Lawyer Career Changer Profile

Ashley Cordwell

Art Gallery Owner


Interview with former CMS lawyer, Ashley Cordwell.

Can you briefly summarise your career as a lawyer.

My career as a lawyer was rather short, to be honest!

I began my training contract with CMS in the Corporate department in 2014.

From there I moved to the Bristol office working in the Real Estate department on secondment for my second seat and returned to London for my final two seats in the Planning Department and Construction Disputes.

By the time it came to job applications stage in my final seat I was resolved to pursue my plan of starting my own business.

What are you now doing to earn a living?

I set up and run an art gallery in West Sussex and online called Forest Gallery.

My parents originally set up the business in the ‘80s following a change of direction from their respective professions as a teacher and architect.

The gallery was previously located in Surrey before my parents retired in 2012 and it has been very fulfilling to revive the family business and start-up this new venture carrying the same established name and character of their gallery.

My gallery offers a unique blend of quality artwork, primarily original paintings, in a wide variety of styles sourced from all over the world.

We have seen some of our artists grow in reputation over 30 years and it is fantastic to still be showing and selling their work alongside new artists which I have begun representing.

The industry has evolved a great deal even in the short space of five years between when Forest Gallery was last operating and one of the most difficult challenges has been adapting to the current art market and practise of buying art online which is becoming increasingly popular.

What made you decide to change from practising as a lawyer?

Good question.

It isn’t something I had planned on doing (I could have saved myself a great deal of time and trouble qualifying as a lawyer!).

I had thought that practising as a lawyer would be more fulfilling than it was but found that the entrepreneur in me was not satisfied by being tied to a desk, billing my time and clocking out at the end of the day.

Having made the move to being self-employed I have found, in retrospect, that the job did not offer me enough variety and freedom.

How did you decide on your current line of work?

Having grown up surrounded by my parent’s art gallery I accumulated a great deal of knowledge over the years, not only about art but running the business from bookkeeping, selecting artwork and managing artists and clients alike.

I worked in the gallery on both a full time and part-time basis over a period of around 6 years and due to my mother’s ill-health at the time took over a large proportion of the running of the business up until it was sold in 2012.

What was the most difficult part of your career change?

It’s very hard to pinpoint one part of the career change as being the most difficult.

Aspects that immediately come to mind are financial insecurity and the stress!

I invested my savings into setting up the new gallery and it was a good deal of time before I was able to recoup this.

There is a lot to be said for a monthly paycheck and it is something that I continue to miss to this day.

From personal experience running my own business has become a huge part of my life and so it is very difficult to ‘switch-off’.

I hope that in the future the business affords me some more balance in this respect but it can be very all-consuming.

How has your life changed now that you’ve changed career?

Many aspects of my life have changed since leaving the legal profession.

I moved out of London because the gallery is in a town called Petworth which, although commutable from London, is too far for my daily commute.

With the business being in retail I have to work most weekends but I do close the gallery on Mondays to compensate.

Although it might sound clichéd I feel that my work is very satisfying in comparison to working in the legal profession because of the freedom I have to implement new ideas and develop aspects of the business.

What do you miss and what don't you miss about being a lawyer?

I miss the camaraderie of office life and the departments I worked in as well as the colleagues and friends that I met along the way.

Working in retail there isn’t particularly a ‘working week’ since the weekends are usually the busiest for trade and so it is fair to say that I miss my weekends.

On the other hand, there is a great deal which I do not miss about being a lawyer but most likely these are aspects that most in the profession do not enjoy!

What advice would you give to any lawyers who are contemplating a career change?

If it’s something that has been in the back of your mind for some time but you are waiting for the perfect time to make the move I would say get on with it!

That perfect time never arises and it can be easy to overthink these things to the point of talking yourself out of it time and time again.

If I had known from the outset all the obstacles which I would meet along the way I don’t think I would ever have been able to make the move.

Once you do, expect a period of adaptation and times where you question your decision but hang on in there and good luck!

Find Out More

To find out more about Ashley and his art gallery visit