From law in the City to advertising
After leaving first Slaughter and May, and then law completely, James Hodson did a Masters in Creative Advertising at University College, Falmouth. He is now a junior copywriter at Agency Republic and is enjoying every minute of his new career in advertising. We spoke to him about making such a big change.
mtl: Please can you start by telling us about your legal career?
James: After doing history at LSE, I left university not knowing what I was going to do, though I was interested in journalism and copywriting. I applied for jobs in media but didn’t get anything. As I had some debt from university and a girlfriend with a training contract who wanted to go travelling for a year, I decided to also give law a go. I was offered a training contract by Slaughter and May and headed off to law school after a year away.
I found the first year of law school enjoyable from an academic point of view but also rather dry and I realised during the LPC that I didn’t enjoy the practical side of law. My training contract was relatively straightforward but the whole way through it I knew that I would have to leave to do something different. The question was what and when? I qualified into finance and stayed for two years, saving as much money as I could.
I left Slaughter and May with no real plan other than that I was still interested in journalism and advertising. After a few months I decided to give law another go and I joined Teacher Stern to do corporate finance. It was a friendly firm but I realised within six months that it was the job rather than the environment that I didn’t like. Being a lawyer is 90% project management and I don’t enjoy dealing with large amounts of paper.
mtl: How did you make the move into advertising?
James: The second time I left law, I had a plan, which was to do an MA in Creative Advertising at University College, Falmouth, which is great for media and arts courses. I had an instinct that I’d enjoy it, I had spoken to a few people in the industry and I was able to do work placements while studying. It was great to get out of London for a year and professionally it was the best year of my life as I went from feeling disengaged from my work to really loving it.
It is tough to get a job in advertising. You need a portfolio with quite a few campaigns and doing an MA teaches you how to do this and enables you to team up with someone that you can work with in the future. After graduating, you enter the placement system, where you are paid very little for a couple of months or even up to several years. We were lucky to be taken on permanently after a few months.
mtl: Tell us about your current role and how it compares to law.
James: I’ve been a junior copywriter for a year now and my clients have included Sony Playstation, Smirnoff, O2 and Morgan’s Spiced Rum. It is completely the opposite of what I used to do and I love it. I work with an art director who I met doing the MA and we got the job together as a team at Agency Republic. My colleague does the visual work and I do the writing. Together we generate ideas and find creative solutions to problems. From here I can either try to work my way up to being a creative director or set up my own freelance business working from home or an agency or a client’s offices. At the moment I’m just happy learning the trade.
A typical day will involve working on a brief, which is a written piece of paper saying what the client needs and what the strategy is. I will sit knocking ideas around with my partner until we get about five or six solid ideas over the course of a day. After that we will execute the ideas in terms of deciding what each idea would look and sound like, the tone of voice, the design and illustrations, and which photographers and directors to use. Next we would send a version to the client for comments until it is agreed. Projects can go on in this way for weeks or months, depending on the budgets.
I have to think in a completely different way from being a lawyer in that I have to be creative and lateral rather than logical and analytical. I’ve taken a huge pay cut of almost 75% and I’m slightly behind in my career, but it has also been valuable to have some life experience and doing law first meant that I had the funds to pay for the MA. The people who work in advertising are predictably opposite to those working in law, though I made some great friends at Slaughter and May.
mtl: Do you have any advice for our readers?
James: The hardest thing about my career change has been the pay cut and I didn’t even have expensive tastes as a lawyer. You have to recognise that you can no longer live the same lifestyle and get on with it. I’ve also got to the point where going out as much is no longer so important. Realising that you have to start again from square one is also tough but on balance I have no regrets whatsoever.
The options in advertising are to be an account manager or a planner, which you could probably walk straight in to if you could prove a passion and you are interesting and confident. If you want to go in on the creative side though i.e. be a copywriter or an art director, then you will need to go to a good MA school, find a partner, produce a portfolio and have a lot of luck along the way. It can take several years to get a job, so it is a big risk. Having said that, if it is something you really want to do then you should just go and do it.
mtl: Thanks for your time James.
Law School, Nottingham and BPP
Training contract, Slaughter and May
Finance assistant, Slaughter and
Finance, Teacher Stern
MA in Creative Advertising, Falmouth
Copywriter, Agency Republic