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Interview with Michael D. Gilks: Switching to a Legal Career

Switching careers, especially to a career in the legal sector, can seem daunting. But, as mentioned in a previous article, there are many ways to convert your non-law degree to a law degree, such as law conversion courses. Another alternative is to become a mature student and study for a 3-year law degree. For more insight, take a look at this interview with second year mature student Mike, who’s currently studying law at UCL.

Q: What prompted your career switch? Why did you choose to go into law?

A: I had already accomplished things I had wanted to do in previous industries, which included operations and internal communications for multinational companies. There wasn’t much more to do in these industries anymore. Later, I got into wine and found amazing mentors. I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to learn more about wine in a professional environment, and later ended up doing a role in Amsterdam. However, hospitality and service jobs were hit especially hard in the pandemic, as everything closed down, and it gave me time to reflect on what I really wanted to do for the long term. Since I’d been working full-time for a couple years, I had saved enough money to go back to full time education.

I ended up choosing to go into law because I was interested in working for multinational companies. I want to see the ways they interact with one another, with other people, and with suppliers.

Q: What transferable skills did you learn that are applicable to a legal degree/career?

A: In internal communications, PR, and hospitality, something that’s proved to be difficult is breaking down complex things for people to understand. So one of the skills I learnt was how to articulate abstract and complex ideas in a simple and digestible way for a layman. Law, in its essence, is a client-based business and it’s important to understand a client’s needs and to connect with the client meaningfully to understand their needs. Another skill I’ve learnt is problem-solving. In all my previous roles, I encountered problems but I have been able to overcome these difficulties.

Q: What area of law are you looking to specialise in, and why?

A: I am looking to specialize in commercial law; in fact, I already have a training contract with the American law firm Covington. Covington is my top choice because I’ve always held a big interest in the pharmaceutical industry and find it to be a very tangible industry, in contrast with, say, banking, investment, and fintech. So I am really interested in transactions specific to the life sciences industry, and I am particularly fascinated with licensing agreements. For example, big pharmaceutical companies will license rights with a university professor, and it ends up being beneficial to both parties.

Q: Have you encountered any difficulties adapting to a law degree?

A: It was quite a big adjustment to get back to full time studying after many years away. Law is also quite an individual subject, in that you need to do a lot of independent reading with a textbook and law cases. I find it a big change from the social industries I was engaged in previously. As a mature student, I also had to make big adjustments to my lifestyle. When I was working a full time job, I had a lot of freedom in doing everything I wanted to do, whereas as a student, I’m much more restricted.

Q: What advice would you give to others looking to switch to a legal career?

A: Know that it is never too late to go into law. It’s useful to get into the legal industry at an early age, but I also think that law is a subject that is very approachable for people with more life experiences and perspectives. You get to examine relationships between different people. My advice would be to just go for it and know what you’re getting into, but don’t be scared that there’s nothing for you career wise because law is a very diverse and open industry.

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