yojimbo_beta
Badges: 7
Rep:
?
#1
Report Thread starter 10 months ago
#1
I'm a 31 year old software engineer considering a career change to law. I've been agonising over this decision for several months and am hoping I can benefit from the experience of those who know both fields.

I've been a developer for close to six years, programming since I was a teen. In some ways it's an ideal field: well paid, buoyant, exciting and quite progressive in its work culture. At its best it can be creative, highly individualistic work. But I've always felt I could do more.

I'd like work where I can leverage my verbal intelligence as well as my analytical streak: writing, reading, researching and arguing a point. I originally studied English Literature (2:1, Cambridge) hoping to become an academic, but was dissuaded by the low paid, insecure, peripatetic lifestyle.

Law excites and engages me in a way I haven't felt since I was back at university, but the costs of retraining are extremely high - in both money and time. So I feel I need to qualify my decision with more information:

1. Just how stimulating can a law career be, compared to software engineering? Can a career changer or someone with experience of the two give some idea?

2. What level of autonomy and responsibility can the average commercial solicitor take on in, say, the first five years of their career?

3. What is the *real* meat of a commercial solicitor's principal work? Is it the legal research? Explaining legal ideas to clients? Completing procedures? Negotiating with third parties? For context, I am thinking of practising in technology or IP law (possibly both soft and hard IP?)

4. Outside the long-winded and difficult process of applying for vacation schemes (which I assume I've missed) - how can a layperson get a feel for the nitty-gritty of the job? How would I approach a firm for shadowing (and what can I offer, for them to get something out of it?)
0
reply
flatlined
Badges: 11
Rep:
?
#2
Report 10 months ago
#2
(Original post by yojimbo_beta)
I'm a 31 year old software engineer considering a career change to law. I've been agonising over this decision for several months and am hoping I can benefit from the experience of those who know both fields.

I've been a developer for close to six years, programming since I was a teen. In some ways it's an ideal field: well paid, buoyant, exciting and quite progressive in its work culture. At its best it can be creative, highly individualistic work. But I've always felt I could do more.

I'd like work where I can leverage my verbal intelligence as well as my analytical streak: writing, reading, researching and arguing a point. I originally studied English Literature (2:1, Cambridge) hoping to become an academic, but was dissuaded by the low paid, insecure, peripatetic lifestyle.

Law excites and engages me in a way I haven't felt since I was back at university, but the costs of retraining are extremely high - in both money and time. So I feel I need to qualify my decision with more information:

1. Just how stimulating can a law career be, compared to software engineering? Can a career changer or someone with experience of the two give some idea?

2. What level of autonomy and responsibility can the average commercial solicitor take on in, say, the first five years of their career?

3. What is the *real* meat of a commercial solicitor's principal work? Is it the legal research? Explaining legal ideas to clients? Completing procedures? Negotiating with third parties? For context, I am thinking of practising in technology or IP law (possibly both soft and hard IP?)

4. Outside the long-winded and difficult process of applying for vacation schemes (which I assume I've missed) - how can a layperson get a feel for the nitty-gritty of the job? How would I approach a firm for shadowing (and what can I offer, for them to get something out of it?)
I am a junior associate in a US firm. It is a terrible job.

1. Very long hours in US/MC firms - 12-14 hour days, occasional weekend work. Transactional work is up and down, mostly up. 2000 hour annual billable targets at US, not far behind in MC. That's a lot longer than it sounds - probably equates to 3000 hours in the office. Very tedious and paper pushing work. Not stimulating at all. Key traits needed: perfect attention to detail and ability to work very long hours without sleep making zero mistakes doing boring work, positive attitude to be able to get through it.

