Advice

‘I’m thinking of taking a gap year after qualifying as a solicitor. Is this career suicide?’

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One NQ asks for readers’ advice

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one newly qualified (NQ) solicitor has an itch to take a year out and explore more beyond law but worries this could be “career suicide”.

“I have recently qualified as a solicitor. It’s taken years of hard work to get where I am and I know how lucky I am to have secured an NQ position — especially during 2020! I am happy with my career choice and the firm I’ve joined.

However, at the same time, after all those years of studying and climbing the ladder (and having never left my hometown), I am also craving a bit of an adventure. I’ve been exploring the idea of moving abroad for a while, however there doesn’t seem to be many opportunities for a lawyer from the UK, at least not in my field (criminal defence/legal aid).

I’m wondering what potential future employers would think if I were to take some time out doing something completely different/unrelated to law (perhaps one year doing TEFL, for example), particularly if I were to do so within/around two years PQE? Would it be a red flag?

I’m in my late 20s without dependents etc. so I think this would be the best time to do it, but I also worry that it would be career suicide? Grateful for any input. Thank you.”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

61 Comments

The QC’s Only Fans Account

Career suicide? Who is more important to you, you or the firm? Because if you consider yourself more important, you shouldn’t be afraid of having that holiday, having a family or taking up hobbies that make you a happier person.

What do you think will happen to the firm if you’re hit by a bus? The world will still turn and they’ll just hire someone else.

The love of your spouse, kids or dog at an honest level does not depend on whether you are a solicitor or not. So take that gap year and enjoy your one life.

London calling

Completely agree with QCOFA above, it’s your life so you know what’s best for you. I’m in my early 30’s, 3PQE and also took a long hard road to get to this position, so I get why you think that a break may be seen as off putting to firms. I suppose it depends on your situation and the area you’re qualifying into – if you’ve qualified at a magic circle, you’re decent and you take a year, you probably won’t struggle to get employed afterwards. Similarly, if you’re in an area of law in high demand on the market, you’ll probably also be the same. I’d speak to some good legal recruiters out there and get their opinion too – after all, they deal with firm HR teams day in day out. Best of luck whatever you do though and welcome to the club 👍🏻.

Alan

Take the gap yah. There’ll still be NQ jobs in a year.

Random passer by

‘I’m thinking of taking a gap year after qualifying as a solicitor. Is this career suicide?’

Yes. Next question please.

Ignore this fool

No it’s not. Keep gooning away son, you might even save up for a 90% mortgage and buy that dream Barratt box in Esher. 😀

Random passer-by

Lol. Everyone on here saying that the OP should prioritise life etc are completely right. One only lives once and everyone should be free to do what they want for the enjoyment of their life. However that wasn’t the question. The question was about a gap year as an NQ (0-2PQE) to go travelling or teach English as a foreign language. I have never heard a firm allow anyone to do that and come back to their job. Other firms will question your commitment and wonder why you decided to leave at such a pivotal stage in your career development to do something completely different. I’ve heard of outstanding juniors being allowed to take a year off for an LLM (or the BCL) or to do something exceptional like a clerkship at the Supreme Court. Also secondments to other offices to have a base to travel etc. is probably more sensible. But to take a year off and just go travelling and then think it will have no impact on your career is not realistic. You are very replaceable as a junior, not sure why people on here think firms will be rushing for your services when there is so much talent out there at that level.

Do it

I’m thinking of doing the same thing around 2 – 5 PQE. You definitely wouldn’t be the only person!

Sometimes you have to think about the bigger picture. Yes, perhaps it might set your career back. However, lots of people have career breaks for many reasons – having children, looking after a relative, trying something different or going travelling – and they manage to return and have successful careers. Will you look back in retirement and think “Man I really regret going on that backpacking trip to Asia and teaching English thirty years ago…”? You’re much more likely to regret working constantly and not going on that trip. Your working life is very long! At the end of the day, you have every right to have a life and to pursue an experience that you really want
If you died tomorrow your firm would find a replacement trainee.

One thing to keep in mind is that the NQ level is one of the last big bottlenecks where it can be quite hard to secure a job in some practice areas. If you train at a good firm and want to go into a high demand practice area you should be in with a good shout, but it will probably be harder to get an NQ if you take a year out straight after training. However, if that’s the best time for you then it is certainly doable. Perhaps delaying to 2 – 3 PQE (a very in-demand time for associates) could be a better option and you can build up experience and savings for the trip.

