An open letter to all trainees who weren’t retained this summer

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By Husnara Begum on

Some of the best decisions people make are often forced on them, says career coach Husnara Begum

Angry. Resentful. Rejected. Lost. Embarrassed. Panicked. De-motivated. This is how most final seat trainees are likely to be feeling when after two years of hard toil they’re told that their firm is unable to offer them a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor position. However, for some, missing out on internal NQ roles offers a sense of relief because it gives them the freedom to change direction or in some cases leave a profession that wasn’t perhaps right for them.

Either way, navigating change can be quite a scary prospect for even the most strong-willed trainees. For example, if you’re considering a career change then don’t expect it to happen overnight. This is especially the case for any trainees who remain unsure about what realistic options are available to them or in contrast feel overwhelmed by the ideas that are constantly buzzing around in their heads.

For example, one trainee who was referred to my outplacement programme said they wanted to work for a start-up. Sure, that sounds exciting but it’s far too vague. The key here is to narrow your idea(s) down to something much more specific. This can be a time-consuming process, which involves you thinking about your values, key motivators, transferable skills and of course reality checking. That said, a couple of the trainees I’ve worked with made light work of leaving the profession because they had very clear goals on what direction they wanted their careers to head in. Indeed, that was also the case for me because when I decided to quit law I had a robust plan in place to make the switch into journalism and had even enrolled on a writing course before I handed in my notice. For more help with changing careers I’d recommend the best-selling book on job search strategies What Colour is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles.

Quitting practice is definitely the nuclear option and I’d recommend thinking long and hard before pressing the button because it will inevitably have significant repercussions in terms of how easy it will be for you re-enter the profession.

So, what are the potentially safer options if an external NQ role is still passing you by? And when will the anger, resentment, rejection etc start to subside especially as you continue to face an uncertain future, including a potential period of unemployment?

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Firstly, please try to stay calm and avoid pointing the finger of blame to everyone else as this is extremely counter-productive. And remember it wasn’t necessarily you who was rejected — most trainees are let go due to a lack of business need.

Secondly, there is absolutely no reason to feel embarrassed or awkward because contrary to what some of the trainees I’ve worked with thought — nobody is laughing at you. Indeed, talking to family, friends and colleagues will not only help to take some of the strain away but it may also help with mapping out a ‘Plan B’. That said, please be wary of any advice that may be based on incorrect or out of date assumptions or simply contaminated with personal bias or prejudice.

Thirdly, I recommend doing an honest assessment of why your job search has hit a brick wall. Are you being realistic about potential options, have you cast the net wide enough, do you need to replenish your list of recruitment agencies (there are plenty to choose from), are you doing enough preparation for interviews, have you fully exploited your network? With regard to the latter, word-of-mouth is often the best way to secure fresh leads. Speak to friends, colleagues and other trusted business contacts. Explain your situation to them in a positive manner and ask them to keep their ears to the ground, or better still why not ask if they would be happy to pass your CV onto relevant partners/heads of departments (albeit on a purely speculative basis). I don’t need to tell you that a substantial proportion of jobs get filled before they make it to agencies or jobs boards. This is especially the case for NQ jobs. For example, around a third of the trainees who completed my outplacement programme last summer secured NQ roles through their networks or via direct applications and this trend looks set to repeat itself for my current cohort.

Finally, what concessions would you be happy to make? The obvious ones are qualifying into a second or indeed third choice practice area, moving in-house or a potential relocation either to the regions or overseas. This is a massive sticking point for many of the final seat trainees I work with and they must decide which route take because all such options will impact future career direction. For example, qualifying into corporate will make it almost impossible to switch back to litigation and moving overseas may make it difficult to return to the UK. But just as importantly, you may well end up enjoying going down a path you hadn’t previously thought of and it may even be the tonic you need to help you bounce back. Indeed, some of the best decisions people make are often forced on them.

Husnara Begum is a career coach and outplacement specialist with a particular focus on working with final seat trainees and junior associates. She was previously a journalist at The Lawyer and a solicitor at Linklaters.

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