Excitement, fear and overstretch come with the prospect of extra study on top of the day job. How to cope? Eduardo Reyes canvasses for advice.
1 Tell work
‘Get your employer or law firm on board,’ is the advice of several people. The reasons are two-fold. One is they might contribute towards study or help in some way. Catriona Moore, who did a public policy MSc at London’s Birkbeck while working full-time, suggests: ‘Even if they can’t fund your studies, they might be able to offer a few study days so you don’t have to use up all your annual leave.’
Second, committing to something serious, in addition to your day job, is impressive and may get you some deserved respect. Colleagues may spot a benefit for the organisation that
you haven’t. The ICAEW, many of whose members take the demanding insolvency practitioner exams also sat by ‘turnaround’ solicitors, even suggests seeking out a study mentor at work. A spokesperson adds: ‘The skills assessed by the exams cannot be learned in the classroom alone; they must be practised in the workplace to develop your competence.’
2 Find a place
Gazette legal IT columnist Joanna Goodman obtained an MBA while working. ‘You need dedicated space at home to study – it doesn’t have to be a room,’ she says, ‘a desk is OK – so that you don’t have to move everything and you can quickly pick up where you left off.’ These days, some of your space should also be online: ‘You need to keep your files organised and saved in more than one place – get some cloud storage so you can pick up your work on multiple devices.’ Of course, that is also part of being organised. ‘Don’t get too far behind on assignments,’ Goodman points out. ‘It’s not like college, where you can get way behind and then have an essay crisis, because you also have to think about your job and family.’
3 Have a reason
Is the impetus a mid-life crisis, taking you back to an earlier love of medieval Romanian poetry? Or is the study something to enhance your legal career? Both are good reasons, and may determine when you start and when you curtail the extra commitment.
Wedlake Bell partner Suzanne Gill recalls her extra language lessons: ‘A bilingual partner referred a French retailer to the property team for their UK expansion, with the note that the client’s in-house legal team preferred to communicate in French. It turned out I was the only property lawyer with A-level French – which inexplicably hadn’t taught me the words for “shop front” “commercial lease” or “upwards-only rent review”.’
Gill bought a business French/English dictionary, ‘which helped a bit but not enough’, and then enrolled in evening classes. ‘These were great. It turned out I could remember some French, could leave the office at 6pm every Wednesday if I really wanted to make my French lesson, and I got to meet all sorts of people in my class. I got to the stage where I could speak English to in-house counsel and she understood, and she would speak French to me, which I understood.’
4 Find some friends
Postgraduate study can be a solitary pursuit. ‘Team-work if you can,’ Goodman advises. ‘MBAs have group assignments, so you’re always in touch with people from your course – I understand this may be harder for PhD students.’ Finding a ‘team’ can help with motivation and the task in hand.
Also remember to keep well and exercise, suggest several seasoned part-timers. The ICAEW tells the Gazette: ‘It’s vital to learn skills such as knowing how to relax… if we expose our bodies to sustained stress, our body’s defences stay activated longer than is healthy.’
5 Decide if part-time really is best
Consider if in reality you need the old single-focus of your student days – and should save for that. This best suits a career change. One ex-City solicitor, now ordained and running a cathedral, told me this was the most obvious, sane solution.
Is it worth schmoozing the press pack?
The Gazette realises your time and money are precious, and that taking the press out to lunch, throwing a media party, or taking a journalist to the opera or the football does nothing to relieve the pressure of client demands and fee-earning targets.
And being honest, there are times when a journalist also feels their time has been wasted – anything useful is said early,
and the rest is a test of our social skills. Should both sides just get back to their respective knitting?
Done with a bit of thought, there is likely value in pressing on, however. Perhaps a few considerations could guide wise policy here.
Don’t limit invitations to people you consider ‘important’. The most jaded guest will probably be the editor or star columnist – ask them, but don’t forget juniors and freelancers, who are sure to be more grateful and do a lot of the work.
A talking point is good – entertaining in art galleries or at a cricket match means there is a prompt to talk more informally. You may discover useful common links with the hacks you talk to. Chat should be relevant, but this is not a pitch.
A ‘press party’ might work well, but only if you are already media-friendly. Such events vary between over-subscribed and near-empty, and day-to-day contact on actual stories is what makes the difference, not the lavishness of the ‘do’.
There’s some use in your junior colleague coming to meet an established press contact if you are hoping they will deal with the press more in the future.
And, of course, there is the age-old reason for meeting up, which is to say ‘thank you’ for something that went well. That’s also the time for a gossip about competitors which might be both enjoyable and useful.
Note: if the journalist pays, you’re very much a person of interest to them. Make sure you know why!