Case study: mature law student - Mark Pentecost
Before starting on a law career, Mark worked in cancer research, as a professional actor and in insurance. A redundancy led him to take on work for a solicitor friend and after realising how much he enjoyed it and just how suitable his skill set was, he decided to become a solicitor.
Mark acquired his Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) through distance learning and did the Legal Practice Course (LPC) part time, both separately over two years. He did his training contract with general practice high street firm Sanderson McCreath & Edney Solicitors. He qualified as a solicitor in January 2014, and became a director in 2018.
Why did you decide to become a solicitor?
I was made redundant from a management role that I had been doing for some years in insurance after being a personal injury senior claims handler / adjuster. A solicitor friend started putting some work my way, such as proofing witnesses and clerking at court, and I really enjoyed it. What I realised early on was that the work of a solicitor uses all the skills I have developed over the years and it is a role that involves plenty of variety.
What did you do before becoming a solicitor?
I worked in cancer research, went to university to study drama and theology, worked as a professional actor for 10 years and then worked in insurance as a claims handler, senior technical manager, audit manager and ops manager.
What was your route to qualification?
Common Professional Examination by distance learning at Northumbria University (2007-2009), LPC part time, also at Northumbria (2009- 2011) and training contract at Sanderson McCreath & Edney Solicitors (January 2012 to January 2014).
Did you need to refresh your study skills (such as essay writing) and if so, how did you do it?
Yes I did! Essay writing in a legal context is totally different to critical analysis in the arts. I had to start from scratch and to help I took advantage of tutorials with lecturers to go over practice answers.
How did you go about funding your studies?
Self-funded, largely from the settlement I received from my previous employer.
Did you find any particular challenges with being a mature student?
Juggling full-time work and a family life was a challenge!
How did you know which area of the law you wanted to work in?
I didn’t really. I quite deliberately kept an open mind because you don’t know if you’ll enjoy an area of law until you try it. Luckily, I’m in a general practice high street firm so I haven’t needed to specialise just yet.
Do you feel you faced any prejudice due to your age from prospective employers? If so, how would you advise that this can best be overcome?
Yes I did, although it was never overt. It was frustrating not being shortlisted for training contracts when younger applicants were; and when I knew I was the stronger applicant in terms of academics and legal work experience. All you can do is try not to become despondent, and make as much of the skills you have acquired and how they would be useful to your potential employer as possible.
At what stage of your route to qualification did you secure your training contract? How many applications did you submit?
Five months after completing the LPC and after applying to about 100.
What advice would you give to anyone considering embarking on a career as a solicitor as a mature student?
Try not to become disheartened and cynical. Keep a positive attitude. Do as much research into the legal market as you can and network as much as possible.
Think about how to effectively market your experience and skills based on your research in the legal market and have clear goals and objectives. Be open to advice and act on it.
Get involved in the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD), attend their free events and use their online resources. Make contacts in your local JLD.
Remember, there are firms out there who will value your skills and experience. As for the others, chances are you wouldn’t really enjoy working there anyway.