Interview: 'It pays to take the plunge'

Julia Stephenson, 33, will start a training contract at Charles Russell in 2009
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The Independent Online

My journey into law has been less than conventional to say the least! At the age of 30 I decided to change careers, having spent the first eight years of my working life in the fast-paced and somewhat glamorous world of the music industry.

I happened upon this first career quite by accident. I graduated from the University of Oxford with a 2.1 in philosophy, politics and economics. Upon graduation I did not want to follow a typical Oxford career such as law or accountancy, as I really didn't feel that it was for me. I stayed in Oxford for a year running a student organisation. During this time my sister suggested that I try to get a job in the music industry, as I had an insatiable appetite for music.

I managed to find a work experience placement in the press department of a major record label, and within a month of the placement I secured a permanent position there. I soon worked my way up in the press department, before being headhunted by another label to work as an international promotions manager.

After a couple of years I started to feel that something was missing from my career. I realised that although fun and definitely varied, I wasn't really challenged intellectually in my job, which was something that I wanted. I also found that I was interested by the wider questions facing the music industry at that time, and soon realised that I wanted to pursue law and started seriously considering a change of careers.

It took me two years to actually take the plunge. When I turned 30 I decided to apply for the graduate diploma in law (GDL). The thought of going back to study was incredibly daunting, as I had not studied since leaving university.

I'd bought a house, which meant I was tied to certain financial responsibilities; I was a world away from the carefree student days I had experienced as an 18-year-old! My only real option was to consider studying part-time, but I was incredibly daunted by the idea of juggling a full-time job with a part-time course in law and was very aware that it would take some serious discipline and sacrifice. Another concern at the back of my mind was my training contract: at 30 I felt almost too old to be starting again, and considered the fact that I would be competing against applicants fresh out of university.

How would firms react to me? I was unconventional in every way - black, female and older than the average applicant - so how many hurdles would I have to jump?

I accepted a place to do the GDL part-time at the College of Law, and began in 2005. I won't pretend it was easy - I had to give up my social life and buckle down to some very hard work. But it was also two of the most rewarding years I've experienced, where I achieved more than I thought would be possible while holding down a very demanding job. Halfway through my course I put in a few carefully selected applications for my training contract. I had decided long before applying that I didn't want to work for a magic circle firm. Charles Russell fitted the bill and I was delighted when I was offered a training contract, which I happily accepted. I start in 2009, and I'm already greatly looking forward to the challenges my new career will offer me.

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