Even the definition of “the right job” is a hugely personal issue. No two people will ever agree on it, and even one person will view the same role in a different light at different stages in their career. Salary, working hours, the size of the team, the proximity to a senior figure, location, levels of responsibility, the oft-quoted “work-life balance”, these will hold varying levels of importance to everyone at different stages of their career.
For fresh graduates searching for their first role in the legal industry, it is often difficult to find the right direction, let alone the starting point. Issues to be addressed may include mediocre grades which invariably rule out the conventional approach through a big firm’s graduate recruitment and traineeship programme and involve a more circuitous route of internships, paralegal and legal assistant positions and, above all, determination.
Some graduates may have a fixed idea of which direction their careers will take, which practice areas they will focus on from the beginning. Often these ideas are questioned by exposure to alternative areas which may stimulate and challenge them more (or less!), or the presence of an inspiring senior figure. Others may decide that they wish to work overseas, which may also govern their focus given the region they wish to work in. Generally, a job on Wall St. will be quite different from a role in Dubai.
As young lawyers progress through their careers, alternative options will increase, and even the most contented may find themselves contemplating the “push and pull factors” of a change. “Push factors” may include a feeling of falling into a rut in a role that has ceased to motivate, a realization that further progression is either unfeasible or impossible, dissatisfaction with the culture of the firm or the team. “Pull factors” range from the obvious (higher salary, more amenable working hours, albeit these two rarely coincide) to others that are more personal to the candidate (a more convenient or interesting location, a change in practice area focus, a change in responsibility from client-facing to internal mentoring, or vice-versa). As touched on above, “push and pull factors” will alter according to the individual and the stage the individual is at in their career: The presence and importance of family (both young and old), perhaps an unwillingness to maintain the schedule of all-nighters during particularly hectic periods, perhaps the desire to pull out all the stops and drive for partnership if such a prospect is remote in their current position.
Every change in a legal career requires careful research and consideration. Moving jobs from a position of security without specific reasons into a firm or a role that is unfamiliar can be disastrous. The market remains extremely competitive and underperformers will not endure. An excessive number of moves (either voluntary or forced) in a short time will be a red flag to any experienced recruiter, human resources executive or hiring partner, who will consider the candidate to be either incompetent or unstable. Conversely, a willingness to sit back and cruise for years without making any notable efforts to progress through via alternative routes will also be viewed as an indication of a lack of drive and ambition should that person suddenly decide they should really be up for partnership like their former law school classmates.
The “right job” may even be a temporary stepping stone to a more attractive role down the line. Fundamentally, what makes any job “the right job” is that, at whatever stage in your career, it is right for you.
Contributing writer: Sam Kenworthy