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

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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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