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second careers

Maxine Davidson is enrolled in a one-year paralegal program at the Academy of Learning College in Toronto, which she will complete in April.Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

This story is part of a Second Careers series that looks at people who are making major career changes after 50 – workers who are staying relevant and thriving in today's job market.

When Maxine Davidson was profiled two years ago, she had made a successful transition to a new career as a law clerk – Graduating with honours, law clerk, 55, embraces change.

It was an exciting new chapter in Ms. Davidson's life after several years of uncertainty and hard work. The married mother of two in Ajax, Ont., had been laid off from her administrative co-ordinator job at Bell Canada in 2008.

Facing a difficult job market, she decided to go back to school to become a law clerk, while working part-time cleaning offices to pay the bills. After graduating with honours at 53, Ms. Davidson quickly got a job in the legal department of a semiconductor company in Toronto.

However, just weeks after her interview with The Globe and Mail, she was laid off again, along with hundreds of other employees.

"It was shocking, actually," Ms. Davidson, 56, says now. "The company I worked for primarily did work for Japan. After the tsunami, Japan didn't need what they were producing on that scale, so hundreds of us were let go, and I was one of them."

Ms. Davidson did a short-term contract with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, but after that, employment opportunities dried up. While collecting unemployment insurance, she doggedly looked for work as a law clerk. She even interviewed for a receptionist job, but was told she was overqualified and the employer didn't think she would stay in the job long enough.

"So I'm still on unemployment [insurance], very frustrated, very despondent and I thought, what can I do that will propel me back in the job market at a different level?" she says. After nearly a year of fruitless job-hunting, Ms. Davidson decided her best option was to head back to school once again.

For her earlier law clerk program, Ms. Davidson had been able to take advantage of Second Career Ontario, a provincial program that provides up to $28,000 for laid-off Ontarians to retrain. She decided to go back to the administrators at Second Career to tell them her story.

"I asked them if I could upgrade to being a paralegal because then I would have more options," she says. "As a law clerk, you can't practise without the supervision of a lawyer. As a paralegal, you are allowed to practise without supervision and represent clients in certain areas, like small claims court, provincial offences under the provincial offences act, some aspects of immigration, social services tribunals. I thought I had a broader opportunity as opposed to being a law clerk."

Because Ms. Davidson had already gone through the Second Career program, it was much more difficult this time round.

"It took a lot for me to qualify on the second application," she says. "I had to write a persuasive letter and exercise patience and optimism."

After tense weeks of waiting, she was accepted. Ms. Davidson enrolled in a one-year paralegal program at the Academy of Learning College in Toronto, which she will complete in April. Now, Ms. Davidson is at school full-time, Monday to Friday, commuting by public transit back and forth to Toronto from her family home in Ajax each day.

"I get up at 5 in the morning, I'm on the 7 o'clock train," she says. "I have to do homework on the train. It's only a one-year program and it's a lot to process, so every opportunity you get – on the GO train, on the TTC, sometimes walking down the road – you're constantly reading."

At the end of the program, Ms. Davidson will do a one-month internship if she can find one, then write her licencing exam.

"I'm anxious to get it over with," Ms. Davidson says. "I'm eager to get back into the job market. It's a condensed one-year diploma, extremely intense. And with an old brain, it's tough, but I'm hanging in there."

Having been at the mercy of employers in the past, Ms. Davidson is also eager to set up shop on her own. Her ultimate goal is to have her own practice. "When I come, when I go – I want to dictate that now," she says.

Ms. Davidson's interest in in being her own boss has deep roots, she says, because of growing up in an entrepreneurial environment in her native country of Guyana.

"My mom had a store, which we always worked at," she says. "Both my parents farmed, and so we were always in that entrepreneurial mindset. So even though I sit at a desk in an office, I'm always thinking about how to use my brain and my hands to do my own thing and succeed as my own boss, like my mom did."

Ultimately, Ms. Davidson hopes to put her education to good use by helping others in need.

"Part of my psyche is geared toward advocacy," she says. "And so my idea is to head into advocacy work. Perhaps landlord and tenant or human rights tribunals, there are so many areas I can pursue. I've always wanted to work with young people. I think those are the areas I want to be in – where you can advocate for people, to help guide them in the right direction."

Advice for others

Don't be intimidated by change when considering a new career path, Ms. Davidson says.

"I always believe that whatever needs to be done to get to where you want, you have to do it," she says. "If it means changing careers, changing countries – change is inevitable. I don't have a problem with change."

Through her long journey to her new career (a journey that isn't over yet), Ms. Davidson says that a positive attitude can make all the difference between wanting something and actually accomplishing it.

"It takes patience, determination and persistence," she says.