2. Minimal real responsibility. 5 years for you would be GDL, LPC, training contract and one year PQE. You'd barely be qualified in your late 30s. You're too old to be a grunt trainee being supervised by someone 5 years your junior. You'll have "responsibility" for a checklist - chasing parties to produce documents, you'll have "responsibility" for compiling and organising documents for a closing. I mean these things are extremely important even though they sound very low level, but it's not really how I think normal people define "responsibility". Doing mark-ups - inputting other people's written comments - sounds very low level, but it's enormously important and important for your learning. And it is a skill and most people do make mistakes. But that is the kind of work you will be doing. Mostly everything you do as a trainee will be checked, often even emails before you send. As a junior associate, basics don't get checked, but a lot of draft docs do.

3. Oh my god, the work is so tedious. I have to go out soon, but my heart feels heavy with the knowledge I have to be in early tomorrow morning. You don't just wade in as an IP lawyer - you have to do 4 different seats in most firms during a TC. 1 seat for 6 months is IP. You may or may not get retained there. Then you become an IP lawyer. You will be advisory. I have limited experience with this area. A lot of these guys do a lot grunt doc review and data room work for corporate. They analyse any GDPR and IP issues out of thousands of really tedious agreements.

Please don't do it. I know some people who have moved from law to software and haven't looked back. It's not a long term career option. Average turnover in US firms is 2/3 years. Most people have left private practice before 5PQE and go in-house. A decent % try to stick their fingers in the business side and leverage themselves out. Most people hate private practice or find it mildly tolerable. Most people stick with it because they're entrenched, can't do anything else and are paying off their mortgage.
Last edited by flatlined; 10 months ago
0
reply
HoldThisL
Badges: 19
Rep:
?
#3
Report 10 months ago
#3
Unrelated but how did you get into software development having originally studied english?
0
reply
J Papi
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#4
Report 10 months ago
#4
(Original post by yojimbo_beta)
4. Outside the long-winded and difficult process of applying for vacation schemes (which I assume I've missed) - how can a layperson get a feel for the nitty-gritty of the job? How would I approach a firm for shadowing (and what can I offer, for them to get something out of it?)
Diversity schemes, personal contacts, and, erm, formal opportunities. That's about it.

There is some material for you to read online about what solicitors in each practice area do. There are also a lot of examples/interviews that give a more personal insight into what a lawyer's daily routine may look like.

What you could do is send off applications to a few Open Days in the spring, if you can afford to take any time off work for them. Chat to people there and ask them what you asked us. Alternatively, you'll have to re-apply to vacation schemes for winter 2019/spring 2020. I don't doubt that you'll get work a vac scheme somewhere - your academics and competencies are/must be very strong - it's just a matter of putting in the hours and taking the time to research the career and prepare like every other applicant.
0
reply
jacketpotato
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#5
Report 10 months ago
#5
Hi, I'm about the same age as you and probably your polar opposite. I became a lawyer straight after university and ended up working in a city law firm where I do a lot of work for tech clients. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had I pursued my interest in tech another way, e.g. by becoming a software engineer.

1. Just how stimulating can a law career be, compared to software engineering? Can a career changer or someone with experience of the two give some idea?
I would say that commercial law on any given day can be amazingly stimulating or it can be the dullest job in the world. It just depends what you are doing on a given day.

Commercial law at a decent firm can give you exposure to a series of newspaper-headline type projects, perhaps more so than any other job. Law firms tend to get instructed on projects which are particularly critical to clients and are driven by C-suite executives - is not usually "business as usual" type stuff. Think buying and selling companies; mega patent disputes; massive public procurement projects and so on.

Law can also be unbelievably dull. The key distinguishing feature of law as a career is that everything has to be 100% correct. Lawyers are perfectionists. Stuff that you might think doesn't matter very much the big picture can become a big issue, because clients pay us to get everything correct. The contracts for large technology contracts will often run to several hundred pages. A typical trainee task will be checking those contracts for typos and correct use of definitions - as a tech lawyer you can find yourself working on a transformational tech project which is brilliant to be involved with, but that can mean spending 2 weeks literally just proof reading!

2. What level of autonomy and responsibility can the average commercial solicitor take on in, say, the first five years of their career?
As a non-law graduate, you would have to spend 2 years studying (used to be the GDL+LPC, I suppose for you might be the SQE) and then two years as a trainee solicitor, before you qualify.

