13 April 2017
This is the second installment in what will be (I hope!) a four-part series on issues facing lawyers at various stages of their careers. It was first published at the popular Chillin' Competition blog and is reproduced below.
If you are a lawyer with some 2 to 5 years of experience in the legal profession you might be interested in the advice of Steve Meier featured below in this post.
A year ago he addressed newly qualified lawyers and, despite being a recruiter himself, his main advice was not to use recruiters. We liked that. This time he is targeting more experienced lawyers who may find a (sensible) recruiter helpful in determining your place in the market. As Steve pointed out in his previous post, there are recruiters who will encourage you to move to another firm (any firm) regardless of whether it may fit your long-term career or personal objectives. His advice builds on the premise that, whilst it is great if you can make a smart move, it is much better to remain where you are for the time being than to make a wrong move. Please feel free to question Steve on the issues he raises or on others by commenting on the post.
And speaking of career advice and smart moves, at my own firm we are growing and have openings, also for experienced lawyers. We are looking for truly outstanding lawyers, regardless of nationality (although excellent English is indispensable and notions of Spanish are helpful). What we offer is plenty of very interesting, varied and boutique-like top-notch work (which explains my scarce substantive contributions here in recent weeks… ) and an unbeatable working environment provided that you can tolerate working with me. If you enjoy EU Court litigation, complex behavioral competition law, cutting-edge State aid and academic opportunities, then feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org (and btw, for my own ideas on what makes a great lawyer, see here).
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It has been a bit more than a year since my last blog post discussing some recruitment issues facing lawyers from newly qualified (“NQ”) to about two years of post-qualification experience (“2PQE”). This time around I should like to discuss some career advancement issues facing lawyers who fall roughly between 2PQE and 5PQE.
NB: Let me first observe that the focus on PQE level is becoming somewhat less important as firms increasingly move away from hard-and-fast rules of seniority. Individual performance, rather than the number of years of experience, is increasingly the metric by which a lawyer’s long-term career development is measured. Thus, for example, it is entirely conceivable within a given firm that an exceptional 2PQE can have more responsibility, faster advancement, better prospects – and higher compensation! – than, say, an “average” 3PQE. Nonetheless, it is useful to keep notions of PQE in mind, inter alia, to benchmark yourself against your contemporaries. Each law firm is different, and a 3PQE lawyer who has spent his or her career at Smith & Jones may have a very different – not necessarily better or worse, just different – set of skills and experience than a 3PQE lawyer at Jones & Smith. That being so, ideas of PQE, while less and less relevant internally, are helpful for both you and potential employers in measuring your capabilities and potential.
While law school taught you about thinking like a lawyer, you have spent the past couple of years actually becoming a lawyer. By the time you are 2PQE you should have developed a solid track record of substantive and meaningful experience and at least the beginnings of a solid technical expertise. You have probably worked in a variety of matters, but have perhaps begun to focus on one or two fields that are of specific interest to you. The next few years, those between 2PQE and 5PQE, are typically when you can really hone your legal skills, home in on what you especially enjoy doing and, indeed, determine next steps in your professional career and personal life.
As regards competition lawyers, for example, some may have a taste for merger work, while others may prefer behavioral matters, and still others may find a blended competition/regulatory practice more to their liking; some lawyers may yearn for an in-house role where they can be closer to business, while still others will ultimately determine that a career in the law is really not for them at all. However, because you have been working hard to become a lawyer, the chances are good that you have had little time to reflect on your career trajectory, to understand the market or to determine your place in it. Now may be time to take stock of your career and where it is headed.
Whatever you may ultimately decide as your next career step, a reputable recruiter can serve as a sounding board, discussing with you your experience, how it measures up to your contemporaries, and how you can get from where you are to where you want to go. Some less reputable recruiters will be interested only in encouraging you to move so as to generate fees for themselves (see “Introducing . . . “Shotgun Sam”). However, a move may not necessarily make the most sense for you and your situation. Generally speaking, moving simply for the sake of moving is almost never a wise career move and, should you end up in the wrong place, it can do irreparable damage to your longer-term prospects.
You should have some notions about where you want your career to be in a few years, but you should avoid mapping out every step of your career for the next five years. If you stick to an fixed and immutable career plan, you may find yourself having missed some great opportunities.
As noted above, the first couple of years are spent obtaining a fair degree of technical excellence. But as important as being the most technically proficient lawyer possible, that is just the beginning. To the extent that you have not already figured this out for yourself, let me note that being technically excellent will take you only so far in your legal career; there are a number of other facets to the ever-changing practice of law that many young lawyers do not discover until it is too late. In addition to intelligence and legal skills, employers will be looking at you for a demonstrable work ethic and for plain old common sense.
NB: The points that follow apply to lawyers throughout their careers; nonetheless, they seem to me particularly important during the early stages of your career, when more senior lawyers are making daily determinations about your suitability for advancement.
And for heaven’s sake, polish your shoes!