Richards Butler, now Reed Smith, Solicitor, London
|Charities, NGOs and not-for-profit|
Career Change Story
I oversee the executive management of international pro bono facilitators 'Advocates for International Development' (A4ID). I worked on a voluntary basis for A4ID whilst in private practice and took on more and more responsibility for the organisation through that role. Volunteering is the most common way to transition from the private to the charity sector.
I've always been attracted to using the law as a tool to achieve social development and support people. After having seen the reality of developing country poverty as a student, I wanted to use my skills and training to do something about it.
Career Change Reflections
A lot of people think a transition from private practice to the third sector is an easy one. It isn't. Charities bring with them different kinds of stress and pressures - where is the next round of funding going to come from, not having sufficient administrative support etc. In private practice it is taken for granted that budgets and support staff are an indispensible part of efficiency and good working practice.
In the charity sector salaries are obviously lower so if you are driven by material benefits it is not the place to be. In my new role, I have much more flexibility in my working day (though the hours are as long) and a lot more creativity in my work - something which is very important to me. As a junior lawyer in a big firm, this wasn't really available. What really drives me is that I am able to contribute to international development and poverty reduction.
Training as a lawyer provides fantastic preparation for a wide range of jobs and helps you to be able to think on your feet, problem solve - dealing with many different scenarios. My training contract was incredibly important in terms of drafting and communications discipline as well as being able to effectively juggle and manage all sorts of people on a daily basis.
If you are thinking of making a move into the third sector, I would recommend saving up to put yourself through 6-12 months of different types of voluntary work. Most charities depend on interns (volunteers who work within the office/on programmes) to support the delivery of their services. Many internships require a minimum of 3-6 months commitment. This is the only way to really get to know the realities of this sector and to see if it is the thing for you. If you are not sure, try some voluntary work around your existing job. Many charities offer roles of a couple of hours a week.
Charity work is always very rewarding, so if its a complete career change or something choose to do in your spare time, it's well worth the effort.