Why KWM’s demise isn’t the end of the world for its future trainees-to-no-longer-be

So law isn’t the safe career you thought

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Many students see securing a training contract as the end rather than the beginning.

Making it onto the solicitor gravy train is the hard part, they assume, with ascent up the generous associate pay scale to partnership and contented middle age pretty much in the bag from that point. It’s an institutionalised environment not unlike that of school or university, so straightforward progress must follow, right?

This view of the world may be behind some of the despairing comments we have been receiving of late on Legal Cheek from King & Wood Mallesons future trainees, who find themselves in limbo after losing promises of training contracts. Their plight is in contrast with the firm’s now ex-current trainees, most of whom have already been taken on by other firms. Some of these future trainees sound not just (very justifiably) angry but seem to believe that their lives are over.

The good news is that they are completely wrong. These days legal careers are as uncertain as many others — KWM’s demise is a perfect example of that — and training at a City law firm doesn’t actually guarantee that much at all. Most young corporate solicitors end up in-house in companies’ legal teams, at smaller firms or leave the profession all together — often surprisingly few years after having qualified. Only a very small proportion make partner at the firms at which they began their career.

The bad news for the KWM future trainees is that there will be a lot more unexpected slaps in the face to come. Careers are unfair. Work is not like school or university where you are judged on the very narrow criteria of academic performance. Instead, everything is in play. People rise and fall because of luck, because they’re in the right place at the right time, because they cheat, or suck up to people or more. Others are lazy or make seemingly terrible mistakes, but progress because they get a really important thing right that they didn’t even realise was important.

In short, it’s chaotic out there — and anyone who makes it to the top will encounter all manner of injustices along the way.

If there are two qualities that stand out among the successful lawyers and people in other industries I know it’s an ability to sell and a determination to take opportunities.

So sell yourself, KWM future trainees-to-no-longer-be — you’ve now got a story to tell that is far more interesting than most students, alongside which you also possess proof that a leading City law firm (albeit with some management issues) judged you good enough for a training contract. Combine that with an un-entitled demeanour of a person who graciously accepts their bad luck and that’s one hell of a package.

Meanwhile, know that the goodwill to you among London’s many other surviving top law firms is plentiful — and will create opportunities if you seek them. But realise that you are operating in the far less structured environment of the real world where conventional graduate recruitment timetables don’t apply. Then seize your chance when it comes along.

One day the wisdom that you have learned through this may come in handy in the far more cut-throat battles that lie ahead.

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47 Comments

Anonymous

This is a very valuable piece of advice. University careers advisors – and law tutors – would do well to bookmark it and refer students to it.

(61)(6)
Care4lawyers Charity

This is Tarquin, and he needs your help. His commercial law training contract was cruelly taken from him, through no fault of his own. When poor Tarquin lost his training contract, felt so lost and lonely, separated from his own kind, unable to afford champagne and late night chauffeurs, and dumped by his privately educated fiancée. Tarquin fell so low he even had to start shopping in Aldi…

But you can help. For a donation of just £5K per month you too can help to save a commercial law trainee like Tarquin from the dire poverty and degradation of Legal Aid work.

Please call 0800 106 107 and give just £5K per month.

Thank you.

(12)(7)
Anonymous

I said this in the comments on a previous thread! (Not so) future trainees of KWM should see this as a blessing in disguise/silver lining! I hope they’ve all gotten off their asses and moved on, despite the stress, and use this as extra drive to get the best opportunities out there! Imagine being an actual trainee and having that removed from you. They can use this bad experience as an advantage when re-applying, motivation to progress and execute their next TC. I’m sure this is the first “failure” for a couple of them, so hopefully they see how difficult life really is and are now prepared for the gruesome reality.

(5)(15)
Anonymous

For most future trainees (myself included), the “first failure” of our lives was the dozens of unsuccessful applications we made before we finally got an offer. Learning from each failed application and improving each time was motivation enough. To have gone through all that only to lose everything through no fault of your own is anything but motivating.

