If you are a lawyer reading this now the chances are you have been working hard for a long time. It isn’t easy to become a lawyer, it takes time, persistence, academic intelligence and finance, what’s more in most cases you have to decide and commit to it by the time you are only 19 or 20 years old.
You can’t ever relax and check out even as a university fresher if you want to be in big law. Forget first year pass / fail, all your academics will be scrutinised and if you aren’t on top of your game someone else will be there ready to take your spot. Now we could put this down to population increase and globalisation making markets more competitive, after all this is the case in a lot of fields now at entry level. As a lawyer the treadmill of hard work, time and devotion doesn’t end at the offer of a training contract, it is only just beginning.
As a junior associate you can start to feel safe, lean back and relax into an 80+ hour week knowing your spot at the firm is as secure as it can be, but as time passes you by you become more senior and then a new problem emerges, is there a business case for you to make partner?
Some firms will hang onto their senior associate’s Ad infinitum making them counsel or leaving them in a senior associate role for 10/20 years, others are more ruthless and it's up or out. For most lawyers this is where you feel really vulnerable and the existential dilemma creeps in, what next?
Running on this treadmill has kept you pretty busy, you were being challenged avoiding distractions along the way, that is why you are in this position as a well-paid lawyer at a top firm. All of that activity has come at a cost, perhaps to your personal life and counterintuitively most likely to your career.
Hold on a second, how can working hard and achieving at work damage my career? (I hear you say) Remember all those calls and Linkedin messages you ignored for years from recruiters? They were buzzing around you like annoying flies distracting you and needing to be swatted away? It is true most of them were new graduates working in a call centre equivalent with nothing particularly interesting to offer; however, they may have drowned out the one or two recruiters that had something useful for you.
Most candidates only contact recruiters when they need them. When you need a recruiter it is usually already too late. As a lawyer you will have invested so much of yourself into your job to get to the position you are in, distractions do abound but contacting a select group of headhunters will only help lighten your career load and provide you with options whether you are in private practice or in house. The treadmill never ends, there is always another challenge to overcome and more hard work needed be it in house or in private practice, you need to devote time not only to doing your job well but to protecting your biggest investment (yourself).
As a headhunter specialising in legal search I work with only the top law firms and in-house companies in the UK, US and Internationally helping them secure exceptional talent. There are unique roles and opportunities available for first-rate lawyers to make partner without a book of business or to swap to a career in house here in London or internationally. Consider hitting pause on the treadmill no matter what stage you are at to arm yourself with the right contacts to help you navigate your career long term.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search consultant and partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region.