5 things I’ve learned from meeting 300 banking and finance lawyers...
Working at Third Way Legal, my day involves meeting strangers, having enjoyable, relatable conversations, often out of the blue, and turning them into mutually beneficial, value-added relationships.
I work with lawyers building their careers, one of the most important areas of their lives, and I learn a great deal from them. Having met several hundred banking and finance lawyers over the last few years, here are some of my observations of the common themes which have emerged.
1. They work very hard and are always available
Lawyers are judged on the quality of their work, billable hours and responsiveness. It is little wonder then that when I sit down to coffee the blackberry or iPhone is always in sight. Clients expect an immediate response, or at the very least they expect an acknowledgement to give them comfort that their matter is being worked on. Moreover, as one associate told me recently, sometimes the best opportunities come at the least convenient times, so developing a reputation for reliability and availability can be massively beneficial to their career.
2. Those who are enthusiastic and enjoy the job move up
“I cannot believe I get paid to do this job” isn’t something I hear too often from my candidates, but there are many I meet who are bursting with enthusiasm and genuinely enjoy the work they do. Partners love this enthusiasm and want to give work to (and advance) people who are eager to take on more. It is this love of work that often impresses clients, achieves results and gets other people on their side.
The most successful lawyers tend to achieve this enthusiasm by practicing in an area they find interesting, and by working with people who they like, in an environment that supports them.
3. Some want a ‘lifestyle’ law firm BUT…
I meet lawyers on a daily basis who tell me that they are looking for a ‘lifestyle’ firm, as they feel overworked and under appreciated, often with understandable concerns around their work/life balance and career prospects at their current firm. Many, however, have an unrealistic image of life at other firms, especially those lower down the ‘prestige’ spectrum. This rosy view may come from an off-hand remark from a friend, apocryphal talk of lawyers leaving the office early or the common tendency to assume that the grass is always greener elsewhere. It rarely reflects the reality of life at another firm and often causes lawyers to discount options which may fit them well. There is a definite sense of scepticism about how much variation there is between firms.
4. Many wait for roles which may never materialise
Everyone has a friend (or more often a friend of a friend) who landed an amazing role at a fund or a swish corporate, working 9-5, having not even taken a pay cut. Many of the lawyers I meet wait for a long time for this elusive quasi-legal / private equity / techy general counsel role. The reality is that very few will ever land such a role, not for lack of ability, but simply because they are few and far between, and when they do crop up the competition for such roles is incredibly fierce. We post in-house roles for free on www.thirdway.pro as we want our users to see them when they do arise – but they are rare.
Waiting for the black swan role to come up puts some lawyers off giving serious consideration to options that would allow them to achieve their ambitions, especially within private practice.
5. When lawyers ‘fail’ in the lateral market they retreat
Lawyers are typically high-achievers, and they are often perfectionists in their pursuit of career success. Many have never failed at anything significant in their careers until they explore the lateral market. They tend to start their search with the same vigour, determination and positive attitude they have at work, yet a couple of interviews in, without a call back, their confidence can be bruised and this sends many top candidates into retreat, preferring to better the devil they know. Even the star candidate will rarely secure offers from every firm they approach. Different lawyers suit different cultures, so tenacity, an open mind and a thick skin are the qualities that will help lawyers to make the most of the lateral market.
Hamish Drake is one of the Experts behind Third Way Legal - an online platform which gives lawyers a confidential forum to browse fully-branded jobs at top law firms and in-house legal teams in London and abroad. Having spent time as a banking and finance lawyer at leading national and global law firms he is well versed in his market and is an expert at advising lawyers on existing and upcoming opportunities available at law firms and supporting them through the challenges involved in moving firms.
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