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Any career move is a big deal. Many London lawyers will make just two to three key moves in their career (sometimes even just one, or indeed none at all) so you want to make sure that each is well thought through and successful in the long run. Here we have taken a look at some of the key factors that it is worth bearing in mind – some of which may seem straightforward, others can sometimes be overlooked.

  1. Compensation

Often, the package is the make-or-break factor at both the beginning and end of application processes. Is it appealing enough for a candidate to be interested? And does the eventual offer match expectations?

Complete package will vary depending on the firm and different factors will come into play, including base salary, potential sign-on bonus (which we have seen much more of in 2022), bonus potential, other incentives (e.g. LTIPs or carried interest for in-house roles) and ‘bunching’ further up the ladder – and it is worth expecting some sort of trade-off between each of these, i.e:

  • If there’s a pretty desirable base salary on offer:
    • Is there a very small or non-existent sign on bonus;
    • Is the bonus potential actually quite low straight off the bat – or does it appear lucrative but the target hours to reach the top % bracket are unattainable in practice and therefore it is not realistic; and
    • Does an eye-watering base salary dictate that there is subsequently not much increase between salary bands as you progress through the PQE levels.

We know that NQ salaries are in constant battle with each other, the Magic Circle is being leap frogged by some of the other international city outfits, some firms are freezing NQ rates, whilst US firms (despite already being well clear of the pack) continue to raise their own bar. Some firms have also been paying generous mid-year bonuses, while others have not been paying additional bonuses at all.

In a rather fitting segue, there are certain things to consider when aiming for the top salaries…

  1. Target Hours…Work/Life Balance…Culture

The general rule of thumb is that the higher the salaries, the higher the target hours, the less chance you are home in time for tea, and the more intense the culture. What are the typical annual billable hours worked by Associates at your firm and team of interest – 1500, 1800, 2000 or 2500+?

It is worth noting that there are great firms which buck the trend and pay a reasonably competitive salary within their respective markets and keep culture and employee satisfaction pretty high on their radars – but these tend to be at the mid-market level, so those who have experienced the top end of the salaries may have to take a sizeable deduction to see real change in terms of work/life balance.

  1. Team Composition – Members & Structure

If you are looking to move firms, the likelihood is that you will have taken a gander at who is in the relevant team there – are there any key names, newsworthy transactions or big moves that have happened recently (all facts worth having in your back pocket to bring out at interview stage). Sometimes overlooked, however, is the team structure. This can inadvertently affect promotion opportunities a few years down the line if your aim is to reach partnership. If the team is ‘top-heavy’ with more Partners than Associates, will this mean you will be waiting a while to enter the partnership? Likewise, if the team is very Associate-heavy at your specific PQE level, will there be more competition when that time does come around? Promotion opportunities are normally something you can discuss during interview processes with the firm – and by looking at the other team members and the respective times it took them to progress up through the ranks.

 

What should I do next?

When thinking about making a move it is first worth thinking about the key reason you want to move on. Is there a type of work you want to focus on; do you want a change in culture and work-life balance; a higher salary; to work with a particular Partner; better progression or learning and development opportunities; a different type/structure of firm – a boutique or sector specific offering; or indeed do you just want a change from the norm. Nailing down the crux of the reason you are considering leaving will really help to dictate the best move within the legal market.

The next step is to keep track of the transactions that you have been working on – and more importantly – the part you played and the contribution you made in each instance. When assessing your CV, firms will want to see exactly what you have been up to – and ordering your thoughts on paper will likely aid your discussions, should you be invited to interview.

Another piece of advice would be to smarten up your LinkedIn profile – it is amazing how many good lawyers have scruffy or incomplete LinkedIn profiles, and your profile will often be one of the first places a potential employer will look to get a greater ‘feel’ of who are you as an individual and as a lawyer.

Finally, speak to a good headhunter. Researching on your own is excellent and developing an idea of what you are looking for is even better. Taking the time to speak to someone immersed in the market will significantly aid your chances, for a few reasons.

  • Insight & Understanding
    • A good Headhunter will (and should) take the time to get to know you, understand your motivations, and provide an in depth understanding of the market to assess what could be a match. The likelihood is that they will have worked with their clients for a certain amount of time, will know the type of people they place there and will check in with those people and HR regularly to keep up to date on what the firm is like internally – which can be pretty useful information when you are considering a move from the outside without knowing people on the inside. They will also be able to provide you with invaluable information in terms of interviews processes and questions, and interviewer personalities.
  • Network
    • Headhunters will have relationships with a number of firms, and will know the internal recruitment teams well. With strong relationships comes an advantage of your CV being vouched for by someone the firm trusts and uses regularly – and can also result in being privy to roles that are not advertised publicly on the market, so you’ll be ahead of the rest.
  • Time Management
    • Lawyers are busy. Your daily focus, even when considering a move, will be on your clients (rightly so) and maybe the odd evening will focus on a move. A Headhunter’s daily focus is on finding an opportunity for you. So in terms of basic time management, it is probably worth speaking to a respected Headhunter and being at the forefront of their mind for their clients and their vacancies.
  • Market Timing
    • Coming out of Covid-19 we saw a huge increase in firms crying out for Corporate Associates. As time has gone on, we are currently seeing a Real Estate Associate boom. In the future, with inflation increases, the cost-of-living crisis and pockets generally becoming a little more tight, one could expect that we might see more Insolvency, Restructuring, Employment and Litigation vacancies. Headhunters will be keeping a close eye on the variations within the market and will be able to advise on the best time to make a move.

Best of luck!

Any career step is incredibly important and is best made when armed with comprehensive information on the full suite of options. Looking for the right role can also be daunting, especially while working flat-out as a busy lawyer – sometimes a job search can feel like a full-time role in itself! To smooth the process and to make sure that you have all the market intel and information you need, speak to a trusted headhunter who specialises in moving top-flight lawyers. You may be surprised how helpful they can be and how much confidence you will have, as a result, that you are moving into the perfect role for you.

 

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