Lawyers, are you planning for the future?

Kumara Mallikaaratchi Written by Kumara Mallikaaratchi on 27th April, 2020

The monitor is set up, Wi-Fi finally sorted and you are no longer spending three hours on the phone with your IT team; the reality of working from home has set in. Three weeks into a possible six months (!) and the COVID-19 memes on LinkedIn (justifiable “work-related” procrastination, it’s not really social media is it?) are already losing their charm. So, what now?

Several lawyers in my network have been in touch over the last week. It appears a global pandemic is all it takes for lawyers to reflect on their careers with some perspective. There is no denying that recruitment has slowed in most areas (although some areas are busier than ever – particularly, insurance) but the market will pick back up and when it does, the demands for top talent will return to the pre-COVID high. It is, therefore, the perfect time to consider your short and long-term career goals.

Traditionally time-poor lawyers might now find more opportunity to think about the future, so let’s put that time to good use. This article provides you an overview of the recruitment process and advises on steps you can be taking now to ensure that you are in the best position possible to seize the opportunities when they arise.

Stage 1: CV

First things first, you need to update your CV. I advise all the lawyers I am working with to keep an up-to-date CV as a working document which they update twice a month – regardless of if they are actively looking for new opportunities. This in itself can be conducive to a positive attitude and provide valuable perspective on your career. It is a visual illustration of your progression, allowing you to see how and where your skills are developing. For some, it may reveal a lack of diversity in workflows and possibly indicate that you are not gaining the experience you had hoped (or were promised) – a realisation that maybe you should actively consider other opportunities.

A rule of thumb for updating your CV:

  1. You should have several main bullet points under your current role, setting out a brief and (where required) anonymised description of the matters in which you have been involved.
  • Sub-bullets should then demonstrate a skill or describe your task/action/responsibility under each matter.
  • Each sub-bullet should be unique, if you are repeating yourself or finding it hard to set out unique skills, you are probably not getting the right level of exposure.

Once you have updated your CV, I will review it to ensure it meets the standards that hiring partners will expect.

Stage 2: Career mind map

Stage 2 is about getting the full picture of the market. This is more than discussing which opportunities are currently active in the market that you may or may not consider suitable.

We will determine which firms, partners and teams are strong in your practice area and then go into much further detail: what is the firm’s culture around billable hours? Is the partner approachable and down-to-earth? Does the team get on well and like working with each other? Do they promote agile working? What is their policy and attitude towards diversity and inclusion? We will also discuss all your preferences around workflows, culture, possible international or in-house moves and your progression ambitions.

This stage is about breaking stereotypes, assumptions and hearsay and identifying your individual needs, preferences and ambitions.

We will, effectively, draw up a mind map for your career.

Most lawyers are happy (or happy enough) in their current role, it might not be perfect, but nothing is driving you out the door. We aim to find out what might improve your current situation and tell you specifically where in the market you will (and importantly, will not) find an opportunity that meets those preferences, whether that is now or in the future.

Many lawyers I am working with are at this stage. We have identified their individual preferences and career goals. Yet, those opportunities might not be immediately available. As such, we agree that I will provide them with relevant information on the market until the time is right– i.e. personal circumstances allow for it or an opportunity arises in the right team.

Stage 3: Opportunities

As a lawyer, when I applied for new opportunities, I would look through the experience requirements of a job specification – if I didn’t meet the majority of criteria – I assumed the firm would not be interested in my application.

The reality is that a job specification illustrates what the partners consider to be the ‘ideal lawyer’ for the role. However, in a market such as Sydney where there is a distinct shortage of lawyers looking for new opportunities, Partners will be flexible. They will interview lawyers outside the indicated PQE range or accept that some items on their specification are non-essential. More often than not, the specification of the ‘ideal lawyer’ adapts and changes as the Partners progress through the interview process. My advice is, if the opportunity meets the preferences we identified, we should initiate an initial discussion.

The clear message we receive from Partners with whom we work closely is that they are always willing to have informal discussions with lawyers who may be interested in their practice. An initial discussion is a highly confidential process. Most Partners will have moved firms at some point in their careers and therefore understand the need for the utmost discretion. Even if you decide that it is not the right opportunity for you right now, there is no harm in developing your network for the future.

Stage 4: Interviewing

Interviewing is as much an information-gathering exercise for you as it is for the Partners. During interview preparation training, we will spend a significant amount of time discussing how to ask the appropriate questions to determine whether the opportunity is right for you. As someone who is unlikely to be desperate to leave your current role, we will discuss how to control the interview to ensure you are perceived as someone making a well-considered career decision. This allows you to interview from a position of power.

This is not an easy task, especially if the last time you interviewed was for a graduate role or clerkship. That said, a well-drafted CV and engagement with our interview preparation sessions will mean the interview process itself can be genuinely enjoyable!

What next?

The best time to reflect on your career and potential opportunities is well in advance of when you are actively considering a move. You should spend time drawing your career mind-map, identifying each firm, team, company or locations that would be of interest to you. We will keep an open discussion going until the time is right for you to make a move.

To that end, I am also quite bored with the COVID-19 memes on social media so please do not hesitate to contact me should you or anyone in your network think a discussion would be beneficial. Otherwise, I’m going to be forced into another 30 attempts at the Tiktok koala challenge.

You may also find the thoughts of our Managing Director, Thomas Eckardt useful – he has been through similar situations in the past and has shared his insight as to what he thinks might happen next.