To be honest the amount of responsibility most trainees get in a large commercial law firm is pretty low. As trainees tend to do 6 month rotations between different departments they often do not see matters from start to finish. Especially in dispute resolution, because litigation can take years. And of course trainees are still learning which makes it difficult to let them loose on client. But - everyone is advising the client as part of a team so you would have to be prepared to see yourself as a team player and do the best job you can to support the team effort.

3. What is the *real* meat of a commercial solicitor's principal work? Is it the legal research? Explaining legal ideas to clients? Completing procedures? Negotiating with third parties? For context, I am thinking of practising in technology or IP law (possibly both soft and hard IP?)
It depends on the department.

In commercial law, the key split is between contentious work (i.e. litigation and arbitration) and non-contentious work (e.g. corporate, banking).

As an IP lawyer you would focus either on contentious IP (e.g. focussing on patent disputes) or on non-contentious IP (e.g. software licence agreements). As an IP specialist some firms might let you do both contentious and non-contentious work, but this does depend on the firm.

In contentious areas, most of your time is spent advising clients or running litigation. In commerical litigation there is an enormous amount of work that needs to go on behind the scenes: preparing documents for submission to court; reviewing documents received during a disclosure process for information that might affect the case (in large litigation there are often thousands and thousands of documents to review - litigation generates an unbelievable amount of paper); interviewing witnesses and drafting witness statements. Legal research is required but is definitely not where you spent most of your time.

In non-contentious areas, most of your time is spent drafting, reviewing and negotiating contracts. There is also a heavy project management element.

IP and Tech Law seem to be areas which attract a lot of career changers. They also attract a lot of people who have done science degrees. People often want to focus on an area of law that is relevant to what they have done before. One often finds - for example - former IT Project Managers working in the commercial department on large IT projects; or an ex-chemist working on biotech patent disputes.

4. Outside the long-winded and difficult process of applying for vacation schemes (which I assume I've missed) - how can a layperson get a feel for the nitty-gritty of the job? How would I approach a firm for shadowing (and what can I offer, for them to get something out of it?)
I don't think you've missed it. It is possible to apply for vac schemes as a career changer.

A lot of career changers will just apply straight to TCs. A lot of firms run open days which can be a good opportunity to understand what you are getting yourself in for without the commitment of a full vac scheme. Firms will understand you are not a uni student and may not be in a situation where you can just spend your summer doing a vac scheme with no guarantee of a job after it.
1
reply
jacketpotato
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#6
Report 10 months ago
#6
(Original post by flatlined)
I am a junior associate in a US firm. It is a terrible job
...
Very long hours in US/MC firms
...
Very tedious and paper pushing work. Not stimulating at all
...
Minimal real responsibility
Flatlined is very negative about law on a lot of threads. He is obviously extremely negative but there is some truth in it I suppose, particularly for people going to MC/US firms.

I think Flatlined's experience - i.e. going to firm where he made a Faustian pact of working all hours on work mostly for private equity clients for top of the market pay - is a very different proposition to the sorts of firms that focus on IP and Tech work.

Flatlined have you ever considered moving into a mid-sized UK firm?

Despite a pay cut you will still get paid very well, but will find your work-life balance much better, and you will likely get more responsibility for running deals. You might also get the chance to focus on an area of law you are actually interested in rather than just working 24 hours a day doing dogsbody work on a deal you don't care about for some US private equity house.

People on TSR mostly ask about US/MC firms - which is understandable - but there is a reason why US/MC firms have a huge turnover of 2/3 PQE associates, and why that turnover is much higher than for other UK firms ...
Last edited by jacketpotato; 10 months ago
0
reply
winterscoming
Badges: 19
Rep:
?
#7
Report 10 months ago
#7
Sorry I don't know the legal field at all, but have you considered a move into something like Techology Consulting or Business Analysis? Do you think you would enjoy being more involved in the Discovery/Inception and Elaboration stages of a software project rather than Construction or Maintenance?
0
reply
yojimbo_beta
Badges: 7
Rep:
?
#8
Report Thread starter 10 months ago
#8
Thank you all for your helpful responses. Let me respond to them in turn:

@flatlined:

I'm very glad you replied: I'd seen your posts on a few other threads, and was eager to understand why you seemed so unhappy with your own law career. It sounds like MC/US firms are definitely not the place for anyone who values their work-life balance, or wants highly engaging work.

