The days when lawyers joined a firm upon graduation from law school and left at retirement age are long gone. In today’s market it is expected that most lawyers will move at least once (and generally more frequently) during their careers. Qualification is the first of the big ‘career watersheds’ and many newly qualified solicitors will move between firms at this point to secure the career profile they wish to pursue.
It is crucial to ensure that your first move is the right move, in terms of the type and quality of work, level of responsibility, culture, lifestyle, and long term prospects you are looking for. Upon qualification you should look to make a move that you will be happy with for at least two years (and preferably longer!).
What area of law should I qualify into?
The Credit Crunch is having and will continue to have a massive effect not only on the recruitment of Newly Qualified lawyers but on the recruitment of lawyers generally. As well as having a huge impact on the volume of lawyers being hired there has been a great deal of change in terms of those areas that are more active. Activity in litigation and insolvency and employment is far greater than activity in corporate, banking and capital markets. Commercial property has been a victim of the Credit Crunch and commercial, competition, IP and IT have been affected to a lesser extend.
The picture for any lawyer qualifying in 2009 /2010 is far bleaker than in previous years. As many law firms have gone through redundancy consultations recruitment is not high up on the current agenda. Increasing numbers of trainees are being told that they can not be offered a role on qualification and reports in the legal press of training contracts being deferred and flexible working proposals being made are becoming all too familiar. It is clear that there will not be anywhere near as many NQs being recruited as in previous years, making it all the more important to get your applications right and choose your practice area carefully.
That said: it is not all bad news. Law firms need junior lawyers and they will hire NQs this year but just not at previous levels. The market is and will continue to be tough and as such flexibility, focus and quality will be key for survival.
Newly-qualifieds wanting to work in practice areas where opportunities are more scarce are looking outside of London and taking up positions in the regions. While salaries may be less, the work can still be of a very high quality and for those seeking a genuine work/life balance it can be the perfect move. It is obviously important to base your choice on your interest in and experience of a particular area as well as the opportunities you hope for in the future. For example, in some areas, such as corporate or commercial, you will be able to move in-house or internationally with greater ease that in areas such as litigation.
Your decision will impact your future career options and although a change in specialisation is not impossible, it can be extremely difficult as you become more senior.
What about US firms?
Since the arrival of US firms in London, there has been a considerable amount of speculation about the nature of these firms. The theory that US firms overpay and overwork their employees is now fairly dated. While it is true that salaries paid to employees are usually somewhat higher than those of the UK firms, you do not necessarily put in significantly more hours than the major City practices. The advantage of many US firms is the real breadth of work, the size of the teams and the level of responsibility and challenge. Some US firms do not currently have their own trainees and only recruit NQs externally so there are often a good deal of opportunities with such firms.
US firms in London have continued to expand and offer lucrative packages. However, it is worth remembering that in order to join a US practice, you must have excellent academics and have generally trained with a top City (if not Magic Circle) firm.
Should I consider a move in-house?
More and more companies are now recruiting lawyers to work for them in-house. Such positions are increasingly popular as they are often perceived as more ‘commercial’ than roles in private practice, as well as providing a more balanced lifestyle choice
Such positions exist in a wide variety of industry sectors such as energy, retail and leisure, IT and communications and banking. The majority of in-house roles require a minimum of one year’s post qualification experience and there are relatively few positions at the newly-qualified level.
A word of warning: don’t move in-house too early! People can move in-house on qualification only to discover later on that it is more difficult than they thought to return to private practice.
What are the possibilities overseas?
Making an international move has become increasingly popular for lawyers looking to spend time living and working in another jurisdiction. However, most positions do require some post-qualification experience and in some jurisdictions language skills are a pre-requisite.
The Australian and New Zealand recruitment markets tend to mirror the US market and Australian firms and whilst they have been active in recruiting lawyers from the major City UK firms in previous years this has slowed down over the last year.
Most areas of law are transferable into this jurisdiction. However, generally at least two years pqe will be needed.
Opportunities also exist in Asia, in particular Hong Kong, Tokyo, Singapore and Bangkok, and in the Middle East for those specialising in corporate, projects and finance law together with niche areas such as shipping and insolvency. These opportunities generally require at least one year’s post-qualification experience and the relevant language skills.