Do it

I’m thinking of doing the same thing around 2 – 5 PQE. You definitely wouldn’t be the only person!

Sometimes you have to think about the bigger picture. Yes, perhaps it might set your career back. However, lots of people have career breaks for many reasons – having children, looking after a relative, trying something different or going travelling – and they manage to return and have successful careers. Will you look back in retirement and think “Man I really regret going on that backpacking trip to Asia and teaching English thirty years ago…”? You’re much more likely to regret working constantly and not going on that trip. Your working life is very long! At the end of the day, you have every right to have a life and to pursue an experience that you really want. If you died tomorrow your firm would find a replacement trainee.

One thing to keep in mind is that the NQ level is one of the last big bottlenecks where it can be quite hard to secure a job in some practice areas. If you train at a good firm and want to go into a high demand practice area you should be in with a good shout, but it will probably be harder to get an NQ job if you take a year out straight after training. However, if that’s the best time for you then it is certainly doable. Perhaps delaying to 2 – 3 PQE (a very in-demand time for associates) could be a better option and you can build up experience and savings for the trip.

Anon

No. Career suicide is moving offshore.

Offshore phatman

Lmao, good luck with giving 45% to the ever-thirsty HMRC. Given just how bad public finances are in the UK, that 50%+ tax rate is coming boys. 😀 😀 😀

Fat man

What is a phatman?

Planning my escape

Correct, but it’s already de facto >50%. Additional rate band City jobs incur 45% income tax + 2% personal NI contributions, plus employers pay 12.5% NI before salaries are even paid. This equates to a de facto income tax of 52% overall. The widely-reported increase in NI by 1 or 2%, to both employer and employee contributions, will push it it up by 2% or 4% respectively. The final bill therefore is likely to be either 54% or 56% of the additional rate band of one’s salary being confiscated for redistribution.

The top 16% already pay 67% of all income tax, and overall the the top 1% pay almost 30% of income tax. The bottom 50% of the population largely don’t pay income tax, i.e. they live off other people’s efforts. Alternatives, showing the maximum rates of confiscation, include: Cayman Islands 0%, Dubai 0%, BVI 8% , Hong Kong 15%, Singapore 17%, Channel Islands 20%, Australia 30%. They all offer an improved quality of life, less confiscation, better weather and lower crime.

Have Cayman’s protectionist provisions of the Legal Services Act 2020 requiring 5 PQE been brought into effect, yet?

Anon

I am sorry things have not worked out for you.

Cayman King

The copium is strong with this chinless one.

Keep at it son, you might make partner at your London mid-market firm by 11PQE. 🤡🤡

Offshore phatman

This. 💯🔝

Anon

Or there’s no such thing as career suicide and the right decision for one person might not be the same as for another person?

Anon

Objectively, moving offshore is career suicide.

Offshore phatman

Uh huh 😂🤡

Eddie the Tax-Free Expat Litigator

Bruh, do it. But ideally combine it into a job move as well.

Think about it: you’re in your late twenties and you’ve just arrived in the UAE. Suddenly, your take-home swells by 100%+. HMRC no longer steals cash from you, you keep it all. There’s £10,000+ landing in your account every month. 25 days annual leave and pension plan thrown in for good measure too.

Work’s done for the day and guess what: it’s never cold outside, sunny and warm 365 days a year. Time to inspect the exotic hunnies left right and centre at a private beach club by Jumeirah Beach. Head back from swimming in the Persian Gulf via a casual stop at Nobu. Too busy there? That’s ok, Zuma’s black miso cod has you sorted. It’s been a long day, and your 1,500sq ft condo awaits. Rooftop pool, gym and tennis courts are a given, all that for less than a poxy two-bedder in Brixton. Crazy right?

Oh, and there’s this brand-new BMW M4 waiting for you in your garage. How? Well, you just bought it with all that tax-free cash you’re flooded with. Just you wait for the annual bonus season: £25k flying into your account, not a pence missing.

It’s awesome, it’s fantastic. Just talking about it here gave me a proper chubbie. Leave the sweaty overtaxed pit of London, and live the good life bruh.