Would you say that smaller shops - e.g. mid-sized or boutique firms - tend to offer a better deal? I appreciate this may be outside your direct expertise.

It's interesting that you know lawyers who've moved to tech. Do you know exactly what they're doing now, and how interesting they're finding it?

(I ask because: if they find their new work as challenging or more so than their last career, that is fairly direct evidence that the work law offers may not really be a 'bump' over my own!)

Hope you find a way out of your situation before your mortgage is paid off (assuming this is what's trapping you - you aren't merely a masochist). There are few things worse than golden handcuffs.

@HoldThisL:

It was a fairly convoluted process of graduate -> watch everything go under in national recession -> be unemployed -> work as a marginally competent recruitment consultant -> go work for one of their software suppliers, writing manuals and doing business analysis -> join a major UK website as a UX designer -> realise I can't design for toffee -> do development on the sly -> work evenings and weekends doing bugfixes -> somehow convince my manager to let me do it full time.

It helped that I had a longstanding interest in the field; had the ear of a sympathetic application architect; benefitted from several mentors and was miraculously hired as a designer despite my utter incompetence in anything remotely design-related.

@JohanGRK:

Open days seem like the natural next step - thank you.

@jacketpotato:

Firstly, I really appreciate the in-depth reply.

1. It sounds as though the early years of law are mostly about honing those proofing skills and going through everything with a fine tooth comb.

This doesn't necessarily put me off: in some ways tech is quite similar. There is no such thing as a piece of software that half works or even 99% works - a single mistake in tens of thousands of lines of logic can bring the whole edifice crumbling down! But it sounds like law trainees take this to the next degree, and it's important to go in knowing that.

I think work like proof reading is bearable so long as I know more interesting work will come at the end of it.

2. This seems fair. Again, I think I'm willing to negotiate on autonomy so long as I know I'm being trained effectively, and can still have impact within a team.

3. It sounds like contentious IP practice might be more up my street. Thanks again for the detailed insights - and also confirming that people in law do in fact sometimes enjoy their jobs!

(As an aside - if you're interested in technology, your best bet is to just do some hobbyist programming in your free time. Programming generally relies only a little on mathematics and logic, and mostly on patience, rigour and consistent attention to detail - so it sounds like you would excel)

@winterscoming

Yes, I have done some BA / product management work in the past, and rather enjoyed it. It's definitely on my radar and might be a good way to make my work more commercially-focused whilst still leveraging my technical knowledge.
Last edited by yojimbo_beta; 10 months ago
1
reply
flatlined
Badges: 11
Rep:
?
#9
Report 10 months ago
#9
OP, I don't have any experience with smaller firms. I think boutiques might pay about 30k for a trainee. Maybe 45-50 on qualification. You should know by now that junior work is junior and you won't be doing more interesting things for years. Giving up a well paid job in your 30s for a law firm - particularly a boutique which might not even pay the 30k for your GDL and LPC along with living expenses - is silly - anyone who really tells you otherwise is an outlier of normal functioning society.

No one with a brain who understands the financials involved and the work involved is going to say that is a good decision. Equally no one going to cut down some 21 yo kid who has a CC TC and tell him to pack it in and not give up stacking shelves and Tescos until he finds something better.

The only thing which suits your sort of background is perhaps the IP bar i.e. becoming a barrister. You have the right sort of profile, plenty of career changers do it. You can't become a patent attorney at somewhere like Kilburn & Strode because you don't have a sciences/engineering background.

