Chillin'Competition

Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Career advice for lawyers (II)

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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 you 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 alfonso.lamadrid@garrigues.com (and btw, for my own ideas on what makes a great lawyer, see here).

***

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 careeradvancement 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  rajectory, 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
ot 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.

Work Ethics

  • Doing more than the bare minimum. Employers always look for a willingness to do more than just the bare minimum to get by. For example, do you actively seek out additional work, or do you sit in your office waiting for someone to give you something to do? Conversely, do you turn down an assignment only to slip out the door at 18.00? Have you written articles or offered to help more senior colleagues do so? Have you undertaken research and preparation for business-development activities? These are but a few examples of what you might consider doing to demonstrate that you are prepared to “go the extra mile”
  • Owning up to mistakes. You will make mistakes. Everyone does. What is important is the manner in which you handle your mistakes. Do not beat yourself up about them, but never try to hide them. Face up to them and tell someone immediately. Generally speaking, it is okay to make a mistake, but an employer will not keep you if it cannot trust you to admit your mistakes. Clients usually forgive mistakes, but you could ruin an entire attorney-client relationship if you try to hide something from them. If you get into trouble, immediately tell someone more senior. Given that everyone has made mistakes, your mistake may not be as serious as you think. If you sense that you are heading into trouble, say something before you get there. Coming clean about your mistake will demonstrate your maturity and trustworthiness. Good lawyers are not good because they never make mistakes, they are good because they do not make the same mistake twice
  • Meeting deadlines. If you see a deadline approaching, do you keep quiet and hope for the best, or do you keep people informed? If you think it likely that you will miss a deadline for a task already given to you, immediately tell someone in charge and explain why. If you cannot meet a deadline on a new task, explain why and offer to speak with other people about shifting priorities.
  • Showing enthusiasm. There will be times when you will be bored to utter distraction. Even so, never show boredom. Try to remain enthusiastic, even if the task is less interesting than watching paint dry.

Common Sense

  • Understanding and remembering instructions. When you get an assignment, do you write down all instructions, or do you rely on your memory? You should get into the habit of writing down instructions as and when you are given them. Once you have done that, ensure that you understand the instructions by repeating them back to the person giving you the instructions. Do not be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure. There is no stupid question, except for one that you repeatedly ask.
  • Being a “team player”. Most employers specifically look for someone who is a “team player” to join them, but what does that mean? In general, it means helping out wherever and whenever needed and pulling your own weight. But it also contains a personal component. Do you actively engage with your colleagues throughout the day, or do you head straight to your office in the morning, close your door and work with as little interaction as possible? Do you get together with colleagues for lunch or after-hours events, or do you isolate yourself from them. Nothing says that you must spend every waking hour with your colleagues, but do make an effort to be an active and enthusiastic member of the group.
  • Office relationships and professional behavior. Even as an active and enthusiastic group member, there are certain limits. For example, you should be social and speak with your colleagues, but do not share every intimate detail of your life. Do not get so drunk at office events that you make a fool of yourself. Office relationships, while convenient because of proximity, are rarely a good idea and should be avoided.
  • Respect your colleagues. Avoid being competitive with your colleagues (e.g., boasting about how well you are doing and about the incredible feedback you are getting). They may be your rivals in some sense, but they deserve your respect. If you fail this, you will disliked, find yourself missing invitations to social events, and lose a potentially valuable support network.
  • Respect the staff. Just because you are a lawyer does not mean that you are superior to the staff. Be nice and polite to everyone, and they will be much more likely to help you when you have a crisis or when you have a stupid question about policies and procedures; if you are an ass to them, you may find that your life can be very difficult. Befriending and respecting staff is an easy and important sign of your own maturity and selfconfidence. Bring the staff the occasional flowers or treats – they will like and respect you for it.
  • Dress the part. Dress appropriately. Invest some of your salary in decent clothes. The legal profession is generally conservative and your clothes should reflect that. Do not be a peacock.

And for heaven’s sake, polish your shoes!

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

28 March 2017 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

3 Responses

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  1. Stopped reading at “And for heaven’s sake, polish your shoes!”

    Jon

    29 March 2017 at 9:58 pm

  2. “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.” Really? More like: “By the time you are 2PQE you will have a thorough understanding of the firm’s document review software, have improved your Excel skills by compiling a number of contact detail lists for merger filings, know the merger control thresholds of many jurisdictions by heart, have perhaps even caught a glimpse of a real client, have been allowed to carry the partner’s document case, and your five-sentence cover emails to the client will only have to be reviewed once instead of three times before they are fit to be sent.”

    Ex-Lawyer

    31 March 2017 at 12:02 pm

    • Ex lawyer – if you were given these shitty tasks you were either in the wrong firm, with little work to do and senior associates/partners keeping for themselves the interesting bits; or you were not trusted to do the most complex parts. If you ask around people who have progressed in law firms what were they doing when 2PQE, I suspect their experience would be different from yours….Either way, you probably did the right thing in quitting your job.

      Paul

      1 April 2017 at 11:01 am


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