Career Clinic: Will working in legal aid hurt my commercial law ambitions? From Legalweek.com

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A lawyer says –

“I lost my job at a regional firm when I was 1PQE. I did not enjoy the niche practice area I was working in, so I saw it as an opportunity to move into a different area of commercial law. However, I found it very difficult to change practice areas, particularly as the area that I was interested in was badly hit by the recession.

“I was out of work for quite a while and eventually accepted a position as a paralegal in a legal aid firm, and I am now working as a solicitor at the firm. I have been at the firm for six months.

“While I enjoy working with my team, I cannot see myself working as a legal aid solicitor in the long term. I would like to return to commercial work, but I am not sure whether this is realistic in the current market.

“Any ideas on how best to approach this and how to deal with the period of legal aid work on my CV? Should I consider a paralegal role?”

Here’s one response:

Everyone knows how difficult the recession has been for law firms and lawyers so I do not think your period spent at a legal aid firm should count against you, provided you present it as a positive. The fact that you managed to obtain legal work during such a huge economic downturn is a positive, as is the fact that you obviously impressed at the firm you are working at given that you were offered a solicitor role.

You also need to demonstrate the transferable skills you have obtained from your legal aid work that would be beneficial to a commercial role, such as dealing with potentially difficult clients from all backgrounds, clear and concise communication skills etc. These skills are of course useful when dealing with commercial clients who are busy and who are often not from a legal background.

It goes without saying as well that you need to show how you have kept up to date with the commercial sector and how you have developed your commercial awareness further. For example, at a smaller legal aid firm you may have been more involved with practice management than you would have been at a regional firm so you should highlight this too.

You should also be encouraged by the fact that as a commercial solicitor of your qualification you are a rarity for regional firms to an extent as during the downturn relatively fewer trainees qualified into corporate/commercial areas as the work was not there; I am 3PQE and have been contacted by numerous agents about a variety of commercial roles because in the region where I live there are comparatively few commercial solicitors. So maybe focus your job search on the regions. Good luck!

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