Qualifying into law may seem like the final hurdle after a two-year training contract. Finally, after undertaking all those different seats and working long, gruelling hours, you have qualified into the profession you’ve worked so hard for – success! However, as September qualifiers will well and truly know, it is also just the beginning and a journey into some unchartered waters…
Many trainees will leap at the opportunity to be retained at the firm which trained them. For others, the time may be right to look elsewhere; perhaps the size of the firm isn’t right, the scope of matters may be too broad or too niche, the location may not be ideal or sometimes one may just need to move on to develop professionally.
Increasingly however, the end of the training contract is also a time where new qualifiers (NQs) will have to move on through no choice of their own. Retention rates across the legal sectors are, on average, lower than they have been in recent years, resulting in more candidates looking to secure employment than there are roles available.
Lower retention rates can be attributed to a cross-section of causes ranging from merging firms and uncertain pipelines, through to uncertainties surrounding the long-term ramifications of Brexit on UK’s economic stability. With this in mind, and some may have experienced this already, the market remains fiercely competitive for soon-to-be NQs.
It is natural that NQs will have a lot of questions at this pivotal time in their careers and with our wealth of experience in this area, we are here to help. Here are some of the more common questions and concerns we hear and our advice on navigating a potentially difficult time:
“I haven’t touched my CV for years!”
While we all know that we should be updating our CVs on a regular basis, in reality, most of us are guilty of forgetting that particular document the minute we secure our current role.
A few tips help give your CV a competitive edge:
Don’t feel you need to limit your CV to only two pages. Provided you are referring to valid experiences and responsibilities held, the more detail you include the stronger the CV will be. Use figures and amounts; be sure to talk about the size of the transactions you have worked on.
If you are open to more than one practice area, consider making two separate CVs and then tailor each accordingly.
Include quotes from your appraisal (blanking out confidential information). This can add a real human element and it is always beneficial for prospective employers to see how you’re viewed ahead of the formal reference checks.
- Always make sure you know exactly where your CV is being sent, and keep track of the consultants you are dealing with. If you register with two leading legal recruitment agencies, you should have the market covered. Particularly in London, the top 100 firms deal with the leading agencies so if you register with multiple agencies, you will likely be called four or five times about the same role!
“I’ve been offered my second preference. What now?”
You may be offered an NQ role in a team which was your second, third or even fourth preference. Strongly consider this role and where it could lead you in the long term. It might prove difficult to change your specialism a year or two into your post-qualified experience, but it will be easier to do so if you have continued experience rather than running the risk of not having employment come qualification time.
“Will I lose my competitive edge if I move outside of London?”
In the vast majority of cases, absolutely not. A lot of top firms have offices across the regions, and these can prove to be really promising opportunities to develop professionally, while having reputable firm names on your CV.
Outside of London, Michael Page Legal operates in the areas of Manchester and the North West, Liverpool and Chester, Birmingham and the Midlands, Bristol, Reading and Southampton, Surrey, Sussex and Kent, and Leeds.
All of these locations offer the attraction of high-quality work and the prospects of working with city clients while still being afforded an excellent quality of life whether this be in terms of work hours, the chance to live closer to home or within a rural setting.
“I only want to work for a particular sized firm.”
Did you originally consider yourself as only being interested in openings at US or Magic Circle firms? Or perhaps you’re sold on only looking to work in a smaller, boutique firm? It may be time to broaden the brief.
When considering different roles in the market, it is important to look critically at things such as level of training, level of responsibility, salary and any particular specialism of the firm. Try to keep an open mind about the firms you would like to approach, and use interview processes as an opportunity to gain insight into what it would be like to work for them. As Sheryl Sandberg famously writes, "view your career as a jungle gym, not as a strict ladder; Ladders are limiting…Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.”
“I want to move in-house.”
Opportunities for junior in-house roles are few and far between, and historically, roles of this nature require at least one year’s post-qualification experience. Prospects, however, will be marginally higher for those who find themselves with general commercial or intellectual property experience.
Many of our in-house clients will look for sharp, commercially skilled individuals with strong business acumen, and typically these individuals will have one to two years of legal experience behind them. With this in mind, NQs who have previously undertaken secondments to in-house legal teams during their training will have a slightly increased chance of securing such roles.
In-house opportunities can be an excellent avenue for someone who is a commercially minded, problem-solver who also has a strong understanding of the legal frameworks the organisation operates within.
It is important to note that once you make the move in-house, it can be more difficult to then re-enter the private practice market.
“What if law isn’t really for me?”
Is there life outside of the legal profession? Yes! For many NQ lawyers, qualification acts as a good time to reassess their trajectories and discover new opportunities. Some may feel disengaged from the legal profession, while others may feel that their skill set is better suited for a role outside the realms of a lawyers’ role. Think critically about how you act in this instance, as it can be difficult to re-enter the profession at a later stage.
Have you thought about legal recruitment?
One of the most popular career choices for NQs leaving the legal profession is legal recruitment. Many of our associate consultants, right through to our operating director have legal backgrounds. Having the legal experience behind you can position you strongly and give you an industry insight into an exciting, fast-paced industry.
If you’re an NQ navigating the market, or someone interested in having a conversation about legal recruitment, please contact George Tabakov at [email protected] or call on 0207 269 2453.