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Solicitors - what career advice should I give to someone who is about to be an unemployed NQ?

(9 Posts)
fridayschild Fri 03-Jul-09 13:44:00

I'm a partner in the City office of a national firm and we have very very few NQ roles this year. One of the trainees is interested in commercial property work, which is my field, and is excellent, absolutely one of the strongest candidates we have had for ages. Sadly despite that I am not allowed to give her a job.

I have phoned all my mates who are property partners, just on the off chance - as well as a few who are not my mates. The senior partner has done the same, which show just how highly we rate this person.

She's asked to see me for career advice and of course I will give her any tips I can. But I can't think of many! Basically my view is that she should try to do something which will distinguish her from someone who is NQ in 2 years time (assuming there are any jobs then). So, go and work in a decent practice out of London, even a small one. Or find a job in the marketing department of a law firm or surveyors' practice, so she can at least say she knows more about marketing than the average person at her level and has some knowledge of the industry players. But I'm terribly aware that these jobs are also thin on the ground right now.

Anyone got any other advice? Or (better still) a job for her?

flowerybeanbag Fri 03-Jul-09 15:09:48

Hi fridayschild. DH is a lawyer in the City (and has apparently had about 16 trainees in his time) so I asked him for his thoughts on this. FWIW my own (non-lawyerly) observation is that you said she is 'interested' in commercial property. It just strikes me that you didn't say she's absolutely dead set on a career in commercial property. I just remember when DH was deciding where to qualify into, he was so certain about the area of law he wanted to go into that he refused to give HR at his firm a second choice as all trainees were asked to do. He was absolutely adamant. Of course your trainee may be the same, but your use of 'interested' just struck me a bit and made me think that, given the current climate, perhaps considering exploring a career in a second choice might be an option.

Flowery's DH here:

First and foremost, this is her career and her decision should be guided by what she is hoping to do long term. Whilst it may be tempting to take whatever job comes along in the present market, if commercial property work is what she wants to do, the best advice is (as you appear to be suggesting) that she tries to spend the next year or so gaining experience, which will be the point of differentiation with other candidates in future years.

Assuming she is committed to commercial property as a long-term plan, is there anything you could do help place her with one of your clients (whether as an employee or even secondee, where the client picks up the cost of employment with your firm)? Do you have any contacts with anyone in the trade press or publishing houses? I am not a real estate lawyer and I am not certain if she is academically-minded, but are there any opportunities for research lawyers with, say, the law commission? Could she offer her services to an academic who is researching a new text book? Any teaching jobs at law schools?

Whatever she does - especially if she moves away from the law - should be to make sure she is gaining a genuine edge over other candidates: for example, a marketing-focussed career may give her an edge in business development, but she should ensure that her legal skill set does not diminish in that time.

My only other word of caution is that whilst we as supervisors can seek to open doors, we need to ensure that ultimately the trainee choses which door to walk through. It is sometimes very easy to have an excellent trainee and project our thoughts onto them as to where they might be best to qualify. It is especially important in the present market that the trainee is clear in her own mind what she wants to do (and she should have a fair idea after a 2 year training contract) otherwise a stop-gap job, waiting for the market to turn around could end up doing her a great disservice.

ToughDaddy Fri 03-Jul-09 15:38:29

Haven't read this thread completely but Insolvency is a good career hedge to Comm Property and they are infact quite busy, as you will know. Could be a good place to look or get some qualifications in until Comm Property recovers. Some of the knowledge might be complementary?

RibenaBerry Fri 03-Jul-09 15:42:37

What Flowery (and her DH!) said.

Also, is the trainee interested in any areas which are related to commercial property, but perhaps rather more in demand in a downturn? I am thinking here of property litigation or perhaps some specialised element of insolvency? There seems to be greater potential to move from those types of areas back across to property when things hot up.

Similarly, depending on your size of firm, are there any 'in demand' areas in your firm (insolvency, etc) which may need extra bodies at the moment? If you rate her as highly as you say, would you be prepared to take her back into your department in a year or two's time when things pick up?

dancingqueeen Fri 03-Jul-09 19:14:52

depending on her financial situation, would further study be an option? I'm not sure there are many commercial property jobs out of the city at the minute really. When I was researching possibly doing a law masters I noticed northumbria do a commercial property masters, by distance learning, and there may be others. This, coupled with some relevant experience (e.g. insolvency I guess as suggested above, or litigation?) could give her a route back in in the future if that really is what she's determined to do?