Personally I tolerate my job and I'm paying off my mortgage and getting more experience before I move again. It isn't all doom and gloom - there are jobs in-house and in smaller firms which would pay OK and be a lot more stress free, and that's where I will end up - like 95% of everyone in big city firms. I don't complain day to day unlike my colleagues. It sucks enough without having to verbalise everything. But I have to be honest to people on this online forum looking for career advice and those who want to ignore it. The law firm marketing material is misleading at best.
1
reply
jacketpotato
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#10
Report 10 months ago
#10
flatlined, what you need to remember is that the associate experience at a so called "top" US firm is very different to the associate experience even at an MC firm. Which again is different to the experience you get at a major international firm, which is different to the experience at a large national firm, which is different to the experience at a boutique, which is different to the experience at regional or local firms.

There is a whole world of law firms out there which sit between "US PE firms with 2000 billable hour targets" and "small boutique firm doing sports law". Somewhere like Taylor Wessing for example sits in the middle and would offer interesting international work - they have offices in 33 countries - and would pay something like £45k for trainees and £70k on qualification, with a tier 1 ranking for mid-market M&A and tier 2 ranking for mid-market private equity in the legal 500, but with nothing like the drudgery and long hours that you experience. I believe their target hours are 1600 and people will be getting paid a bonus without necessarily achieving that.

People like the Op will find they get have scope to get much more responsibility at a junior level at a mid-market firm than at a US or MC firm. Of course the Op's experience won't be relevant to the work the "top" US firms do anyway, since they tend to focus on a limited range of practice areas (e.g. private equity and international arbitration) without substantial IP departments. One of the main reasons why the US and MC firms are the most profitable is because they have a very high number of associates to each partner. UK firms tend to have a much lower partner-associate leverage.

In my current shop I see a lot more trainees and NQs in their thirties than in my previous MC shop - which I guess is because the "work all night and all hours" mentality is fine when you are single and in your early twenties, but less feasible as people get older and especially for people starting families. I do vouch that the trainees/NQs with more experience can get markedly more responsibility than trainees at the previous shop (though admittedly the £-value of the matters they work on can be a bit smaller, but is still very substantial).
Last edited by jacketpotato; 10 months ago
0
reply
yojimbo_beta
Badges: 7
Rep:
?
#11
Report Thread starter 10 months ago
#11
@flatlined - thank you for your candour. After much thought I've come to feel that being a solicitor wouldn't really be enough of a bump over my current career to justify the investment of time and (especially) money.

Being a programmer is far from perfect. At its worse it can be frustrating, academic and tedious. The industry is motivated by pointless trends and has a childish, frat house culture. But when things align just right it can be enormously stimulating, creative and highly individualistic. I suspect I may get more from the right technical career than work as a commercial solicitor.

I did think about the bar. It sounds wonderful, but the prospects for securing pupillage are not terribly encouraging. I'm not sure how anyone could square spending £18k on a BPTC for such poor odds unless they had serious support from elsewhere.

Perhaps I'll revisit this decision in a few years' time, when I'll have exhausted more options in technology and the SQE reforms will have taken effect. For the moment though I feel reasonably content to leave law on the back burner.
0
reply
jacketpotato
Badges: 20
Rep:
?
#12
Report 10 months ago
#12
Thank you for letting us know.

(Original post by yojimbo_beta)
Being a programmer is far from perfect. At its worse it can be frustrating, academic and tedious. The industry is motivated by pointless trends and has a childish, frat house culture. But when things align just right it can be enormously stimulating, creative and highly individualistic.
You could say exactly the same thing about the legal profession !!!

I suppose no job is perfect. It sounds like you and me may both be in the same boat ...
0
reply
yojimbo_beta
Badges: 7
Rep:
?
#13
Report Thread starter 10 months ago
#13
I have to admit, it isn't an easy decision. I think I will give it a year: if, by January 2020, I'm still pining for law, then I will commit to it. In the meanwhile I will try and find less expensive ways to scratch those itches.