(25)(2)
Anonymous

Getting TC applications rejected is not failure, it’s life! Having your TC taken away because of other peoples crap business skills is not failure, it’s life! Sitting at home feeling defeated – convinced the world is not fair – expecting other firms to snap you up because, y’know, KWM did – is not failure, it’s pathetic!

If the realisation that you have the capacity for incapacity doesn’t motivate you to keep moving, to keep relevant, to stay positive and be creative – then you’re not going to enjoy the real world…

(5)(10)
Anonymous

Welcome to the real world my friend. This kind of stuff happens in business everyday, you need to be a little more hard-headed and push past it.

(4)(1)
KWM Trainee

Just FYI, many of the now ‘ex current trainees’ are still yet to taken on by other firms as you so generously suggest…

(24)(7)
Anonymous

Your point is?

This type of reply is exactly what this article says not to do.

(3)(0)
Adam Deen

So are KWM still a magic circle firm? Not sure if I should apply or not.

(8)(7)
Adam Deen

Oh shit I realised I already train at big dick US firm Jones Day. Never mind then.

(6)(19)
Adam Deen

…in my dreams! Really I work in the post room there, and go home every night to cry about not having got a TC. Even Irwin Mitchell turned me down.

(9)(0)
Adam Deen

Oh man I gotta be tripping. Too many steroids and coke with the Jones Day banter crowd…

(2)(1)
Adam Deen

Sorry! I don’t mean to be abusive. It’s because I have a small appendage and try to make up for it by playing the big man. Please forgive me.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

This is so astonishingly mature, to-the-point and honest that I nearly fell off my chair. Very well said, Alex. I thought you guys were not capable of talking sense, and I was completely wrong.

(Having said that, sensibly advising entitled millennials that the world doesn’t owe them a living and that life isn’t “fair” is not why anyone comes here. Get us a story about bottom-slapping counsel or a question from a third-class University of John O’Groats film studies graduate whether they can get a Slaughters TC, and let the banter roll.)

(44)(4)
Anonymous

Never a truer word spoken about the reality of most legal career progression –
“People rise and fall because of luck, because they’re in the right place at the right time, because they cheat, or suck up to people or more. Others are lazy or make seemingly terrible mistakes, but progress because they get a really important thing right that they didn’t even realise was important.”

(12)(0)
Anonymous

I hate the adult world. Let’s be honest, life starts to suck at the age of 5, and is downhill from there.

(8)(0)
KWM equity partner (now at US shop)

Soz ladz, I needed the cash for my fourth BTL property.

(7)(0)
Should've applied to Pinsents

Cute article Alex. No doubt will help me sail right into a new TC. Thx bro.

(6)(9)
Anonymous

Shock horror. Alex actually wrote something which was higher quality than the steaming turd I oozed out this morning. Please keep periodically publishing remotely useful and meaningful articles.

(6)(3)
Anonymous

Hardly as precarious as other careers, surely? Ok, so after a few years post-qualification you might move on elsewhere, but 1. based on the conversations I have had with associates it is often their own decision for work/life balance reasons, and 2. I would imagine that a relatively high proportion of those who start life at top firms end up making partner SOMEWHERE if they really want to?

(4)(0)
Just sayin'

Your second assumption is totally incorrect. A relatively high proportion do not make partner anywhere. It is much harder to do than you imagine. Commercial law firms simply do not make equity partners readily. It reduces the share of the cash for the existing partners. This is the case EVERYWHERE, and therefore partnership is difficult to obtain EVERYWHERE – even in firms which you may consider are not prestigious/”top”.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

I said this last week and got much grumbling. If you get shit, dust yourself down and get on with it.

To quote Sean Conner in The Rock: “Losers always go on about their best. Winners go home and fuck the prompt Queen”.

(0)(4)
Lester Burnham, Esq.

‘Prompt’ eh? I wish I could meet one of those ‘Prompt Queens’…

(8)(0)
Anonymous

Better than going home to the tardy queen. She shows up after you’ve fallen asleep.

(8)(0)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(2)
Anonymous

Missus calls me “my prompt king” but I wish I weren’t that prompt.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Genuinely one of the most patronising things I have ever read.
I assure you future trainees have not just been sitting waiting for things to fall into their laps. And yes maybe some firms are helpful but most are still looking to start their training contracts 2 years later than planned. So please tell us again why us future trainees are so lucky?

