Don’t pursue a career on the basis of what will sound good at dinner parties, says Alex Aldridge
Every month or so I get an email from a student asking for advice. Sometimes they want me to help them decide if they should risk going to law school without having a job lined up at the other end. Other times they’re more disillusioned, asking for my views on alternative non-legal careers like journalism. A few are long shot inquiries as to whether I can help them land a job.
Because I’m not exactly overloaded with these emails, and find the idea of strangers asking me for advice flattering, I always reply to them. Often my responses boil down to a recommendation that the person sit down and seriously consider why they want to become a lawyer. Is it because they’re really into the law? Or is it because they’re attracted to the status of being a solicitor or a barrister, and scared of what life might be like without such an important-sounding job title? In other words, are they being driven by love or fear?
Even in the current tough graduate job recruitment market, my hunch is that the lovers will be fine. OK, they may miss out on a top law firm or barristers’ chambers, and end up as a paralegal at a high street firm in the middle of nowhere for a while. But their natural passion for grappling with legal problems will imbue them with the sufficient positive vibes to get them to where they want to be in the long term.
Those who persevere with law for lack of an alternative, on the other hand, are probably going to struggle. Whether they bag a training contract at a City law firm, or end up scraping by on the minimum wage as a paralegal, doing something that fails to move them every day will ultimately make them unhappy and stunt their professional progress. In the end, all they’ll have is a job title that sounds good at dinner parties.
Doubtless, some people will dismiss what I’ve just written as an over-simplification. They might point out that being a solicitor affords opportunities to get involved in business and management, as well as law. Or that life at the Bar, particularly in areas like family and crime, is often as much about the application of common sense to people’s problems as it is about unravelling legal conundrums.
But if it’s business or psychology you want to do, why not drop the law and do just that? After all, many corporate law firms look like they’re permanently shrinking, and the publicly funded branch of the legal profession is about to lose vast amounts of funding. At this uncertain point in time, where the risks facing graduates are greater than ever, the impluse to be cautious and hedge your bets is understandable. But actually the safest bet is to follow your heart.