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“What if…?”, “If only…”


“What if…?”. “If only…”. These are phrases I often hear from lawyers and a question I found myself pondering at the start of 2020 as fires raged across Australia and tensions in the Middle East escalated…but more of that later. Let me rewind. 


I sat down in the New Year with the intention of writing a blog about how much the world had changed since the turn of the century. Back in 2000 you could smoke in the pub and watch Wimbledon play Bradford in the Premier League. The Nokia 3310 was the phone of choice and people were using it to play Snake. It was the year the Tate Modern opened and the year Coldplay released their debut album, Parachutes. It was the year that saw Craig Philips win the first series of Big Brother and the year Friends Reunited was launched. Since then we’ve witnessed the rise of reality TV – I’m a Celebrity... (2002); The X-Factor and Strictly Come Dancing (2004); Keeping Up with the Kardashians (2007), and The Only Way is Essex and The Great British Bake Off (2010).


We’ve witnessed the rapid rise of social media - LinkedIn (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), Twitter (2006), WhatsApp (2009) and Instagram (2010). And while Friends Reunited is no longer with us (it was sold to ITV in 2005 for £120m) Facebook now has over 2 billion users, Instagram c. 1 billion and Twitter and LinkedIn over 300 million each. This year’s highest-paid “YouTuber” is an 8-year old who earnt the modest sum of $26 million. No wonder 31% of 11-16-year-olds want to be either a Social Media Influencer or a YouTuber when they grow up, rather than a doctor, engineer or lawyer.


The real game-changer has been the iPhone. It’s extraordinary to think that it was only in 2007 that Apple launched the iPhone and now smartphone ownership stands at c. 80% and c. 95% among 16-24-year-olds. When the iPad followed in 2010 (around the same time that digital transmission took over from analogue) it cemented a digital revolution that has changed forever the way we consume all forms of media. 


In 2000 The Sun was shifting 3.5m copies a day, that number is now 1.4m. Pretty much every major newspapers’ hard copy readership has dropped by half, except the Evening Standard, which has doubled from 400,000 to 860,000. Online content and streaming have become the norm. Top of the Pops signed off in 2006, two years before Spotify was launched, and in 2014 Ed Sheeran's "Thinking Out Loud" became the first single to reach number one solely as a result of streaming. By the end of the decade, Sheeran’s “Shape of You” had been streamed over 2 billion times.


But has the world really changed that much? I was reminded that in 2000, 3 years before Greta Thunberg was born, George W. Bush defeated Al Gore to become the 43rd president of the USA, thanks, in no small part, to a highly contentious victory by 537 votes in the state of Florida. Gore went on to be jointly awarded The Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". So as the fires raged across Australia I found myself wondering...what if Al Gore had become the 43rd US president?


But the reality is that “what ifs” and “if onlys” are for the history books and the academics; yet all too often I hear lawyers I’m working with begin sentences with these very words. Either reflecting on past decisions not made or finding reasons not to take steps to change their current situation.


So as we head into the uncertainties of the year ahead, I simply wanted to encourage anyone who is unhappy in their current job to act. As Mahatma Ghandi said: “The future depends on what you do today.” Seek the counsel of family, friends and/or an experienced recruiter but make sure you’re seeking advice and guidance rather than approval. Try to work out what makes YOU happy – as Steve Jobs said, “the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”


We’re all at different stages of our professional journeys and while some may have their path clearly mapped out, for others, it’s about having the bravery to take the next step. When Greta Thunberg refused to attend school in 2018, she wouldn’t have known the journey she was about to begin; when Rebecca Long-Bailey completed her training contract in 2007, I’m sure she didn’t envisage standing in the Labour Party leadership elections 13 years later and as a newly admitted solicitor in 1996, it is unlikely Sayeeda Warsi would have foreseen becoming the first Muslim to serve as a Cabinet minister.


We live in a fragile world – both environmentally and politically – and there are few predictions we can make with any certainty about the year ahead, but for those of you who crave change, I encourage you to ask “why not” and not “what if” and make this year one of positive action, not inertia. 


To paraphrase Barak Obama – “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. Be the change that you seek.”


Iain Millard is a private practice legal recruiter with nearly 20 years’ experience in the Chadwick Nott London team. 



Phone: 0203 096 4547

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