Advice

My training contract isn’t what I thought it’d be — what now?

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Wondering if there is a life outside law

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one once-aspiring solicitor now wonders whether the law is for him.

“I’m getting towards the end of a training contract at a prestigious law firm in the City. It’s been OK, but if I’m being brutally honest this is not the way I’d have hoped to be spending my 20s, let alone my entire life.

The money is good, and will be very good when I qualify, but the work and lifestyle is dull. Even the little bits of supposedly ‘quality work’ that we receive, and are supposed to savour, are in reality hard to get excited about. First world problems, I know, but can’t help feeling I’m wasting my youth in a very safe career space.

The trouble is if I leave this what do I do? Although I’m single and don’t have any dependants or mortgage etc, I’m now in my late 20s and feel like I have left it too late to start something new. Moving in-house doesn’t appeal, as it would be more of the same but less well paid. Should I just knuckle down with private practice and start a new hobby like marathon running (like everyone else around me seems to be doing)?”

If you have a career conundrum, email us with it to careers@legalcheek.com.

110 Comments

Anonymous

Lol.

DavidP

I was in a similar position myself. I knew mid-way through my TC that it wasn’t what I envisaged. The work was very dull and associates were treated pretty poorly. So I did a few mini-pupillages and was fortunate to get pupillage at a very good commercial chancery set after qualifying.

You will have lots of options. The danger with City law in particular is that you get used to making very good money,
very early in your career. I have lots of friends who want to make a career change but can’t because they have bought a house or have gotten used to a six figure salary. If you don’t like City law now you’ll likely never like it, and it’s much better to realise that now than as a senior asssociate or partner.

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

Were you required to study the entire BPTC or did you take the transfer test?

Anonymous

Bar transfer test. 2 exams

AB

How would you suggest discussing the fact that you’re doing minis with your firm, if you’re a trainee or NQ? It seems reasonably likely that the firm would hear about it on the grapevine (particularly if the firm works frequently with the chambers in question).

Separately, could I ask whether you found it difficult to schedule (top commercial / commercial chancery) pupillage interviews whilst working in a firm? Were they scheduled at short notice? Were many on Saturdays?

Anonymous

No I don’t think so. Yes my Chambers does quite a lot of work with my old firm, but it was taken as understood that my mini wouldn’t be disclosed. If you’re discreet and use annual leave, it’s likely to be fine. Yes, they often were – again, I sacrificed a fair amount of annual leave to attend interviews.

Crimbod

Criminal law.

Low cash, high job satisfaction.

Can’t have it all.

The Brown Knight

That is not true.

Criminal law – low cash (job satisfaction if you like doing what criminal lawyers do. If not, low job satisfaction)

Commercial law – lots of cash (job satisfaction if you like doing what commercial lawyers do. If not, low job satisfaction)

Farmer – x amount of cash (job satisfaction if you like doing what farmers do. If not, low job satisfaction)

Personally I don’t like sitting in the same room as people who smell of urine and whilst I accept that criminal lawyers defend the innocent, I think those moments are few and far between and mostly they defend the guilty.

And – i get the arguments: innocent until proven guilty and everyone has the right to quality representation when facing the might of the state. AGREED. ITS AN IMPORTANT JOB.

BUT: so is sticking your arm up a cows ass to get a baby cow out.

But its not for me…

Anonymous

Do you stick your own arm up your ass to get your opinion out?

Anonymous

Mate, I read this and it felt as if I wrote it myself. I can completely relate and trust me – you’re not alone.

I always say, the reason I do this job is not because I “love the interesting law” but because, unfortunately, I don’t have an amazing talent or a great idea, I am not the next Steve Jobs or Elon Musk…

BUT I still want good money.

I guess just do this for a bit, save up and perhaps instead of getting a mortgage set up your own business? That’s what I am going to do.

Life is too short.

Anonymous

Dolla dolla dolla

Anonymous

Bling bling

Anonymous

To echo this, you are definitely not alone in those thoughts.

I would suggest getting some real experience of your alternative career before handing in your notice. I was fed up with life in a law firm and liked the idea of becoming a teacher. I took some leave to get experience in a school and realised it was not something I wanted pursue. Be wary of any port in a storm.

