The big question that faces all newly qualified solicitors is whether to stay at the firm they’ve trained with or move on to pastures new.
Some won’t have a choice; they will have been told they won’t be kept on and encouraged to find a new firm. For the majority, though, the last six months as a trainee solicitor is a period of uncertainty. Any satisfaction at qualifying will be tempered by concerns about what happens next.
Will their firm want to keep them and, if so, in which department? Do they even want to stay or should they take the next steps in their career elsewhere?
Even if you think you want to remain with your existing firm, it is worth considering your options.
Here are five reasons why newly qualified solicitors should think about moving when they qualify:
To specialise in your preferred practice area
The truth is that when you start your legal career you probably only have a vague idea about the type of work you want to do. You may think you are going to enjoy your seat in capital markets and hate the one in litigation but in fact, it turns out to be the other way round.
Your training contract is a two-year interview that goes both ways. One question at the end of it is: can this firm offer me the work I want to do? By the time you complete your training contract you will have a far better idea of the type of lawyer you are and the practice area you want to specialise in. If your firm can’t match your preference, it’s time to look elsewhere.
It may be that despite jockeying for position with the other trainees, the firm can’t offer you a place in your first-choice practice area. The reality is that moving departments post-qualification is very hard. If you really want to specialise in a particular field and the firm you trained with can’t satisfy that need, moving as an NQ is your only option.
To work with a particular partner or team, or move to a ‘better’ firm
If your current firm doesn’t match your ambition, it is perfectly valid to move to one that does. You may have identified a specific team or partner you want to work for because of their reputation or ranking in Chambers or The Legal 500. Or you may simply want to take a step up from a mid-sized City practice to a Magic Circle firm, for example.
A word of warning here. Some firms, particular US firms, prefer candidates who choose to move after being offered the chance to stay on. Even if you know you would like to switch firms, the sensible play may be to wait for an offer from the firm you are at before interviewing elsewhere.
For more money
It would be naive to think that money is not a motivating factor. You work hard enough, so you are entitled to be rewarded properly for your efforts. The benefit of a fatter pay check needs to be balanced though against all the other factors: the quality of work you’ll be doing, how much responsibility you will get, what your future prospects are, what additional training or mentoring you’ll get, and how many chargeable hours will be expected of you. Which brings us to the next reason to think about moving.
For a different work/life balance
No two firms are the same in terms of types of clients, working environment, work ethic, social life, age profile, etc. You may feel that your current firm isn’t quite the ‘fit’ you expected it to be and while you enjoy the work, the firm isn’t offering you much more.
Similarly, a decision to move could be motivated by something as simple as the desire for an easier commute or the chance to spend more time pursuing outside interests or with family.
For more responsibility or better training
Few trainee solicitors emerge from their training contract as fully formed lawyers. For most NQs, the first couple of years are a steep learning curve as they take on more responsibility and grow in confidence. How they evolve as lawyers during this period is important and can set the tone for the rest of their career.
So, you need to consider what your day-to-day role will be once you qualify. Will you run your own caseload, have close partner supervision or be a small cog in a large machine? Also, what ongoing training and mentoring will your firm offer you as you make the step up?
And some reasons not to move
There will also be reasons not to move. You’ll have made friends at the firm and built relationships with the partners. Plus, you’ll know how the firm operates, and be familiar with its clients and the way they work.
Like any situation, though, it is worth keeping your options open and seeing what else is out there before you commit to staying as a newly qualified solicitor.