I have been working at Chadwick Nott as a member of our South West and South Wales Private Practice Team for over 15 years now, which is a scary thought on its own. But it does mean that by now it’s easy to think I have probably seen it all. I have been through booms and busts (one very notable, very big bust in 2008/09 of course), and I have met with triumphs and disasters—and have treated both impostors just the same, to keep Mr Kipling happy.
I’m not sure, however, if I have ever seen a market for candidates and quite simply a level of open-mindedness on the part of our law firm clients like we see now in 2019.
I have spent years telling candidates all about how hard it is to change tack and completely swap practice areas once you are a year or two past the NQ post. Likewise how difficult it can be trying to get back in to the game if you have been “selfish” and “foolhardy” enough to give yourself a break, quite literally.
But, actually it isn’t, well it isn’t AS hard anyway, not in 2019.
As the Manager of our South West and South Wales team I recently looked at some of our latest successful placements for our clients to identify any trends that will help shape our work as a team in the remainder of 2019, and as we start to set plans for 2020. A surprising number of these recent placements have involved candidates seeking a change of direction in their career, whether that is sideways or up or down, but certainly not necessarily round pegs going in to round holes. A further number are candidates returning after a career break—whether that means a year or two, or in some cases up to 10yrs+!
And this has got me thinking: why is this trend emerging, and is there some useful advice I can offer that might be timely if you fall in to a returner or re-trainer category? Especially if you might be thinking about your options and opportunities right now.
Clients can’t be so choosy
The most obvious and easiest explanation is the one that says clients don’t want to be more flexible and lateral in their thinking. But they are having to be more flexible at the moment, temporarily anyway, as there are so few candidates around and a half-perfect fit is better than no-one at all. And that is definitely part of what is going on.
We have a database full of vacancies; clients are desperately happy to spend money with us if only we can find them the extra people they need. But we are working in an acutely candidate-short market at the moment. Demand is huge, while supply is finite and firms are beginning to really understand this.
Clients have embraced the myriad of pathways in the legal profession
It is also true to say that firms are just more open-minded full stop. You can be a lawyer in 2019 even if, heavens forbid, you didn’t do a Law Degree initially... at a red brick University naturally… getting at least a strong 2:1 or better... and so on, you get the idea! In fact, you can be a lawyer now having never completed a two-year long articles (remember when they were called that). You can be a lawyer now having started out straight from school as an apprentice. You can, you can, you can... and as a mind-set it’s infectious. Law firms are just getting better at realising there are various ways to get from A to Z.
Do your thinking and do your bit
So, if you are at a crossroads in your career, really put some thought in to what you want to do, why, and crucially what you’re able and willing to do to achieve it. Almost all of the successful candidates I mention above have had a goal in mind, and understood what they needed to do themselves to try and barge down a door or two.
If you are keen to retrain in a new area or return back to work after a lengthy period away you will need a firm to ‘take a chance’ on you and offer that investment in you. Chances are you probably won’t be paying your way at the start.
What you can do to demonstrate your commitment:
- Think about your previous experience and any skills and or specific projects that are already relevant and transferable.
- Then think about why you are sure you want to work in that new area and why it would suit you… be as considered and convincing as possible.
- A key tick in the box is often what you can do yourself to get on to relevant refresher or beginner courses in the relevant practice area. There is always plenty of choice from day courses and introductions to much longer courses that can extend across a number of weeks. You will have to pay the fees but this is an excellent way to show you’re serious and committed to pursuing a new career in that area.
- If you’re not working at all at the moment, can you secure an opportunity to undertake some shadowing or work experience at a firm? This aids in developing an initial level of experience and demonstrates your commitment and your pro-active attitude. Firms you may want to talk with will be really impressed you have done that, and you never know you may even end up really impressing the firm you spent some time with in terms of your potential, and they too may want to create something for you.
After this, if you can secure interviews it is all about getting across your passion and commitment. Be honest that you are going to be starting from scratch or that you’re perhaps a bit ‘rusty’ if it’s been a number of years, but stress that given the opportunity you will give it 100% and will grab the opportunity with both hands. It’s a “give me the chance and you won’t regret it” conversation!
And lastly, don’t overlook the painful bit, which is often salary considerations. Retraining in a new area or returning back to your career after a number of years off is inevitably going to have an effect on what a firm will feel they can realistically pay you as a salary from day one. Again, be open and happy to discuss this with a firm.
But the plan is you will find your feet, relish the new challenge and fly back up through the ranks quite quickly. If you can afford to take a step back in order to take two forward over the next year or two it will almost certainly work out well in the end!
If you are thinking about a new role or a return to work, Chadwick Nott is more than happy to help and give you any advice we can. Please feel free to contact us for a confidential discussion.