Sharpe Pritchard, Solicitor, Public Sector, London
Career Change Story
I am now an Associate Director at professional services PR consultancy Spada, who specialise in the legal sector. I think I knew even before I qualified as a lawyer that I did not want to spend the rest of my career in the legal profession - at least practising as a lawyer anyway. So I guess for a period of about 2- 2.5 years prior to qualifying, and for one year post qualifying I was mentally preparing to make the move, but I thought that it would be a good idea to get a couple of years post qualification experience under my belt, basically to earn some money but also to give me a good grounding if I ever wished to come back into the law. So I was mentally preparing for about two to three years and then I literally took the decision - I was working up to it for a few weeks and then said to myself "okay, I am going to hand in my notice now." I then had three months to work out what I was going to do. Initially it involved a bit of travel. I went to South East Asia for a few months, and upon returning decided to take a City Lit course in freelance journalism - writing has always been a genuine passion for me. Whilst I was doing that course on freelance journalism I got offered a job as a legal reporter at a company called Legalease which publishes Legal Business, In House Lawyer and The Legal 500. I had always thought that I would like to work for the legal directories, so it was a case of "right place, right time". It was the best thing I ever did - I loved the job and the company.
After 3 years in legal journalism, which were the most fun 3 years I've ever had at work, I realised that journalism was not a long term career option for me. Even if I'd have achieved the ultimate and ended up working at a national newspaper, the job of a reporter is pretty one-dimensional and doing that day-in day-out for 30 years was never going to work for me. I had also become fascinated with the world of PR - shaping the news agenda rather than reacting to it just seemed much more substantial to me.
Throughout my time as a legal reporter I had always worked with Spada on quite a regular basis - there are really only 2 or 3 agencies which specialise in this niche and from what I could see Spada was always the best. So I applied, and thankfully got the job!
Career Change Reflections
The skills one acquires as a lawyer, ie. written and verbal communication, professionalism, client-handling and the ability to assimilate complex pieces of information, are all highly relevant to PR. The big difference between the two jobs is that in PR your effectiveness is judged on a daily basis - we have to react on behalf of our clients to an extremely fast-paced news cycle. If we don't get results, our competitors will, and that is a daily challenge. I think I've got the best of both worlds: I'm constantly exposed to the academic discipline of interpreting the law, but in a much more creative way. How many lawyers can say that they know what is going to be on the front page of the FT the next day? Ok, that doesn't happen every day in PR (and I'm sure there are loads of other things that they find more exciting in law), but it does happen and when it does it is a terrific feeling.
Trying to deliver on the very high expectations of demanding clients is a constant challenge. When pitching to prospective clients you have to articulate why they need your services, and then when you win the work you have to persuade them that what you are doing for them makes a real contribution to the development of their businesses - proving that causal link is I suppose the holy grail of PR.
I guess the other challenge is keeping a number of different balls in the air at the same time - clients have to know that they have your full attention at all times.
As I have moved up the agency to Associate Director, it is increasingly important for me to have the time to actually think about how we work for our clients on a strategic level. It's very easy to get sucked into day-to-day delivery of various pieces of work, and of course it's important to always be on the front line, but extracting yourself from operational activity and actually thinking about where to go next is what separates good PRs from really good PRs.
I would advise anyone wishing to break into Legal PR to actually read the main daily newspapers and see what lawyers are talking about every day. You would be surprised at how much lawyers can contribute to not only legal stories, but political and business ones as well. If that excites anyone interested in legal PR, they'll find a way to get there.
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