Advice

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

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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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43 Comments

Anonymous

I was booted out as an NQ by a mid-ranking UK firm and as the article suggests, it was the best thing that has happened in my career. It took a few years to steady the ship but now im at a great US firm and loving my job. Its as much about how the firm fits you as it is about how you fit the firm! Nobody performs at their best in an unsuitable environment, and its great to have to make deliberate decisions about your career once you are a little older…

(46)(1)

Anonymous

The person who wrote this sounds like the kinda guy who also wears light brown shoes with a blue or pigeon-grey suit.

(17)(20)

I wear black suits, skinny ties, Hawaiian shirts, and brown loafers with white socks to work.

Try it sometime.

(32)(2)

Anonymous

Bold, the in-thing is to go without socks these days.

(0)(1)

Anonymous

What are you on about you dong, they were clearly replying to the comment, not your horsec*ck article. 😂

(8)(0)

Anonymous

The person who wrote this sounds like they’ve never opened a GQ in their life, or still reminisce about the mighty British Empire and how Churchill won the war.

News flash: some people in this country can now cook and a thing called fashion has made its way to the shores.

(0)(15)

CityGirl

A good article, having been in this position myself at a smaller practice I ultimately received an offer from a much more prestigious firm who were on a hiring spree, so I went from skulking around feeling resentful to actually quite pleased I hadn’t been retained – you never know what’s round the corner!

(33)(2)

Anonymous

I wish I hadn’t been retained and had an excuse to leave law.

Alas, someone needs to ensure the PE managers get over the hurdle this year…

(14)(1)

Anonymous

I want to sue Suits for suckering me into this hellscape of a profession.

(36)(0)

Anonymous

Good luck with that.

Wife of Deceased Fireman Sam Fan v Aon [2003] sets a pretty strong precedent against you.

(13)(0)

Anonymous

Quite dark, but I like it.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Quit law and work in a restaurant. It is a better life.

(2)(2)

Legal Recruiter

This is a decent article. I’m constantly surprised at how inflexible NQ solicitors can be, particularly with regard to relocation (even to another part of London). Their position often softens after the initial month of searching.

Flexibility regarding practice area is perhaps more understandable. Law firms have very little imagination and can’t see how anyone could switch later on, so often what you qualify into is what you are stuck with.

(9)(2)

Anonymous

Well, ex Linklaters or not I thought “too long, didn’t read”. From what i did read it seemed to have the modern tendency of “on the one hand I advise this, but on the other, advice to do the complete opposite also works”

(11)(8)

Anonymous

I deliberately didn’t tell readers what to do because what works for one trainee may be a complete car crash for another. The point was to highlight options so readers can work out options for themselves. That’s the most powerful way to deal with this situation.

(11)(6)

Anonymous

Hi, once upon a time people were referred to George Orwell ‘s essay called – The politics of the English language – as a guide for perfecting their written voice. It may be on line nowadays or you could search to find which compilation of his it appears in and pick it up for a few pounds on eBay. It could change your life and obliterate those 6 up votes I got !

All the best, anyway.

(2)(8)

Anonymous

Husnara is excellent 🙂

(7)(5)

Anonymous

One of the best things I ever did was spent 6 months travelling in South America. Take the chance to do so while you can. I particularly enjoy mud volcanoes.

(8)(1)

JD Partner

I advise all my trainees to spend six months in Thailand. It really helps them pick up some useful life and career skills.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Yep – the rush to be qualified by 24 is one that (in hindsight) appalls me. You’re 22 – just take a year off and do whatever you want! If you don’t have enough money, save up for the ticket then do odd jobs when you’re out there to supplement your income.

I promise you working in a bar in Buenos Aires will still be 100x more fun and fulfilling than being an NQ one year quicker. Once you’re in you’re in!

(12)(1)

STALLONE

100% this. I went to Phuket in Thailand and had the time of mah loyfe.

(5)(0)

JD Trainee

So long as you avoid that sh*tty fernet drink. That stuff literally made me gag, even more than working in a law firm. Maybe.

(2)(2)

Bartender from Buenos Aires

Fernet is delicious you dong.

(1)(1)

Bartender from Stanley

That’s the Vietnamese currency you baht.

(2)(0)

Shopkeeper from Busan

Baht I don’t care you won.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Does it make you G more than when the JD P has the D in your M?

