It's time for another Interview, this time I talk to Tim Hampson about his route from PR into Law and how he made the move - a really interesting read that I hope you will enjoy….
THE PARTICULARS: Tim Hampson started his career working in the PR Industry where he was successfully carving out a path for himself in this field. However something just wasn’t quite right and feeling unsettled in 2007 he made the decision to retrain as a Solicitor. He is now fully qualified and works for a Law Firm in London where he specialises in Consumer Law, Commercial Litigation and Professional Negligence.
THE SCOOP: I wanted to interview Tim to find out what led him to make quite a substantial change in careers, how he decided to take that risk and how he did it! Plus what challenges he may have faced along the way and how he solved these. So let’s begin …
Q: What is your educational background?
I did quite well at school and gained 9 GCSE’s, 4 A-Levels and then took a degree in Economics and Business Management at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. I graduated in 2000 with a 2:2.
Q: Can you talk us through your early career path prior to retraining as a Solicitor?
Throughout my degree I had come to realise that I didn't want to work in a financial or business management role. After graduating I wanted to pursue a passion for writing and applied for numerous journalism roles. At the same time, in order to gain more experience of creative writing, I also applied for work experience at a London PR firm. I was invited to an interview and it wasn’t like any interview I had ever had before, one question that sticks in my mind is I was asked what I thought was cool! Not really knowing how to answer, I said something along the lines of "I saw Fight Club the other day and thought Brad Pitt was pretty cool in that" - it must have worked as I was offered the role the next week. Once I had my foot in the door it was easier to prove my worth and I found that I really enjoyed the work. I worked my way up from my work experience role to Account Director in a career that spanned around six and a half years. Working mainly for agencies I specialised in consumer PR. I found the work exciting and fulfilling at first but reached a crossroads where (I felt) I had to commit to working in the industry for another 2-3 years to move to the next level.
Q: Why did you decide to make the change from PR to Law?
In the last two years of my time in PR I found myself making a number of vertical moves from agency to agency. I never really felt settled at any particular place and began to question why that was. I remember having an epiphany after returning home from a skiing holiday around February 2007. I had the usual post-holiday blues but there was something else nagging at me. Rather than simply not wanting to go back to work after a holiday, I became acutely aware of the fact that I didn't want to go back to working in PR full stop. I had come into contact with legal departments when creating campaigns and I was impressed at the way the lawyers seemed to grasp the concepts and the issues quickly then deliver useful advice. I thought that I would like to challenge myself to work in a completely different field to that which I was used to.
Q: What kind of retraining did you have to do and how easy/difficult was it?
It was a bit of a shock to the system! I had to go back to studying and after working for nearly seven years in a very creative and eccentric industry - it was a wake up call to have to put the hours in again reading and learning a completely different subject. It helped that I had experience from the working world though as I found I was able to plan my time a lot better than when I was at university the first time around. I took a conversion course at the College of Law called the Graduate Diploma in Law. During the first term we had to decide whether to head down the barrister or solicitor route, despite originally thinking I would be more suited to the role of barrister, I decided to aim to qualify as a solicitor as I felt I had more transferrable skills to that area of the profession. I completed the Legal Practice Course and left the College in the summer of 2009. The next task was to find an elusive training contract. Again, I sent out numerous applications and eventually accepted a paralegal role at a firm that was local to me at the time. Once I was working there I progressed and was eventually offered a trainee solicitor role. I qualified and was admitted to the Roll of solicitors in December 2011.
Q: Could you explain in a little more detail what your new role as a Solicitor entails?
Put simply, I provide advice on the law and allow people to access their right to justice through the Courts. Day to day the job is extremely varied. I might be appearing in court as an advocate, drafting a pleading to enable a client to bring or defend a claim, or providing advice either in person or in writing. I enjoy the fact that the law is constantly evolving and spend a lot of time keeping up with case law and changes in legislation.
Q: Has it been worth the risk – has it been what you initially expected?
Absolutely. I am now in a very privileged position as one of only approximately 130,000 practising solicitors in England and Wales and although the profession faces challenges in the coming years I believe that I will have a career working in the law for the next 25-30 years.
SCALING THE PEAKS:
Q: What have been your personal professional highlights?
- Qualifying and seeing my name on my first practising certificate
- Negotiating a settlement for an elderly couple who had lost the bulk of their life savings as a result of poor financial advice, they were compensated and could therefore afford to enjoy their retirement
- Winning my first trial and hearing the Judge give judgment in favour of my client
Q: What is it that you love about what you do?