(11)(9)
Ghost of Jimmy Snuka

Never said they were lucky.

Saying that you’ll get shat on repeatedly through life and you’ve gotta get used to it.

Life isn’t fair. Just ask my wife.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

So just because bad things happen we can’t have sympathy for others? Grow up.

(2)(1)
Ghost of Jimmy Snuka

Get the bee outta your vag.

Where did I say you can’t have sympathy?

Just out of interest, what’s all your sympathy achieved?

How about getting out there and actually doing something.

(6)(3)
Adam Deen

Well… I assume you are because that’s what I’m doing right now 😘

(0)(0)
crapmasqueradingasacaveat

” These days legal careers are as uncertain as many others — KWM’s demise is a perfect example of that — and training at a City law firm doesn’t actually guarantee that much at all. Most young corporate solicitors end up in-house in companies’ legal teams, at smaller firms or leave the profession all together — often surprisingly few years after having qualified. ”

This is basically grossly untrue and is the crux of the article.

1. KWM (hot topic of the month) – you’re making the exception the rule. Firms don’t collapse. KWM is probably the biggest firm to collapse since Dewey nearly 10 years ago.

2.”training at a City law firm doesn’t actually guarantee that much at all” – ur, yes it does. You’re virtually guaranteed an associate position either at that firm or somewhere similar.

The certain well-trodden career path/track is one of the few good things about law firms. In this way your article is really addressing the majority who don’t have training contracts and preying on their cognitive dissonance on not having procured one.

3. “Most young corporate solicitors end up in-house in companies’ legal teams, at smaller firms or leave the profession all together”

Absolute nonsense. First, the VAST majority of solicitors stay in law. If you wanted to be critical of the profession, you could say the exit options suck. Because being a lawyer doesn’t really qualify you to do anything else – it’s stay a lawyer or go back to the bottom doing something else.

To say that the MAJORITY end up in-house or in smaller law firms is an intriguing statement for which you have no evidence. It is true one stands a small chance at becoming partner at the firm in which they qualified, but most partners have made many lateral moves during their careers. Your clear suggestion from this is basically that most city lawyers end up in lacklustre mediocre careers – but being legal counsel at AstraZeneca or [insert FTSE 100 company here] can pay you 200-300k + for relative 9-5 hours and taking partner in a smaller law firm again can see you easily earn 300-600k. There are many small profitable law firms. And yes, a big bulk of people become partners in big city firms. Maybe it will be 5% of an incoming trainee cohort who make it at that firm, but the vast majority are going to end up as either partners or senior in-house guy in the long run.

(6)(0)
Anonymous

I was interested in your comment until I got to “cognitive dissonance”. Then I realised you’re just another Billy Bullshitter.

(0)(7)
crapmasqueradingasacaveat

In the context, it’s just another way of saying “people who don’t have training contracts” either because they’ve so far been unsuccessful or are still nervous about going through the process. I failed at getting training contracts and I felt this way. Now having qualified, I see a few concerns were correct, but most of them (as above) were me trying to justify why working in a law firm was going to be crappy and trying to believe that I must have dodged a bullet. I was generally wrong.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

To be honest, no one is saying it is the end of the world. No one demanded to be rescued. Its the firms, law society and legal media who even put the idea of a ‘rescue package’ for trainees out there in the first place.

That has all fallen through and those who are in an unfortunate situation are now being mocked as lazy and entitled when in actual fact the majority are anything but that. Trainees and future trainees are putting in the work to make the best of the 1 – 3 year setback that this has introduced and are duly annoyed at a sad situation.

This is both presumptive and patronising, as are many of the comments.

Firm Collapses — Trainees assume they will need to sort themselves out, its tough but its life — partners, media, other firms, law society keep saying “don’t worry, we all rally round in this situation” — transpires they actually won’t be doing that — partners, media, other firms, law society “get off your arse and stop moaning”. F*ing jokers.

This is coming from someone who is not a KWM Trainee or so called future trainee.

(6)(0)

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