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Is It Really Possible to Retrain From One Branch Of Law To Another?

  • September 15, 2023

When the time has come to move on from your role in the legal profession, in most cases, individuals are looking for something ‘similar’ when they embark on the job search. Some may look for a higher position within a different firm; others a lateral move where their general roles and responsibilities are similar – but more often than not, this tends to be within the same defined practice area.

But if you do find yourself contemplating a transition from one legal area to another altogether – it might be hard to know where to start looking for general advice on what is possible, and the steps you might need to take to get your foot in the door.

Step 1: Assess If You Might Be Jumping The Gun

The first (and certainly the most important) thing to consider before anything else is whether you are 100% set on moving practice areas in the first place.

In other words, evaluate the ‘Why’ behind your decision to retrain.

Thoroughly examining your reasons for wanting to make a change can greatly help to bring clarity in your decision-making and avoid any potential tunnel-visioning. 

Start by asking yourself if you are happy in your current practice area – or whether it is the environment, culture, or current firm that you’re looking to change instead. Indeed, it might not be what you are practising but where that is the problem here.

Or – are the reasons for moving on more personal? If you find yourself to be constantly exhausted, irritable and apathetic towards your work and personal life of late, you are likely to be experiencing burnout. Whilst this needs addressing – is it a sign that the practice area itself is no longer a good fit for you? Or more so a sign that a similar role elsewhere may address your concerns?

If you’ve run through all of these scenarios is assessing whether the time is right to move on, and you’re still set on a categorical change, there are certain things to consider as you embark on your jobsearch.

Step 2: Conduct An Honest Self-Assessment

Before embarking on your journey to retrain in a new area of law, it’s essential to perform a thorough self-assessment. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What area of law am I currently practicing, and again, why exactly do I want to move away from this area?
  • What new area of law interests me, and what is my motivation for making this change?
  • What are my long-term career goals, and how will this transition align with them?
  • Do I have the necessary skills, background, and aptitude for the new area of law?

Understanding your motivations and assessing your strengths and weaknesses will help you make an informed decision about your career transition.

Step 3: Do Your Research

To transition successfully, you’ll need to immerse yourself in the new area of law. Begin by conducting extensive research. Read books, articles, and legal publications related to your chosen field. Attend seminars, workshops, and conferences to gain a better understanding of current trends, issues, and developments in that area.

Networking is equally important. Connect with lawyers, professionals, and organisations in the new field. Join relevant online forums, LinkedIn groups, and local bar associations. Building a network of contacts can provide valuable insights, mentorship, and of course – potential job opportunities in the future.

If you are already working for a multi-disciplinary law firm, you may already have a head start here as there will likely be colleagues you can approach for informal (and formal) discussions about their own role. Depending on the firm, you may be able to talk candidly in your performance reviews or 121 about an internal move – even on a temporary basis to see if it is a good fit for both parties.

Step 4: Embrace The (Sometimes Inevitable) Additional Education And Training

Depending on the new area of law you’re transitioning into, you may need additional education and training which can be a hard pill to swallow after you’ve spent a number of years qualifying as a practicing lawyer or legal professional in the first place.

You may however need to consider the following options:

Postgraduate Courses: Enroll in a relevant postgraduate course, such as a Master’s degree in your chosen field of law. Many universities in the UK offer specialised LLM programmes, and The University Of Law has a multitude of postgraduate courses that may fit the bill).

Continuous Learning: Attend short courses, webinars, and workshops to stay updated with the latest developments and enhance your knowledge in the new area.

In addition to attending events and webinars, see what online or evening courses you might be able to take to work toward a qualification in your area of interest. Consider what other training you can do, from self-study to gaining certificates which might add credibility to your CV – although note, that some of this will likely come at a cost.

Step 5: Consider Other Options To Boost Your Experience

Paid-for training and qualifications may get you on the right track when looking to retrain, but there are also other elements you may wish to consider too:

  • Volunteering: Offer your services pro bono or as a volunteer to gain practical experience and build your portfolio. Many firms or legal organisations welcome volunteers and it’s commendable to have this experience on your CV when it comes to looking for a role in your chosen practice area
  • Internships and Work Placements: Seek internships or work placements in law firms or legal departments specialising in your chosen area. This hands-on experience will give you a deeper understanding of the day-to-day work involved. Again, if this is possible at your current firm, put the wheels in motion to shadow a colleague.

Step 6: Get Your Marketing Collateral In Order

Simply put – as a jobseeker, this relates to your CV and Cover Letter

When applying for positions in your new field, tailor your CV and cover letter to highlight relevant skills, experiences, and transferrable qualities. Emphasise your commitment to the new area of law and your dedication to continuous learning.

Whilst your experience to date is likely in your current practice area, highlighting transferrable skills here is absolutely key.

Could you focus on the following for example?

  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Case management
  • Results-driven
  • Business acumen

That being said, be careful not to fall into the trap of peppering your CV or letter with meaningless cliches or jobseeker ‘jargon’!

Step 7: Seek Guidance From The Get-Go

You may wish to consider seeking guidance from a career counsellor or a mentor who has experience in the field you’re transitioning into if your network gives you access to these. They will undoubtedly provide valuable insights, advice, and support throughout your retraining journey.

In addition to implementing the above strategies, working closely with a specialist legal recruitment agency like Clayton Legal, who understands your situation and your goals, can significantly improve your chances of success. If you take the time to clearly explain your current situation and your goals, they will have the know-how and the connections to guide you toward landing a role in your new specialism and can help to signpost you to other resources to help you on your way,

In Conclusion

In summary, while transitioning from one area of law to another in the UK is certainly possible, it requires careful planning, determination, and a willingness to learn and adapt. By focusing on transferable skills, acquiring additional education or training, networking, gaining practical experience, and persistently pursuing your goals, you can successfully make the switch to a different legal specialisation.

About Clayton Legal 

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.  

 If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here. 


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