The people I know who are happiest moved to firms in places like Edinburgh and Oxford. They get a decent wage but a much better lifestyle and get their excitement outside of work. I also know a guy who went in-house 3 days a week so that he can pursue other hobbies in life, he still earns reasonable money and has good job security.

Also, don’t start marathon running – it’s a boring person’s idea of fun.

Dustin Hoffmann

Marathons are the best, quit hating.

Anonymous

Why are you here and not off running on the pavement knocking little old ladies over?

US 2nd seater

Must work at a sweatshop like CMS

CMS

Wha are you on about? Only sweatshop in the City is Dechert.

Anonymous

Dechert is more of a Gulag than a sweatshop.

Dustin Hoffmann

CMS £67.5k NQ

HEFTY

dolla

Soon to be €180k

Anonymous

😂😂😂

CMS

Sunday Times best seller – The Dechert Archipelago by DDD LLL

Anonymous

Don’t forget about White & Case.

Anonymous

Shite & Waste

Anonymous

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

Tim

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

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

I agree.

Beside’s it’s spelled “Golliwogg”.

Anonymous

I totally agree.

After incurring a massive £50,000 debt for my law degree and then paying a further £15,000 to study the LPC, I feel as though I need to stay in law to make use of my qualifications and make the most of the money I spent.

Having said that, the work is painfully dull and I can’t help but feel there is something better out there.

Anonymous

Wait. But who told you to self fund the LPC….

Anonymous

LOOOL!

Anonymous

“After incurring a massive £50,000 debt for my law degree and then paying a further £15,000 to study the LPC, I feel as though I need to stay in law to make use of my qualifications and make the most of the money I spent.”

Sunk costs fallacy at work here. I am sure there are plenty of good reasons for you to stay working in law, but don’t let this be one of them.

Anonymous

It could just be training contract malaise. Being at the bottom of the hierarchy sucks – no prestige, hard work, and everything is new and difficult. You might find you enjoy the job when you are established, respected and know your field a bit better – most people do (I did).

That’s not to say you shouldn’t make a change. You’re young enough for a career change, so don’t worry about that. However, you do need to isolate what it is that you want to change. A general feeling of discontent is very unhelpful.

Isolate the things you don’t like about your job and the things you want to replace them with. If you’re not sure what it is, then I think changing one thing at a time is probably a good idea: perhaps a smaller, boutique firm would be a better fit for you than a big-name power house, perhaps a move to a different city. Or just find a career you think you would like to do and find out what you need to do to get into that.

Anonymous

Exactly this. Different seats have very different types of work. Different firms are also surprisingly different in the types of work that they have and the types of work that they let their NQs do.

Do your homework on what each firm is really like on the inside. Finding this out when you’re a student trying to get a TC is nigh on impossible, and anyway, you’ll now have a much better idea about what you want to do now you’ve worked in private practice.

If qualification and a change of scene do nothing for you, then it’s time to move on. Don’t worry about being too old: I know a 35 year old who’s now on his third career!

Also (unlike what university careers departments, law firm HR departments and parents’ expectations suggest), most people don’t have a “career” as in a single coherent set of work experience which builds on itself and progresses for 40 years. Most people chop and change, or stagnate and don’t reach the pinnacle of their field. Statistically, it would be impossible for them to do so. If you’re already jaded with law, you’re going to stagnate unless you get your mojo back. It’s better to chop and change instead.

Anonymous

35? Whippersnapper. I’m in my 40s and just finishing my training contract after several successful careers; I just like to keep things (or life) interesting. At 20 something, you have all the time in the world, so just relax and enjoy the view. You’ll start to realise that enjoying your career is more important than what your career is. And as above, if you don’t have the next big idea, working is never going to make you rich anyway.
Unless you make partner – in which case, fug all that.

Anonymous

Worlds smallest violin plays for you… Listen, you can hear it over your tears of self-righteousness

Anonymous

You could always practice criminal law and become a pauper like me, but I’m never bored…

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

Become a recruiter.

LegalRec

Genuinely a good idea. Never boring and you can make as much mullah as an any US associate in the city after a couple of years building your network. Hours are pretty much 9-6 too.