MrsHappy Fri 03-Jul-09 19:39:51

There aren't going to be many jobs for NQs moving firms in the next couple of years. I was laid off years ago at 1PQE and then everyone was so busy trying to place their own NQs they couldn't consider taking me on - and that was in virtually any practice area. It's like that again now, unfortunately. An insolvency job sounds like a good idea, except frankly any finance-focussed redundant junior (including those with 1-3PQE) are going to be chasing those NQ jobs.

I think if I were her (assuming she is dead set on CP) I would maybe try for a job in a different function in the property sector. For example, I am told that companies providing finance for/building halls of residence are still doing ok. Could she get a non-legal job working at one of those - even if she does unpaid work experience with them for a bit (if she can afford it)? A firm might well snap up someone with that sort of experience (and those connections) in a year or two. She needs to think laterally. Alternatively what about trying to get a job - any job (company secretarial or whatever) at companies which are basically property portfolio companies. Examples: tenanted pub companies, hotel companies, healthcare companies (nursing homes) etc? She might well need to leave London to get one but again, those contacts could be priceless in time.

The only other alternative I can think of is to go into a different area of law, but there is little point if her heart isn't in it, and like I said, a lack of NQ jobs right now. (Although I have seen a couple of NQ construction jobs advertised in Manchester).

On a practical note she needs to speak to all of her personal contacts. I have found recruitment agents pretty useless and my best jobs have always come through beating the bushes myself and by learning to use my own contacts.

weaselbudge Fri 03-Jul-09 21:17:22

I agree with Flowery's hubby.
Also if she is that good could you persuade your other partners to defer her NQ position for a year whilst she does a secondment or some useful work experience/study? I left my firm on qualification because my first choice area wasn't recruiting. The things that helped me get a new job were: 1) i had copious amounts of pro bono work on my CV where i had had masses of responsibility 2)i had amazing references from my previous firm that i used to ask recruitment agents to forward with my CV to firms.
I would recommend doing any kind of property work eg - she could help out at a legal advice centre advising on housing etc or do CAB training. she should also apply for paralegal work. Not sure about marketing unless it's a really good role - lawyers are snobs and if she moves away from the legal side too much then her CV will stagnate and she won't be taken seriously.
Here's a question for you - can a 3yr PQE with a currently top notch CV take 5 years out to look after kids and expect to get a job at a later date????

fridayschild Sun 05-Jul-09 16:37:14

Thanks for all these. She tells me she's set on commercial property, and is indeed making good use of her own network, including into academia. We discussed moving out of London and she's ready for that. Insolvency/ other legal areas do not interest her enough and my view is that there are not all that many insolvency related jobs out there any way.

I have tried the defer a job for a year or six months tack already and been told no by the management. Instead we are going to run an alumni job centre/mailing list of vacancies for a bit, and if there is a job in future I can offer it to her then.

Flowery's DH - we have trainees pull this ooooh I really really only want to do X every single year. It works if you are going to get a job in that team anyway, IME. Otherwise you do need to be ready to look elsewhere for your job. This comes as a harsh bump up against reality for some of our soon to be NQs - or has done in the past, anyway. Otherwise a better story is to say I really want to do commercial property, but would consider property litigation. I mention this in case any trainees read this.

Weaslebudge: I think it depends on the state of the job market when you want to come back to work, and the type of job you are looking for. So 3 years ago I would have had that person you describe like a shot - as long as she was not looking for fixed hours. I can deal with part-timers, but not someone who absolutely has to leave the office at 5pm every day and down tools till 9am the next morning, IYSWIM. And I think this is the main peril with that strategy - that the person who puts her job on hold for 5 years becomes the secondary earner, and her career is less important and therefore will always have an emergency day off when the kids get chicken pox or the school shuts due to snow. My DH is trained now, as I am, to leave on time half the week and still get the job done. I have a friend who has taken 5 years out and her DH has had no need to become that trained, and TBH doesn't seem too interested in learning. If you can share childcare equally when you go back to work, or find some childcare that means you don't need to, and you can be a bit lucky with when you go back, then it might work. You would also need to be ready to downsize a bit - so from magic circle to a national firm, for example, at least for a few years.

Domokun Wed 15-Jul-09 17:16:21

It might be worth looking at moving into the public sector for a couple of years, e.g. working at HM Treasury or Revenue and Customs, both of whom do a lot of stamp duty work which would have obvious application to a commercial property role in private practice later when the market picks up.

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