Pensions lawyer / photographer returns to the City
Every so often we speak to someone who has left law, done something else and then returned to it. Alex Harrison-Cripps left on qualification and has worked as a photographer for the last 18 months. She’s just rejoined the pensions department of the firm where she trained and is looking forward to continuing her legal career there. We spoke to her about why she’s gone back to law.
mtl: Tell us about life up until qualification.
Alex: I have always wanted to be a lawyer, though it took me a while to do the conversion as I worried that I wasn’t academic enough. After my LPC, I worked in the Barcelona office of PWC Legal for six months, before returning to the London office where I did my training contract.
While I was a trainee, I had a bike accident which resulted in needing six months off work. I had to go back to work on reduced hours which was particularly difficult when everyone else had to work long hours. I went back to the pensions team, where I had a very supportive, flexible boss and spent a year there. Other than that I worked in IP and employment.
In 2009 when I qualified, there were no jobs available other than in the corporate, immigration and litigation teams, none of which I had worked in and I wasn’t offered a role.
mtl: So what did you do instead, given that it was the middle of a recession?
Alex: I set up my own photography business. This wasn’t entirely random as after university I lived in Whistler for a year where I worked as a portrait photographer within a team of thirty. I’d carried on with photography when I returned to the UK and did advertising for a while before doing the law conversion.
Portrait photography, Whistler
Advertising, photography, applying
for training contract
GDL and LPC, Guildford College of Law
PWC Legal, Barcelona
Training contract, PWC Legal
Photography, tutoring and looking for
a legal job
Pensions assistant, PWC Legal
To get the business going, I built my own website and did a couple of weddings for free and then, with the help of my previous marketing experience, began to receive enquiries for paid jobs. I tested different ways of advertising and found that face-to-face time was the most successful for me and that paper advertising was a waste of money.
I also worked as a law tutor in the City to supplement my income from photography. It was well-paid, varied and interesting. I taught the business and commercial course to LPC students who needed additional help on top of the course. The sessions involved a lot of preparation and the income wasn’t guaranteed, but it balanced really well with the photography. I was offered a year-long part-time contract but preferred to work on a freelance basis. I loved being able to choose what to do and when to work.
mtl: Why have you gone back to law, how did you get back in and what are you looking forward to?
Alex: As well as working as a photographer and tutoring for the last 18 months, I’ve also been constantly looking for a legal job. However I didn’t get any of the jobs that I applied for, no matter whether I went through a recruitment agency or applied to firms directly.
I’d stayed in regular touch with in the head of the pensions department at PWC Legal though, and in November 2010 he and a colleague invited me back for an interview to be an assistant in their team. I was offered the job and am excited and glad to be going back at the end of December 2010. I have a good working relationship with my boss and really enjoy pensions law as the work is varied (as we work with accountants to develop products rather than just drafting and sending out documents) and covers a range of topics across many different teams within the firm.
I’m looking forward to the intellectual challenge, to working with clever people who push you, the money, the sense of community and to having colleagues again. I’ve missed office banter, porridge in the morning and cycling into work! I’m sure it will be a bit of a shock to the system after setting my own hours and working for myself but I’m excited about building up a legal career. I think I’ll also appreciate it more now, as I’ve worked so hard in the last year with so little financial reward in comparison to law.
I spent so long wanting to be and training to be a lawyer that I’m glad I’m able to use it now rather than throwing it all away. Similarly though, I’ve learnt a lot in my time out of law and the experience won’t be wasted. I have several weddings booked for next year and will continue to build my portfolio on weekends (through Time for Print) as a hobby.
My main advice from my experience is that keeping in touch, meeting people in person and personal recommendations are very important… The people who have helped me in the last 12 months are the ones I have been in touch with face to face.
mtl: Thank you Alex and good luck with your legal career.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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