Everybody wants to work for a fund.
If you trained and worked as an associate in “big law” with a focus on financial services the prospect of working for an investment manager one day as general counsel would most likely be an appealing proposition for a number of reasons:
1) The money at the top is similar to equity at a major firm
2) You work closely with the business instead of focusing on client attraction
3) The quality of work is often high and mentally engaging
4) It is less bureaucratic and hierarchical than big banks/law firms
5) There is less oversight and restriction on compensation than at a bank
**Everybody wants to work for a fund**
Moving in house to a financial services client is a decision a lot of lawyers make from the world of big law irrespective of practice area. All banks and funds however are not created equal. As an associate in transition you go from being bombarded with lateral law firm options to finding the phone ringing much less often with promises of top notch in house roles at funds. This is true even for those “super-premium” candidates with excellent academics, clean CVs who are at the best law firms in the hottest practice areas (leveraged finance); There will be opportunities but nowhere near as many as you might think.
What happens next?
When an apparent abundance of opportunity becomes scarcity, but the decision has been made to move, often people make the stepping stone leap to a bank (sell-side) in hopes that they can use this “in house” experience to leverage themselves into a fund at a later date.
However…. It isn’t that easy to move from a bank to a fund in 2019, in most meaningful ways’ banks are more similar to law firms than they are funds. They are highly structured environments with big teams where lawyers handle pretty specific work. This is the point where lawyers can find themselves stuck, unable to escape the banking ecosystem and resigned to an institutional career.
How does this dilemma resolve?
The savviest among the stepping stone lawyers have used their time well.
They manoeuvre themselves within the bank to focus on an area of work which is most transferrable and in the highest demand at their next target employer (a fund), examples of successful moves using this method are:
1) A lawyer developing a compliance skillset (having not worked in this area before).
2) A lawyer stepping away from more niche sell side specific finance work into a more generalist position
Another method used by stepping stone lawyers is accepting an interim role at a fund. The potential benefit being it may become permanent or you may parlay this into a full-time role elsewhere. This is a risky strategy and individual circumstances will determine whether this is appropriate for you.
Persistence is key. There are only a limited number of positions available at funds; competition is often rife. The lawyers that make it from the sell side are those that understand their skillset and how it can be adapted to be made fit for purpose at a future client. Those that escape are malleable and do not give up, often it takes time, but by taking a pragmatic, considered and consistent approach it is a goal that can often be achieved.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search consultant and partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region.