Anonymous

As much as a US associate? What kind of drugs are you on and can I have some?

Anonymous

Some might, but the vast majority end up making peanuts, strutting around the City in polyester navy suits and Primark-brand tan brogues, and packing into Dirty Martini every Thursday and Friday.

Not my idea of a good career.

Anonymous

Takes one to know one

Anonymous

Chippy chinny spotted.

Anonymous

Penis.

PEPE

THICC

Anonymous

Sounds like estate agents

RECRUITER

luv dis so tru.

Ive roles for NQs but also wit 10+ yrs exp in an exciting city boutique leading firm (city is Belfast dat does count).

Must b willin 2 do over de phone interview wit me for 30 mins while u in werk.
Must impress me first.
Must tell me mundane facts already on ur CV.
Must come into office 2 meet de team – they’re a gas bunch u’ll luv dem.
Must have either no experience for position or 10+ years experience but only be a NQ.
Hav u n e “commercial law” exp? If yes, dis is the job 4 u
Wat is “commercial law” in anyways? Is dat de same as people slippin in supermarkets?

SOUND LYK A FIT 4 U? DM me on Twitter for deets.
Salary a MASSIVE 2K p/y for de right candidate.

kik: lubeian

Anonymous

It’s commission based, there’s no ceiling on pay. It is true that some law/finance recruiters pull 6 figures in a year. The hours are not 9-6, at least the guys I know doing it work significantly longer than that. Also, the guaranteed basic salary is low and it’s a pretty thankless task chasing people up 24/7.

US 3PQE

Most recruiters I’ve met were either top notch bimbo eye-candy types (good outcome), or semi-literate choppers in pigeon-grey suits and brown loafers commuting in from Essex, who only ever managed to send me spam messages on LinkedIn.

Anonymous

While there’s some truth in what you say, my point was only that the successful ones can in fact earn pay commensurate with other City professionals. There are also a lot of ex private schoolboys in recruitment, especially the ones with crappy academics. They can’t get into JP Morgan or owt like that, but see it as a way to try and earn more than 25k a year.

Anonymous

Who?! Where are they?!

Every effing recruiter I’ve met tells me that you ‘can’ earn that much. I’ve never met one who actually has? It’s a shit job for shitmunchers

LegalRec

Well I’m obviously not gonna name who I work for but I assure you there are at least 3 people in my team making between £150 & £180k a year. A lot of us are between £80 & £120K and then there those on c.£50k.

LegalRec

Easily. I have colleagues who are earning c£180k a year.

Anonymous

ROFL.

Anonymous

Go to the Bar.

Anonymous

Get a drink.

Anonymous

Down the drink.

Anonymous

Sink back into your seat crying because you failed at life.

Anonymous

Realise that you’ve shat yourself.

Anonymous

Cry harder, whilst bellowing for your mother.

Anonymous

Go to http://www.nappiesrus.com and place an order!

Anonymous

Realise that you’re ABDL and need psychiatric help.

Anonymous

How do you move from a international commercial law firm to a chancery set? Is it just about securing a pupillage? No need for the BPTC?

Anonymous

You have to sit the Bar Transfer Test. It’s much shorter and cheaper than the BPTC. The tricky part is getting pupillage. Good commercial and chancery sets have very high standards compared to City firms, in most cases you need at least a First plus some other academic prizes.

Anonymous

At least pupillages never require the same hours as TCs, even at the crème de la crème sets – they see pupillage as being a genuine training programme, whereas TC work is often cheap labour and hundreds of hours doing stuff that a secretary could do and/or what robots will eventually do

Anonymous

Never have words hurt so much, yet they were totally relatable. I’m midway through a TC and I just feel like a fraud.

Anonymous

First you learn grammar, in order to move from a[n] international commercial firm to a chancery set.

Anonymous

I truly believe that noone wants to work…like noone enjoys going to work. What you have to do is either find an outside hobby or passion that you can go to for enjoyment or find areas of work that you actually enjoy and specialise in it, i.e. transaction management or advocacy work etc, a sub-area of your department.

Anonymous

I was in your shoes. After qualifying, I moved into comms before joining another firm as a diversity & inclusion manager. I make 40% of my NQ salary, but I enjoy my work & I’m never in the office after 5pm.

dolla dolla bills y'all

Broke mutha fucka.

