My Firm has Me Trapped in X, and I Want to do Y

3 September 2019

What should I do?

In the current legal climate, graduate lawyers for the first few years are usually just thankful that they have a job at all. For that reason, being fussy about the precise practice area they have landed in usually doesn’t become a serious factor to worry about for a while.

But eventually, it does. If you’re lucky, you’ve landed in an area that you love. But not everybody is lucky.

So what should you do if your firm has you in X, and you’re gradually realising that it’s Y that’s going to spark joy?

Diagnosis is Critical

If you went to the doctor with a gaping wound in your leg, and the doctor prescribed you a course of cold and flu medication, you’d be rightly concerned.

The same is true with your legal career – accurately diagnosing what the actual problem is as best you can before trying to implement a solution is going to save you a lot of mis-steps along the way.

There are many sources of potential dissatisfaction for young lawyers, so where is yours? Is it truly the practice area – the type of law and the way in which that service is delivered?

Or is it something else? Perhaps you like the area of law you are in but the work you are doing simply isn’t interesting enough. Perhaps you like both the area and the work, but you’ve been delegated to a particular client who makes your life a daily misery.

Perhaps your partner is a nightmare to work for, and the greener grass is literally 6 feet down the corridor where the other partner is in charge.

Whatever the case, run through the possible causes for your dilemma. Ask around (discretely) – do other people in your practice area have the same experiences you are having? Do they do the same kind of work? Do they have the same kind of days? This will help you figure out where the trigger points are.

Call It Early

So let’s say you’ve gone through the analysis, and you’re confident that a change is now required.

When is the right time to do it? Should you wait until you’re a more senior lawyer?

As we’ve discussed before, if you’re going to move practice area it’s generally better to do it sooner rather than later.

With 2 or 3 years’ post admission experience, you’ll have likely developed the necessary skills to transfer to another area, move firms if needed, and hit the ground running in the process.

The problem with waiting longer is that the more senior you get, the bigger hit you’re going to take in salary and the harder it’s going to be to function with a 7 year solicitor doing 2 year solicitor’s work. There’s a good chance you’ll also have more personal debt to service by then as well, making the decision even harder.

Finally, from a pure market perspective, there are normally a good number of positions around for lawyers in that 2-3 year mark, so it’s a bit of a sweet spot to aim for.

Can you Move in Baby Steps?

Sometimes making a huge change is difficult from a competency point of view as well as a salary point of view.

But what if you could make a move to a related practice area along the way, without going full “sea change” immediately?

For example, let’s say you’re a solicitor doing insurance litigation. You absolutely love the cut and thrust of litigation, but generally dislike the insurance part.

Perhaps one option before moving entirely to commercial litigation would be to investigate a role that also includes professional indemnity insurance work. This allows you to leverage your existing experience, minimises the salary hit you’re likely to take, and exposes you to more UCPR based litigation that isn’t governed as much by the personal injuries legislation.

There are many similar examples of steps you can make along the way, so don’t assume you need to leap straight from X to Y, if there’s a nifty X.5 that could keep you happy for a while.

This kind of thing is really something to work out strategically with your recruiter – you’d be surprised how many related areas there might be which would move you closer to your end goal but not involve as much pain along the way. Just make sure you’re up front with where you’d like to go ultimately, and we can help you get there.

Or Is It the Firm?

One of the hardest things for young lawyers to know is whether their experience at their first firm is representative of the experience they will have at any firm.

Without a shadow of a doubt we can tell you that it probably isn’t. Every firm is different, and has different leadership styles, different clients, different work habits.

Perhaps what you aren’t enjoying is actually just the firm you’re at for some reason, and the type of work you’re doing just seems the most logical thing to blame. In truth, maybe simply moving to a different firm is going to take away a large part of what’s broken.

Or perhaps it’s more about the nature of private practice, and a move towards an in-house role or a government position might solve many of the problems you’re experiencing.

Again, this is a conversation to have with us when we speak with you. Tell us the experience you’re having, why you’re looking at moving, and we can honestly let you know what’s likely to be the best way to jump in your situation.

Need a Change? Not Sure if you Need a Change?

Hit us up for a chat, and we’re happy to walk through it with you and help you make a good decision for your career.