied a Masters of Law (as I stay at home with my young children and love the study).

I am worried about the large ‘gap’ in my CV during which I studied and had a family. Being located overseas means that I can be involved in some aspects of the Law Societies however it is difficult being so far away to make any networks.

I believe that I would be a much better employee now that I am in my mid 30s and have life experiences. I do have past employment but these are in unskilled areas and are now getting dated.

I truly believe that once I get an opportunity at a firm I will be able to prove that I was a worthy choice. My worry though is that it will be difficult to get that initial ‘foot in the door’ given that I know no one. I am not looking for big firms and hope to work in family law or something similar in a smaller firm. I have heard of a friend who is an older lawyer that was forced to move to Alice Springs to get his first law job (not an option for me with a working spouse) and I am scared I have chosen the wrong career (even though I love the law).

Any advice would be appreciated about what I can do to make myself attractive to employers.

Kind regards

CB

 A:

Dear CB

The most difficult barrier to getting a job as mature aged law graduate, I think, is our own unrealistic expectations.  If we think that getting our dream job at our dream firm straight out of law school, is the measure of our worth as a lawyer, then we are hobbled from the start.  If you see the large ‘gap’ in your CV as a problem, then that is what may come across to a potential employer.

You have a family.  You lived overseas.  These things in themselves give you life skills that make you attractive to any employer. Emphasise these abilities.  You are adaptable.  You know all about managing change and working under pressure.  You know, in a real way, the imperativeness of time management. So my first suggestion is to shift gears in your mind about what talents you bring in addition to your formal legal qualifications.

If you sense that any prospective employer has reservations about these parts of your life – ditch them.  You don’t want to work there. Remember that it is illegal for potential employers to ask your age or to enquire about your marital status at an interview.  They can only inquire if you bring these subjects up. Be prepared for shifty ways that potential employers try to get around these, for example “How would you react to being managed by a younger manager?”, or “I see there is a gap in your employment history…..?”.  I’m not suggesting avoiding these questions, but be prepared.  Rehearse these responses. Practise getting across to the person interviewing you that you bring more valuable skills to the position, exactly because you’ve lived and travelled.  Make the link that your life experience is a direct cost benefit for the firm, because you will skill up faster.

Volunteer as a lawyer somewhere, anywhere.  I know of a lawyer in her early 30s that moved down from Queensland and was anxious to find a job.    She volunteered with a local community legal centre.  When the legal centre needed some work on a specific project and she was offered one day a week paid work.  This increased to four days a week.  She excelled at the projects she was given and made some connections along the way.  She has now landed a job in a boutique commercial firm, which is exactly what she wanted.

Have a look at the Law Institute of Victoria practice sections and interests groups and consider going along to the meetings when you return to Australia.  This will bring you up to local legal speed quickly and also provide some peer support and local connections (LIV Practice Sections, Interest Groups and Law Association ).

Spend some time reflecting on the abilities you have because of the choices you’ve made.   The main thing is that YOU have to believe that your personal path complements your legal qualifications.  Value your complete set of skills.   Then let that confidence come through your job applications and in the interview. Reflect also on where you want to work and hold that vision tight. And keep trying.  You may have to take the scenic route to your dream job, but if you are clear in who you are, what talents and skills you have and where you want to be, you’ll get there.

Peggy