As I sat in a plush west end hotel finishing the last remnants of a pot of green tea an interesting topic arose with the general counsel I was meeting; is the buy side all it’s cracked up to be? I work with GC’s from many sectors but am most ubiquitously in contact with those in the Hedge Fund, Private Equity, Asset Management, Family Office and Sovereign Wealth space. The contact I met had worked exceptionally hard over the last year and as a senior lawyer in house the assumption is typically that those types of days should disappear as you move from your 20s/30s into your 40s and beyond up the food chain, with the bulk of the transactional work remaining with your junior counterpart(s). It led me to unfamiliar conversational territory, why a lawyer might want to avoid working for a fund completely.
This was not a conversation in a vacuum, I have witnessed particularly at more successful funds senior lawyers working exceptionally hard, in some cases anti-socially long hours in a way that is uncommon in almost any other space (in house) at a senior level. Working for a bank may seem as dull as dishwater in a team of 100 focusing on one particular area of legal work but there are advantages to it which are often ignored because funds roles come with a prestige, autonomy and total comp that most banks just can’t match.
Don’t forget there is safety in numbers, at a bank you are insulated from the “big personalities” that run the show on the business side even as a very senior lawyer. The money you make at an investment bank is better than the majority of in-house roles and because you have the support of a larger team you don’t end up doing work that is below your pay grade. There is a predictability and visibility to what lies ahead, in most cases you will be an expert in your area with plenty of help on hand if things get too much. Banks like Goldman Sachs still have an aura around them that let people in the real world know you are a successful member of society, intrigue even fellow lawyers and impress recruiters like me no end.
Still, the prevailing view of lawyers in banking is “I want to work for a fund”, for some this will be a sensible move with a fantastic long-term outlook; Others will find that the funds focus on costs and keeping teams as streamlined as possible leaves them at sea in an unfamiliar and unsettling environment.
The question you as a lawyer need to ask yourself is: “is working for a fund right for me?”. Do not just assume it is in the same way a prospective trainee might feel that the only place to work is the magic circle. Buying the hype is naïve in the utmost especially if it presents as conventional wisdom.
Funds have plenty of well-known positive reasons for joining and many entrepreneurial lawyers will naturally be drawn to work for them. Charting your career as a lawyer the key to making any move lies in making informed decisions. Gather as many facts as you can about a target industry and prospective company before jumping in with both feet, then fully commit.
Author: Ken Collins is a legal and compliance search partner with Greenway Collins covering the EMEA region.