working to the beat of your own drum

Working to the beat of your own drum

A moment captured in time. 1990. Guildford Law School Rugby team. Proud winners of the South-East England Colleges Cup final. Training contracts and legal careers a road waiting to be travelled.

Fast forward almost 30 years and while my legal career stuttered somewhat and eventually petered out in 1995 when I decided to give up the law and head off to Africa for 10 months to “find myself”; many of that team have risen to the top echelons of the legal profession. The scorer of the game’s only try is now a Silver Circle Managing Partner and the full back a magic circle Senior Partner; while most are either GCs or partners at leading firms across the country.

Amazingly I was one of 3 members of the team who ended up in legal recruitment. A 20% attrition rate. In truth, I fell into it. Returning from Africa none the wiser, a friend suggested legal recruitment to me and before long I was sat at a desk with a Rolodex and the rest is history.

In those early days, consciously or unconsciously, I think I measured my own self-worth against the “success” of my contemporaries whose legal careers were going from strength to strength. I have since come to realise that doing so was neither helpful nor realistic. There were some genuine class acts in that team who had the drive, ambition, intellect and personal qualities to make it to the top of the legal profession and I didn’t even enjoy being a lawyer!

Why am I telling you all this? Simply because in almost 20 years of recruitment, I’ve spoken to too many lawyers who, like the younger me, seem to benchmark themselves against their contemporaries.

A legal career shouldn’t be a competition or a race. I understand for some people it might be. For some it might be about bragging rights. Who became a partner first; who earns the most; who works at the “best” firm but notions of “best” are often so arbitrary. Candidates talk about top 10, 20, 50 firms but given that those rankings are based entirely on turnover what does it really mean.

Surely it should be about what’s “best” for you. After all, we’re all different and we all have different drivers and priorities.

I totally get that lawyers who crave the intellectual rigour of the most complex work are likely to gravitate to the leading international firms or premier boutiques; equally I understand that as a junior lawyer you may be attracted by the strength of a firm’s brand – there is little doubt that a good brand on your CV makes you more marketable.

What I struggle to understand is why so many lawyers seem to prioritise how much they earn ahead of professional fulfilment and personal happiness when the law is such a well-paid profession. NQs at top London firms start on anything between £50,000 and £120,000 and most junior partners earn more than the Prime Minister – although judging by her current performance that’s perhaps justified.

Yet despite being one of best paid professions, apparently lawyers are one of the most discontented; feeling overworked and underpaid. Now my issue is not with how much lawyers earn – many deserve what they earn – it’s those lawyers who feel entitled to a certain salary because of their PQE that irks me.

And the legal media doesn’t help with its obsession with salaries and PEP. I find it amazing that this week Freshfields’ financial performance was described by Legal Week as “poor” when PEP is in excess of £1.5m.

And I guess that’s part of the problem. Too many lawyers live in a bubble with only their colleagues, contemporaries and the media as a point of reference – and that’s where we come in.

Whatever some of you might think of recruiters, many of us see ourselves as consultants; here to help you make well considered career choices.

The current legal services industry offers arguably greater choice than ever before. So you need to think about what your medium to long-term aspirations really are and let us help you chart a course that will help you get there.

The in-house legal market has more than doubled since the turn of the century and now representing almost 20% of the legal profession meaning there are more in-house opportunities than ever.

Regional firms are thriving – increasingly competing with London firms as these more savvy in-house legal teams look further afield for value.

Advancements in technology, agile/flexible working and the advent of the New Model law firm mean it is now so much easier to work to the beat of your own drum whether that is working from home, part-time or on a fee-share or contract basis.

The relaxing of the rules governing who can provide legal services also means that the traditional law firm template is becoming increasing obsolete and as a result we’re seeing more and more diversity in the type of firms providing legal services and the type of opportunity that presents.

And you could always become a recruiter. We’re recruiting!

I’m very lucky. I fell on my feet when I joined Chadwick Nott 12 years ago. It’s a great place to work. Great people, great culture and it affords me the flexibility to have a great work/life balance which is important to me. And I guess that’s it. It took me a while to get there but eventually I realised what was important to ME; what made ME happy.

For pragmatic, informed advice and assistance on your latest recruitment requirements, please contact Iain Millard in our London office on or 0203 0964547.

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