(114)(114)

anon

This surely has to be one of the most outrageous comments on LC ever. Well done 😂🤡

You can’t tell a Falcon when to hunt

Counter-point

You move to the desert where it is literally too hot to go outside half the year and you spend the time sprinting between overly air conditioned containers.

You’re inside and look around. You can take advantage of the local culture, which appears to be shopping to purchase the same mass produced goods available in the rest of the west.

After a tough day buying known brand names and spending what little time you have on this earth in a shopping centre you travel to a hotel where you are required to show a passport to purchase alcohol.

A delightful evening is spent with people like Eddie the expat, who’s sole point of interest is that he no longer lives in the country he is born in and views his tax status as somehow gaming the system. However this self reflection requires constant comparison to a hypothetical life back in Blighty as the benefits pale in the (figurative) cold light of day.

Having had your fill of people who don’t understand or appreciate why taxes exist you stumble home. Unfortunately you stumble against one of the few emirati in the emirate. You are imprisoned for alcohol consumption and promoting homosexuality by brushing against the emirati.

You call Eddie for help but he can’t speak Arabic.

(117)(29)

Don’t listen to this fool

Well done: you’ve successfully managed to regurgitate a handful of the most ridiculous, debunked stereotypes about a country that boasts 90% of its residents from abroad, literally from all corners of the planet, and incredible diversity of activities and surrounding regions to explore.

P*ss off you clown. 😂🤡

You can, it’s called falconry

Yeah ofc, the summer temperatures and alcohol laws in the diverse desert must be fake news

Take a look at this flog

Yeah, I’m really struggling right now, sitting in a pub opposite my office, sipping on cold pint of lager. The alcohol laws here are so harsh. So harsh in fact that I’m throwing a big boozy BBQ up on the roof of my condominium building next Thursday. 😀 😀 😀

DXB

Myopic view, devoid of reality. As expected from a chippy English solicitor plugging away at some obscure City firm.

City

Spot on. Dubai is a sterile hellhole, packed with failures.

Clown Alert

Failures like you, furiously upvoting your sock-puppet post? 😀 😀 😀

😂🤡

Lmao ok, thx fresher.

City

Nobody wakes up in their late 20s and says, “I’m on the partnership track/I’ve got a shot at Silk. I know! I’ll give it all up and move offshore.”

Offshore is for people whose careers haven’t work out.

Anon

So the only way someone’s legal career can work out is if they take silk or make partner? That must amount to a hell of a large number of failures in London then.

Jem

“So the only way someone’s legal career can work out is if they take silk or make partner?”

The answer is yes.

DXB

Ignore the coomer mate, all these comments are obviously written by the same chinless 20-something, slaving away to make others richer while living in his one-bed in Farringdon. Keep them ignorant lmao.

Really?

I think it’s mainly students. Many actual 1-3 PQEs colleagues are planning their escape out of law: the delusion that “Partner or QC” are the only routes to success can only be from children.

Anon

I think it’s mainly practitioners, because they know success in the law means making partner in London or becoming a QC.

Sorry

Tax is the price you pay for professional credibility. And if you are doing well enough in London, tax won’t bother you anyway.

HMRC

Yea ok 😀 😀 😀

Anonnnn

Lawyers don’t have much credibility outside the legal world anyway, so if your whole life is spent worrying about “credibility” and what other people think of you, it’s going to be a pretty miserable existence.

It’s only in the world of legal cheek that people give that much of a care about what firm you work out and how much you earn.

London litigator

Dubai isn’t offshore.

Offshore means Cayman, BVI, Bermuda, Channel Islands. This is because none of the underlying commercial activity takes place there. It happens onshore. As a result, if you are a lawyer in any of those jurisdictions, you act as a post box for the onshore lawyers, who hold the client relationship. The onshore lawyers deal with the drafting and strategy, and get you to file what they have produced; and they are in charge of appointing the counsel team for court work. You just sit at the very back of court, behind counsel and the onshore solicitors. You are the very least important people in the process. In fact, counsel and the onshore solicitors view you as an irritant who merely add to the costs.

There is no professional dignity in that. Which explains why offshore lawyers are looked down on.