Anonymous

Here’s Martin Shkreli joining us from the Madoff resort in Florida.

Anonymous

Ot@3

Anonymous

And your job is a complete waste of time.

Anonymous

The bigger the firm the more basic the training contract. Perhaps try a year at a regional firm but be prepared to be at a disadvantage to their own qualifying trainees wbo may already be handling their own caseloads. Despite what city firms will have you believe there is a lot of quality legal work being done outside London.

Anonymous

In case the trainee who made that comment is reading – you are not alone.

That feeling resonates with a huge number of juniors and, in my experience, does not go away easily. In my opinion, I think you essentially have three options:

(a) walk away;
(b) stay at the table and see how it goes; or
(c) double down.

Option (a) seems incredibly bold, particularly if you don’t have some sort of back-up fund or are carrying student debt. However, you absolutely shouldn’t ignore the way you are feeling. You have had two years’ of solid experience in the industry and the type of work, stresses and demands you have seen do not go away. Look at your colleagues 3-4 years down the line from you. If you can’t see anyone who you might want to emulate, then I’m afraid the writing is probably on the wall.

Option (b) seems a safe compromise. Delay the decision, don’t do anything rash. Fine, but have your eyes open. You are going from a good salary to a great salary, from a temporary status to a secure one, you are climbing the ladder and achieving what you set out to all those years ago. That feels great. It’s a huge boost. It’s not going to change the job, though. How long do you give it? Maybe you’ll have a couple of years of nice holidays or try to pay off your loans. Is 2PQE too early to try in-house? Maybe a couple years longer, then you can have a decent deposit too. Maybe its not the job, it’s the firm. Switch and give that a year or two? Think about the toll all of this is taking on you and your relationships in the meantime. Your sense of self worth. Your pride in your work. If you consider law school and your TC was wasting your youth, wait until you start wasting your 30s too.

If you are considering option (c), I’d recommend a nice pair of Asics and a decent set of headphones.

Which you choose ultimately comes down to your personal circumstances and how strongly you are feeling. Just don’t ignore those feelings and remember to talk to friends and family about it regularly to keep perspective.

Anonymous

Why do people take these career conundrums seriously? It’s just Alex fucking around with us.

Anonymous

Not even that, it’s Alex pumping up the traffic on his website so he can afford more gak on Friday. Can’t blame him tbh

Anonymous

What’s gak

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

Training is incredibly tough, you just start to build some confidence in an area only to find yourself placed in a new unfamiliar area back at the beginning.

I wouldn’t abandon law completely, but it may be worth moving on to a new firm. I agree with the above post about trying a regional firm instead, there is plenty of good quality work available with a better balance.

It may also be worth considering your motive for a career in law, when you were studying who did you look up to? What did you want to be/do? What inspired and motivated you? Is there a way for you to realign with the above?

Anonymous

Move into finance

Anonymous

booo

Dr Hoo

Hoo

Anonymous

Is that realistic after training at a top Mid-Atlantic US firm? Or working for hedge funds?

Anonymous

Am I the only one who is genuinely so grateful to even have a well-paid job at a decent firm (Magic Circle) that I don’t feel like this? I have a First Class Law degree from a top Russell Group university, so it isn’t like I couldn’t have taken a different route, if I had really wanted to. Every job has its good and bad days. You will never, in any field, love every little thing you do. Also, there is such a thing as delayed gratification. Sometimes, you have to go through the things you don’t love, to get to the things you do. If you genuinely hate law, or international commercial law in particular, then that’s different. In that case, I would suggest you move, lest you remain miserable for the rest of your life. Or, if you have an amazing idea of what to do with your life instead, go pursue it. However, I will never be one to tell someone to quit, just because it’s difficult or it isn’t necessarily fun all of the time.

linkassoci

God, another person bragging about having a “First” from a “TOP Russell Group university”. Get over yourself. In reality. very little of what we do would be considered “law” or “international law”, rather, it’s primarily transaction and project management. That’s why so many bright entrants leave the profession.

