I have read many comments on blogs this week, quite a few on linkedin, about young lawyers who are trying to make decisions about their legal careers at a very early stage, mainly driven by redundancy, apathy, hard work and the tough economic conditions.
Why is the decision so hard? Being a solicitor or barrister used to be a job for life and carried kudos. Many law students study law not only because it is their passion but also because it’s hard to find a better or more useful career.
So where do the problems lie?
I recall from university that we were told that only about 50% of our year would actually take the professional exams after graduation. Then, beyond that point, this number is further reduced by the fallout from the exams and those who still don’t know what they want to do after taking them. Perhaps as few as 10% of those first law students are still practicing after a few years, and the process is also very long and expensive for those who do make it through.
Many young lawyers want to leave the profession but just don’t know how to and the competition for jobs is overwhelming. It is true that most law jobs today are for mid level lawyers, at least twice as many in the 4-6 year bracket than in the NQ-2 year level – as evidenced on the legal jobs board twosteps.
Let me dispel a few myths.
- If you don’t like hard work you are in the wrong job. You may leave a large firm for a smaller one but the workload will still be intense, what can change is quality, more interaction with colleagues and autonomy.
- The adage that ‘less is more’ can be very true. Don’t kid yourself about money though – if you work less the chances are you will also be paid less.
- Don’t stay in the profession if you don’t enjoy it. The skills that you have learned and used as a lawyer can be applied to any type of business. I left the profession 15 years ago, own two businesses in different countries, and still use my legal skills every week. You may earn slightly less than you were when you left but that should change quickly.
Two last points to take into consideration before making a decision:
- In my experience most young lawyers take between 6 to 12 months to get their heads around leaving and then act on, it is big decision so don’t rush, and don’t let your ego get the better of you.
- Lastly if you really want to stay then do something worthwhile and make sure your cv is always current and has something interesting on it. Work out what you want to achieve and keep at it, you can always re-evaluate. Just don’t make the mistake of having a good cv and making it a bad one by moving jobs often and being inconsistent with your choice of employers.