(1)(2)

Anonymous

alright

(0)(0)

Colonel Sanders

“Angry. Resentful. Rejected. Lost. Embarrassed. Panicked. De-motivated…”

…Hotel? Trivago

(24)(1)

Anonymous

So I have a question about NQ jobs, and I realise this may not be the right place, and the answer is going to depend on which MC firm it is, and what their business needs are at the time, but anyway: What are the chances of you getting the practice area you want if you aren’t seeking a transactional gig necessarily? I’m particularly interested in international arbitration and white collar crime at this stage, if I was to qualify at a MC firm would I have a reasonable chance of qualifying into either of those areas? Or am I going to be told its ICM, Banking, Corporate or nothing? Thanks in advance for any insight.

(2)(7)

How can trainees/NQs get disputes jobs?

See https://www.thelawyer.com/global-litigation-magic-circle, dated 2 August 2018 (free access to this article once you register):

“The magic circle has reached a natural ceiling in the proportionate level of litigation revenue they generate, a trend that will make future investment in growing their disputes teams less likely, new data in The Lawyerʼs Global Litigation 50 suggests. This yearʼs analysis of the quartetʼs performance confirms that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer has ranked significantly higher than its three closest competitors (Allen & Overy (A&O), Clifford Chance and Linklaters) in terms of disputes fee income for several years. But the running order for the quartet has not changed over the past five years and the proportion of revenue generated by litigation and arbitration at these four firms – a key indicator of where their strategic priorities lie – has also barely shifted since 2014. Investments made over the past decade in building out a US disputes practice by all four firms, most notably Freshfields, can be seen in the proportion of fee income they derive from disputes. But this yearʼs data suggests there may be a natural ceiling to this trend, absent a transformative, transatlantic merger. Freshfieldsʼ level of litigation-derived revenue, having grown significantly in the five years after 2008, has effectively stalled at around 33 per cent. Similarly, those of its magic circle rivals Clifford Chance, A&O and Linklaters, all at around 20 per cent, have not moved in a meaningful way in terms of their focus on disputes since 2014. In contrast, US firmsʼ litigation revenue often contributes as much as 50 per cent or more to total turnover.“

Litigation/arbitration/dispute resolution is not the Magic Circle’s focus. Apparently, in most firms trainees are not even guaranteed to complete even a single contentious seat. This is evidenced in part by the fact that the firms pay law schools to deliver a short, fortnight-long ‘litigation course’ to satisfy SRA requirements. They wouldn’t spend that money if they didn’t have to!

International arbitration is niche, and jobs are intensely fought over. Many qualified lawyers complete unpaid/barely-paid internships so as to distinguish themselves from the competition. HSF has just opened this year’s Hong Kong internship, for example: https://hsfnotes.com/arbitration/2018/08/01/international-arbitration-internship-hong-kong-applications-now-open-5

I’m not sure what your best option is: can people with more experience than me offer constructive advice?

(9)(1)

Anonymous

You must be new here.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

I have no idea.

What’s your favourite Suits character?

(3)(1)

4PQE

Depends how many partners you suck off. Got your technique down?

(3)(3)

Anonymous

My advice is don’t be a lawyer at all. Do something more prestigious. Pick litter. Clean up vomit in a hospital ward. Write for Legal Cheek. Anything.

(3)(3)

Anonymous

hahahha so true

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Great article! Lawyer2B went downhill once Husnara left. More like this please, Legal Cheek.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

Everybody had keys to everybody elses houses. And the locks – they were made of something like paper.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I suppose they can head to one of those professional graveyards offshore like Cayman or BVI.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

One of the trainees at my first firm was not kept on after getting the bottom grade for all four seats (well, technically he only got it for three seats because he had gone before the final seat grades were issued). Anyway, he was searching around for ages, willing to do anything to get an NQ role, even at a small commercial outfit. Somehow he ended up getting a plum NQ job at a top US firm in a non-transactional department (so no horrendous hours). From zero to hero.

Sadly the story didn’t end well as he got kicked out of the US firm after almost two years of coasting.

(2)(0)

An open letter to unsuccessful female applicants

You can always do porn.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

This is so true you know. You may end up having to be a bukkake girl, or some actually really dodgy stuff, but it is all good money.

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Males can do porn too you POS.

(1)(1)

Dr Frankenstein

An open letter for students who weren’t accepted at any firms, please?

(0)(1)

Comments are closed.