1.5yr PQE

When I was travelling I met a lot of people on career breaks. Some of them had very understanding employers who agreed to the break up front. Others had employers who would not keep them on the books (unpaid) or guarantee them a job on return, but said this was a possibility and would keep in touch. Others had employers who refused outright.

In EVERY case, the previous employer offered the person their old job on their return. It is very expensive and risky to take on a new person, despite all their bluff and bluster. So even if you haven’t started your NQ position, I’m sure the firm you qualified with will be in a similar boat. (The people who were offered jobs with firms who refused them permission to take a sabbatical unsurprisingly rejected this offer, and were all successful in quickly finding employment elsewhere – new experiences, properly articulated at interview, should be a big plus).

So absolutely do it. Nobody will sit on their deathbed wishing they had reviewed just one more document.

--

I am in a similar position. I am 1.5 PQE and am looking to move jobs in any event. My plan, however, is to take around two months out to travel. Given that most employers will expect a three month notice period, I am trying to time it right so that I can travel for two months and have a job lined up for my return. Perhaps you could consider something similar? However, a hinderance to this are the current Covid restrictions around the world, with many countries not permitting entry.

A commercial barrister

An actually informative and entertaining comment thread on LC. I might take the afternoon off to celebrate. Never mind, I was going to do that anyway

Obvious

The answer is so obvious here. No.

Live your life

Wrong. P*ss off.

Coomer Squad

Anyone know what’s up with all the fake upvotes of some comments? Do people literally refresh this page ad nauseum to do this?

Jealous

On some browsers, it’s possible to keep clicking every 5-10 seconds, without even bothering to refresh. I think you can reasonably infer from this that some UK-focused trainees are *very* unhappy with their lives, and are determined to prop up their faltering self-esteem by convincing themselves that they are superior to people who are paid far more overseas, and are thus up/down-voting comments to that effect.

Said by a jealous London-based solicitor who’s planning to escape once Covid madness makes it a little less of a b@ll-ache, hopefully in 2022!

Anon

No evidence of fake voting. You just don’t like that the vast majority of people commenting here recognise that working offshore means that you have failed professionally, and that Dubai is a ghastly place. Grow up.

Smoke my dong

Yeah ok sure mate 😂🤡🍆

Anonymous

Quite. All the losers cry “fake voting” when they have resoundingly lost the argument.

Captain Cayman

Uh huh, thx fresher 😂🤡

City sol

Sep 6 2021 9:10am: You’ve never been near the Cayman Islands. Back to your single office firm in Leeds.

Offshore

Would I make partner in London. Possibly not. Would I want to make partner in London? Certainly not. Who wants to be on call 365 days a year, have no work life balance, and be burnt out, fat and bald by 45. Will all the people on here commenting that offshore is a failure make partner or QC? Almost certainly not. So most of the people commenting on here will be failures by their own definition. Will my tax free hefty salary, sunny beaches, and good work life balance make up for the fact some students and internet trolls think it’s selling out? 100%.

City

I am sorry things haven’t worked out for you.

Cayman Stacks King 💰👑

Phat dolla, top beaches, dream life

Anon

Sep 5 2021 5:28pm: something has to make up for the fact that you have failed professionally.

Geoff

This guy has never been near the Caymans. He’s still at uni.

Just go!

Absolutely not. Take the year. You might not get another convenient time!

It’s the best decision I ever made. Career wise, in the time I’ve been back from my gap year – 2 years – I’ve gone from a small regional firm to a heavyweight international player.

💰 BVI Bossman 💰

HEAVYWEIGHT
INTERNATIONAL
PLAYER

You’re winning at life brah.

anonymous

Sep 5 2021 5:29pm: you have never been near the BVI. Back to your exams.

Everything hurts

It’s taken me several years of the underpaid paralegal grind, and a below-market trainee wage, to recently qualify. Thankfully I’m now paid a very decent City international firm salary, but after years of grinding away for sub-£35k salaries in London I have massive bills to clear and no savings.

I desperately wanted a qualification leave of just a couple months but I can’t afford it (firm doesn’t offer a paid sabbatical option). I’m burning out.

Take whatever break you can afford whenever you can. It’s important.

Naive student

I’m a Uni student and speak both French and German. Is moving to one of those nations considered a sideways step or is it looked down upon?

Thanks

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