The work is challenging and requires independent thought and an understanding of complicated concepts. I enjoy being able to interpret the subject matter in order to help people understand and enforce their rights.
HITTING THE ROCKS:
Q: Retraining and making such a big change must have had its challenges? Can you talk us through any of these and how you handled them?
The biggest challenge was overcoming personal doubts that all the retraining and hard work might not actually lead to anything substantial. The law is a very competitive area and the competition for training contracts especially is extremely fierce. I was concerned that I was spending a lot of time (and money) and may not have a job at the end of it. In order to overcome these doubts I invested a lot of time in researching the other options available to me if I didn't manage to find a training contract, such as qualifying whilst working in the legal field. Knowing that I had a plan B and even plan C was comforting but I always knew I wanted to aim for qualification.
Q: What have the challenges and harder times taught you for the future?
Not to give up and to know that if you are dedicated and professional you will get there in the end.
Q: Do you have any tips, secrets or anecdotes you are happy to share with us relating to your chosen career?
- Gain as much experience in the legal market as you can, it all looks good on your CV when you are applying for roles
- Think about how your skills from previous roles could transfer, for example, I used my previous experience of writing press releases as an example of putting across a complicated message in a succinct and easily understandable format
- Remember that lawyers must have people skills too! It is important to know and understand the law but you also have to be able to relate to a vast variety of clients who all have concerns which are very important them. You have to be able to emphasise with people whilst remaining professional
Q: I imagine the work you do can be quite stressful - how do you deal with stress and stay on top of your game? On the flipside what are the benefits and what do you enjoy most?
My work can be quite stressful although the particularly busy times tend to come in peaks and troughs. I can be extremely busy with several court deadlines to meet whilst having to deal with an urgent matter one week and then have a relatively quieter week the next. I find that trying to compartmentalise larger tasks into easily achievable smaller ones helps as I feel that I am constantly making progress and not stalling. I'm getting better at starting the larger tasks I know I have to do in my less busy times in order to avoid work getting too much, that has really helped as I used to be a great procrastinator. I'm also very lucky in that I have always been able to switch off and not think too much about work once I leave the office for the day. Having a busy life outside of work helps and my two young children don’t allow me too much time to dwell on office problems when I'm not there.
Q: What are your tips for staying motivated especially when deciding to take a risk and make a big career change?
Never forget why you are making the change and what your end goal is, bear in mind that you are making that change for a reason.
Q: As part of each interview in this series I would like to delve a little further into the individual and their personal relationship with their chosen profession. Could you give us the lowdown on one relevant person/item that has helped to inspire you?
Sadly whilst I was in the middle of my training contract my dad passed away. He was always 100% supportive of my decision to re-train and I like to think he would be proud of me qualifying. It inspires me to remember that.
DIRECTION AND ADVICE:
Q: What has been the most important thing you have learned in your career to date?
To keep questioning my understanding, in order to continue to learn and to share problems and to seek advice from senior colleagues - a problem shared is 10 times easier to solve than a problem you try to deal with on your own.
Q: What have been the biggest surprises?
That opponents on the other side have not always been ruthless and completely out to get you, it is quite common in litigation to act for clients against the same firms and individuals on a number of cases so you actually develop quite cordial relationships with solicitors from rival firms.
Q: If you could talk to yourself back when you were taking those first initial steps toward a new career what advice would you offer – would you encourage others to do the same?
I have been relatively lucky as my plans have mostly come to fruition but I would reiterate my advice from before, always remember why you are making the change if you are ever feeling demotivated. I would always encourage others to do the same if they are committed to making that change.
Q: Are there any particularly useful resources out there for those interested in doing what you have done?
The Law Society provide useful help and guidance on becoming a solicitor and there is a section on their website that I would urge anyone who is interested in re-training to read, it includes advice specifically for career-changers and highlights the benefits of coming to the law after a career in a different field.
THE FINAL SWEEP: Thank you so much to Tim for such professional and inspiring advice. Changing your career later in life, especially after dedicating your time to a different route entirely, can be an incredibly challenging yet ultimately highly rewarding risk to take, as I believe Tim demonstrates so well through his own experience. As he has shared here - be professional, committed and remember why you have made the decision to make a change. If you put your mind to it and work hard you never know what new heights of achievement you may be able to reach.
Have a wonderful weekend everyone and next week I will be back with lots of exciting new topics and bits and bobs to share with you!