Anonymous

I went scuba diving in Australia and the guys taking me out were about the same age. I thought they had the ideal job – doing something active, something they loved, all day every day. What a rush, what a way to seize life. I wanted to quit my job and do something like that!

They didn’t see it that way. They said at first they loved it but after a year or so it was just like every other job, they had to be somewhere at a set time and do the same stuff every day whether they felt like it or not. They didn’t earn much money and had no time off during peak seasons. They were not jealous of those in an office but were jealous of the fact that I could travel half-way around the world on the drop of a hat and do something completely different for two weeks and not really think too much about the cost.

I have heard similar complaints from ski-instructors.

Anonymous

Feel consoled that even Justin Bieber has to change his skivvies.

Karl "Top Bantz" Marx

If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.

Become a politician – something noble that’ll allow you to use your legal ski.. oh I can’t finish this.

Corbyn. Sympathiser

I like your name, comrade.

I suggest giving all your earnings to the poor, in preparation for when JC gets elected as PM and this is mandatory.

UK NQ

I share the feeling.

Some practical advice:
1. change practice area – some areas are more interesting than others (e.g. Intellectual Property > Residential Property)
2. move firm – if hours are too long then take a cut and move regional
3. find a career alternative and invest in it as a hobby – if you want to do something else, do it on the aside and see if you’re good at it; if you are, perhaps worth digging deeper to see if you can change field.
4. accept reality – a lot of us don’t do what we love to do; you still find ways to be happy.

If you want to do something smart, do tech or management consultancy.

Anonymous

Go to the bar.

Timor

I quit the legal profession the day I was admitted to the roll of solicitors and moved into compliance.
The money is decent, with plenty of scope to develop and earn more money. I’m finding the work-life balance is much better than with law and think you should consider it too.

Oh dear

Absolutely nobody gets into law for its “excitement” or “fun”.

Plunkenpeen

Except criminal barristers, whose job is effectively a hobby for which they get paid pocket money.

Come to the other side

we have grass

Anonymous

And it’s green

Come to the other side

Seriously though, get out. Just go. After training you’ve probably got savings, or if you don’t you soon will one or two years PQE. You can take the time and space now to find an alternative career rather than spending the next 40 years proof-reading securitization documents and smashing your cranium into your desk.

Some well-researched options are listed here: https://80000hours.org/

Anonymous

Never too late to do what you want to do. A mean, Trump is president for goodness sake and he’s 74.

Anonymous

Another City trainee chiming in to tell you that you’re not alone in feeling this way. The job is fucking boring.

I’m at a Magic Circle firm, work with ‘top’ clients all the time, it always has an ‘international aspect’ and everything we do is ‘market leading’. But, absolutely none of that means anything to me after 10pm on a Friday when I’m proof-reading yet another 50 page document which almost certainly has no genuine errors within.

I personally haven’t worked out what I’m going to do on qualification. In all reality I’ll probably stay for another couple of years because (as someone has stated above) I’m a relatively average individual who has an opportunity to make a ton of money. I’m not exceptional enough to earn a NQ salary in a ‘more enjoyable’ industry so it’s either commercial law or an average salary and life.

Hopefully it’ll get better, but I doubt it.

Anonymous

Are you at Freshfields?

Anonymous

FFS. The life of a City lawyer is unremittingly boring. Life is short. You have only one shot at it (apparently). So do something you enjoy.

AL

Aware this is unrelated but studentroom isn’t helping.

I have unconditional offers from Warwick and Leeds uni to do law. Which one do I choose if I want to obtain pupilage at a top set? Or a TC at MC? (under the assumption I get a 1st- which obviously I may not).

Thanks

PEPE

Neither will get you a THICC pupillage, but you may get into a relatively THICC firm, prob not MC tho.

THICCCCCCCCCCCCCC

Anonymous

If you care about this shit already you won’t get in anywhere. Firms and Chambers want normal people, not weird 17 year olds already hellbent on climbing the ladder.

Go to wherever you think will be more fun. Have fun. Sit on the committee for a few societies and get good grades. Then, whatever will be will be.

Anonymous

Lol not going to happen with either of those unis

Judge Mental

AL, this is really basic. Go on an Open Day to both institutions and evaluate them for yourself. Think you can manage that? If not, law may not be for you.

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