I suppose, in an absolutely ideal world, what I would really like is a job that involves research, reading, writing, and thinking critically - evaluating sources and judging arguments - but which pays enough to support a secure lifestyle. But what that job is, and how to get into it, remains a mystery.

Perhaps I should try and fulfil those needs outside of work? I used to do a fair bit of writing: in fact a few of my pieces would get five, six figure reader counts now and again. Maybe my best bet is to plough on with technology and leave the "thinking critically" for those outside projects instead, leveraging my writing and saving some energy for stimulating hobbies.
Last edited by yojimbo_beta; 10 months ago
0
reply
jackcade
Badges: 8
Rep:
?
#14
Report 10 months ago
#14
(Original post by yojimbo_beta)
I suppose, in an absolutely ideal world, what I would really like is a job that involves research, reading, writing, and thinking critically - evaluating sources and judging arguments - but which pays enough to support a secure lifestyle. But what that job is, and how to get into it, remains a mystery.
The academic neverland in which you are high enough up the food chain to have a contract and salary worth taxing, but not so high up the food chain that you spend all your time writing grant proposals and managing advising junior employees scholars.

There exist other possibilities.

One is to lower your salary expectations, get a part time job with definite hours, and dedicate your ample free time to scholarship. If you optimise your lifestyle you can live not bad for this, as a single person at least, but an understanding family could be hard to find.

Another is to attack the problem from the other end and marry rich. An oldie but still a goodie.

Finally you could try to save as much money in as short a time as possible to retire early. There is a large internet community that can advise you on this.

Most fields of work ultimately function in much the same way. The coolest project has a lot of grunt work to be done. Even when you are not doing grunt work per se, interesting and exciting work is usually just the capstone on a pile of grunt work necessary to make it function. And if you are good at something, people will want you to supervise less competent people doing it rather than doing it yourself. Ways out of this bind are situational and individual rather than formulaic and systemic.
1
reply
HedgePig
Badges: 8
Rep:
?
#15
Report 10 months ago
#15
yojimbo, have you considered contacting lawyers and inviting them to chat for 30 minutes over a cup of coffee as a means of finding out more about the field? While many will be too busy, I suspect you’ll find a few who’d be happy to spend the time- people like to talk about themselves. I’m in a completely different field but have had this happen to me on several occasions.
1
reply
yojimbo_beta
Badges: 7
Rep:
?
#16
Report Thread starter 4 weeks ago
#16
I thought I'd bump this thread with an update.

Back in January I decided I'd put law on the back burner for a while and revisit the decision at the end of the year.

I'm so glad I did. I've moved into a wonderful new job as a software engineer working on some very innovative and stimulating projects. It's a sidestep from my previous specialism, and whilst it has been quite challenging, it's been exactly the refresher I needed.

I don't think I'd have enjoyed law, really. I think I would have had a fantastic time *studying* it and a lot of fun mooting, but the practice itself would make for a worse quality of life than I can enjoy in technology.

That's not to say my life is exactly cushy right now: I'm working in a startup with some quite long hours, and serious pressure to perform. But I also get autonomy and responsibility to make things happen.

I'm not sure of there are any useful lessons to extract from this. I could say something along the lines of urging anyone dissatisfied with their career to try swapping its parameters around - but clearly there are some jobs that aren't worthwhile. I suppose the next best thing is to simply prefer trying new things to ruminating. I must have spent months thinking about law. I do wonder why I didn't spend that time doing what I'm up to now, instead.
1
reply
X

Quick Reply

Attached files
Write a reply...
Reply
new posts
Back
to top
Latest
My Feed

See more of what you like on
The Student Room

You can personalise what you see on TSR. Tell us a little about yourself to get started.

Personalise

What offers have you received from universities?

Unconditional (53)
21.29%
Unconditional if firmed (20)
8.03%
Unconditional if insurance (2)
0.8%
Both unconditional and unconditional if firm/insurance (6)
2.41%
No unconditional offers (168)
67.47%

Watched Threads

View All