Career Advice
Career advice for solicitors.  Are you progressing as you expected?

Legal career advice

I have been asked over the years for advice from lawyers who have found themselves at a crossroads in their careers.  They have worked hard and been fortunate to qualify and earn well, but yet find themselves bored with the monotony of Groundhog Day and frustrated with the working culture of their firm.  If you find yourself in a similar rut, read the following 4-step guide to help you reignite the passion for your profession.

A 4-year commercial PQE solicitor 

This solicitor works for a boutique city firm for 6 years, joined on a training contract and now 4 years PQE.  Here’s their crossroad - “The team are supportive, I work long hours including weekends because clients need to be serviced.  The culture at the firm is keeping clients happy at all costs even if it means working late, working on weekends, cancelling annual leave, and literally having no downtime. My caseload is a lot and varied but not challenging.  The higher stake cases are reserved for the partners and senior associates. Is it time to move on?” 

4 step guide - how to get out of your rut

Create a personal career development plan

The years can fly by with excitement after qualifying, then it suddenly hits you that nothing much has changed in terms of your career progression.  To help get your career back on track, find out if your firm has a training and development framework in place for employees, start by asking your manager or check your online portal if they have one.  If there is training and development framework in place, then to the opportunity to discuss your development plan at your next appraisal or your next one to one with your manager. You ought to feel confident in approaching your manager about how you would like your career/role to development, giving them the opportunity to provide input and guidance on your development plan.  

Whether you decide to stay or move on it is important to think about where you want to be in 2 – 5 years from now.  A few questions to answer, what are your strengths and weaknesses?  What areas of your skillset would you like to enhance? Is this the right organisation that can meet your aspiring career goals?  Does the culture suit the work and life balance that you need?

Update your CV

It is good practice to keep your CV up to date, if it has been a while since you last reviewed your CV then dust it off and update. Over the years you would have gained experience and developed new skills.  Provide as much relevant detail as possible, keep your CV clear and concise and include figures to illustrate the size or value of the cases you have worked on. Updating your CV will also help you be clear on the progress you have made since qualifying, you will also be ready for any opportunities that come your way, who knows when the next head hunter will call!  If you decide you want to move on to another firm and work with a recruitment agency try to use one that specialises in your practice area.  Only use 2 or 3 agencies at a time and always be aware of where your CV is being sent. 

Keep your network engaged

If you have built up contacts across the industry it’s worth staying connected and reaching out, share useful industry news, reach out to see how they are, arrange a coffee and a catch up, take advantage of technology and have a digital catch up while we are social distancing, this may become part of the new normal and be our way of socially connecting a lot more once we get through the other side of the pandemic. Connecting with your network gives you the opportunity to find out what potential opportunities are out there. 

Companies prefer employee recommendations and stats show it reduces time to hire by 55%*, employee referrals once hired also have a hire retention rate. Apart from potential new roles, it’s useful to research the market rate for your role or the role you are aspiring to, renumeration shouldn’t be your main motivator, it is however an important factor, along with career progression, culture, right fit, location etc .    

In house or private practice

The power is with you.  So long you can demonstrate that you are handling quality cases and you are clear and persuasive on your reasons for wanting to join the new organization then you will be sought after but by firms and commercial companies.   

According to the SRA the number of solicitors working in-house is growing at a faster rate than those in private practice, and is predicted to reach 35 per cent of the profession by 2020, so the demand for in house counsel is certainly there, particularly those companies in IT and finance sectors.  An instant difference will be the variety in your work, so you could be handing matter related to Employment, regulatory, governance & commercial, plus you may also find that working arrangements to be more flexible.  On the other hand, teams tend to be small so you may feel isolated and lonely.  Another viable option is to consider knowledge management roles in private practice.  This can be an exciting and rewarding career path particularly if you are interested in learning and development, diversity and inclusion.

Final word

The great thing is that you are in a very strong position.  Both firms and corporates are seeking the skills of quality commercial solicitors.  It is critical however to have a personal development plan which you must discuss with your current employers before considering new opportunities.  Giving your current employers the opportunity to address your concerns is reasonable.  Furthermore, you don’t want to be tempted by a counter offer if you decide to hand in your notice.   

*HR Business Blog

Andre Thomas is the is the writer and founder of Thomas Telman Consulting where they help law firms hire, engage and retain talent.

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