Ex-City lawyer now Head of Social Media for an online publishing company
Sarah Louise Dean was an IP lawyer at Virgin Management before she changed career. She is now Head of Social Media at Dynamis, an online publishing company.
mtl: Hi Sarah, can you start with your legal career…
Sarah: I trained at what is now SNR Denton and although I liked the prestige of private practice, I left on qualification. As an NQ, I worked in IP, branding and commercial law in-house at Pentland, which has a portfolio of international sporting and fashion brands. I later moved to Virgin Management where I focused on IP and sponsorship. I particularly enjoyed working with the branding teams and had a nagging feeling that being on the legal side of deals – always having to consider worst cast scenarios - wasn’t what I wanted to do.
mtl: Talk us through your career change.
Sarah: At six years pqe there were rumours of changes at Virgin as my team would eventually move to Geneva. I didn’t want to go to Switzerland and felt it was time to leave law, so I took the opportunity and took voluntary redundancy. I’d previously applied for editorial roles after I graduated before I settled on Law School, and I had been writing for free about film for years, so a part of me had always wanted to write.
Upon leaving, I travelled and practised writing by blogging. When I got back I stepped up the film reviews and tried freelancing. I had to move back in with my parents as I didn’t have sufficient money coming in, which was a bit of a shock.
I’d always enjoyed creative writing and decided to take some short courses in freelance journalism and copywriting. This helped me learn the terminology of the industry without me needing to do a time-consuming and expensive Masters course. I began to pitch for freelance commissions and interned with the Guardian and a film magazine which was amazing as I could see how things worked from the inside.
1997 – 2000
Psychology, Royal Holloway
2000 – 2002
PGDL and LPC, Store Street
2002 – 2004
Training contract, Denton Wilde
2005 – 2007
In-house at Pentland
2007 – 2010
In-house at Virgin Management
2010 – 2011
Travel / Internships / freelance work
Business journalist, Dynamis
Head of Social Media, Dynamis
By this point, I had realised that I didn’t want to go back to law and that I wanted to be creative for a living. I applied for entry-level journalism roles and found a full-time position in mid-2011. By then I was in my 30’s and had given the job search my all, so I think I had an advantage over younger people without experience. When jobs are scarce, I hoped that employers are interested in experience and value!
mtl: Tell us about what you do now and what you like about it.
Sarah: I work for Dynamis, a publishing house that supports small business entrepreneurship. Dynamis owns online business listing websites, such as Businessesforsale.com and Franchisesales.com, and I manage the editorial content and blogs supporting the listings. I started there as a business journalist and after spending a lot of my time tweeting and trying to grow our customer base was promoted to Head of Social Media. My job is now something of an editorial / marketing hybrid.
An average day involves writing, editing, publishing, interviewing the public, PR, marketing and always managing our social media strategy. I tend to discuss the look and feel of things rather than going into minute detail as lawyers have to. Although I still sit at a desk, I get to write creatively rather than draft, I have more autonomy, I meet a wider cross-section of people and have no timesheets to fill in! The pace of an ideas-led industry is so much faster than law and things move and change quickly, which I like.
I still work longish hours like in law, but it is broken up differently and I’m often out and about speaking to people (usually about creative pursuits). At the end of a day I’ve exhausted my creative side and can relax, whereas before, as a lawyer I felt the need to be creative in the evenings. I love being on top of the latest advances in technology and I’m enjoying learning about the strategy behind social media.
mtl: What’s not to like?
Sarah: The pay is considerably lower than what I’d earn as a lawyer. If you are going to make this kind of career change you have to realise that law does afford you a nice lifestyle and you may not reach a similar position elsewhere quickly. But I wouldn’t swap a huge legal salary for the satisfaction I get from my work on a day-to-day basis.
I sometimes also miss the structure and organisation of a legal department. I always worked with hard-working and intelligent people who wanted to get the job done and done well. The hierarchy of the legal world also provided career certainty which is sometimes lacking in the creative industry. Here it’s very much “Mañana, Mañana!” which is hard to adapt to!
mtl: Do you have any advice for our readers?
Sarah: Research what you want to be doing. I think, if pushed, everyone has an idea of what they really want to be doing and I think everyone can do it – you just need to think around how you can get there. Pursuing a legal career before a creative career gives you an amazing skill-set and being a lawyer has helped me deal with people professionally and has given me good attention to detail. If you are going to change, make sure you have savings and prepare yourself for the financial hardship and the fact that others around you will be on a good career path with perks ahead of them much sooner than you.
I found my job on Gumtree but other good places to look for editorial roles are www.gorkanajobs.co.uk, the job sections of The Guardian and The Times and simply Google or twitter by searching a key term. www.meetup.com is a great way of connecting with like-minded people along the way – it’s how I found some good freelance commissions. Other than that, if you want to write for a living then keep writing and submitting content to anyone who will take it – even for free - it gets your name out there and with a profile comes paid work.
mtl: Thanks for your time Sarah.
Sarah still writes film reviews for www.liveforfilms.com
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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