Firms in offshore locations such as Jersey and Guernsey will look at applications from newly-qualified lawyers, particularly those specialising in funds, banking, and corporate.
There are also openings through the major European cities for all areas of legal specialisations, although usually some post-qualification experience and local language skills will be needed.
What salary can I expect on qualification?
At the time of writing, salaries for newly-qualified solicitors at the major City practices vary between £47,000 and £66,000 per year. The US firms paying New York salaries are offering as much as £85,000 per year as a basic salary for newly qualified lawyers. Salaries at medium-sized and smaller London firms are generally between £35,000 and £45,000. Other benefits, often including a bonus scheme (usually discretionary), are being offered more frequently.
The Credit Crunch has had a huge effect on salaries this year with many firms freezing and cutting salary as well as changing salary bands. Newly Qualified salaries have also suffered and are, in some cases, lower than they were this time last year.
Salary rates for all other jurisdictions are available from our consultants.
What do I do now?
It is vital you use this opportunity in the run up to qualification to fully asses your aspirations and career goals in the light of the current market conditions.
6-9 month’s before qualifying (January - March for Sept qualifiers and July - September for March qualifiers)
You should have decided by now which area you wish to specialise in and then decide whether you need to change firms to find such a position. Alternatively you may wish to move to simply increase your salary or prospects.
Even if your current firm has indicated that it will be offering you a position on qualification, you may wish to seek independent advice from us as to the market opportunities available to you.
At this point you would benefit greatly from speaking with one of our experts. Garfield Robbins Legal Recruitment can give you the impartial guidance and direction that you need. The majority of our consultants are qualified lawyers and therefore understand the dilemmas faced in the lead up to qualification.
4-6 month’s before qualifying (March-May for Sept qualifiers and September - November for March qualifiers)
If you have not done so already you should be drafting the final version of your CV with your chosen specialism in mind. At Garfield Robbins we provide a bespoke CV doctor service: you will offered a meeting with one of our consultants where we can provide guidance and assistance with CV drafting.
By the end of this period we will have started to look at appropriate vacancies for you. This approach is twofold: we will inform you of any suitable vacancies as soon as they come through and we will agree with you a list of firms which may be of interest to you who we can speak with about your details in order to assess whether or not they may be interested in recruiting you. These approaches are made in partnership with you and only with your express consent.
2-3 month’s before qualifying
Most of the applications will have been made by this point and you will be interviewing with firms. We will offer you an interview preparation session with one of our experts where we will provide tips and advice as well as detailed information about the firm and lawyers that you will be interviewing with. For further information on interviewing techniques please see our separate article.
The final stage
We will continue to assist you with any offers you receive and negotiating salary in relation to these offers. We will also contact you from time to time to check that all is going well.
Start early – some roles come and go very early on in the process so make sure that you do not miss out on any.
Keep us informed – the more we know about your situation the better advice and assistance we will be able to provide
Preparation, preparation, preparation – this applies to the drafting of your CV just as much as your preparation for interviews. Remember you get out what you put in!
Keep control –make sure you only deal with recruitment consultants you have you either met with or spoken with. Do not allow your CV be sent out to firms all over the city without your knowledge. Keep an accurate record of which firms your CV has gone to.
More About Our Role
Garfield Robbins Legal Recruitment has long- standing relationships with leading law firms and corporations around the globe and an enviable record of placing candidates from newly qualified through to senior level. We have teams in both private practice and in-house positions.
We offer a professional, confidential and straightforward service to candidates encompassing the following: one designated consultant for each candidate; an initial meeting to discuss your experience and career aspirations in details; assistance with the drafting of your cv; a full briefing on the roles which match your experience and career aspirations; a personal introduction of your cv to firms of your choice by a consultant; a full briefing pre-interview; a mock interview session with one or more of our consultants; continued assistance throughout the interviewing process; and finally negotiation of the salary package on your behalf.
Your details will not be passed on to any third party without your prior consent.
To talk to one of our consultants, please call +44(0) 845 671 0199, or email email@example.com
Garfield Robbins International
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