Dear Phil

Just married, huh! Aged 25 with your beautiful wife next to you and heading off to a walking honeymoon in Scotland. You don’t need me to tell you that to date you’ve made sound choices. She is gorgeous.

Career-wise, all’s going swimmingly. You’ve found a second home. You’re practicing law at Travers – a great firm – and your partners have generously left a bottle of champagne at the hotel you’re about to check into.

Indeed, you’re so happy I fear that you might even neglect to read this letter.

You see – I called it. But you’re back. You’ll never be able to resist listening to yourself speak.

So, what can I tell you?

DO appreciate what you have. Try to appreciate that bagging a City training contract is quite a big deal. You are lucky but will come to witness the lack of diversity within the legal profession meaning far too many great students from less traditional backgrounds face unfair obstacles. So please actively engage in activities designed to level out the playing field for all aspiring lawyers, irrespective of their backgrounds. Be a champion for opportunity.

DO stick with it. Law may not bring you fame but it will challenge you, inspire you and provide a gateway into business that you’ll never value as highly as you perhaps should, given it’s where you are at your most engaged. Law will remain your friend.

Whilst you already know all will be fine, you don’t even know what that means yet. I admire that in you. Your freedom to simply inhabit the then and there. Your air is rich with youthful intent – cherish the energy that you have as it soon passes, and you’ll turn to red wine and boxsets. Really! To think only a couple of years ago you didn’t have a computer, no email, nothing but phones between your desk and the real world. Time passing.

And, as you get older, these are some of the points I’d counsel you to consider. The decision is yours. Rule One has to be to take anything I say with the same pinch of salt with which you take most advice – but FWIW…

DO keep looking around you. Pay particular attention to your friends and their values in. Whilst you will inevitably win some, lose some, the type of people that interest you and are real friends will not change. You’ll always end up where you started, and that’s good if it’s not forgotten.

DON’T work too hard. Believe me – there’s a way to win in law without sacrificing everything else. It’s generally considered treason to even suggest this to be true. But if you want balance in your life, be strong and it’s there. Don’t worry too much about what the workaholics think – they haven’t had much time to think coherently anyway, never mind protest.

DO invest in people. Be kind, make the magic of teams and people your dream. You don’t really look up to people. You should do that more than you have done in all honesty. Find mentors. Look for people to collaborate with, to sing in KBox with, to flourish alongside. Your working life will feel more intangible as you get old and forgetful. But you’ll forever remember the wondrous uniqueness of the people to whom you were closest and that will keep you happy as you walk in the woods or cycle through winding English lanes.

DON’T be meek. There’ll be times when you’ll have to slam doors on more senior partners (they will deserve it), to show incredulity at senselessness and injustice. When you have to dare to be different to achieve change. Don’t shy away from confronting the old farts, the sexists, the selfish, the politicians, the unkind. But don’t make your life one long crusade or they’ll soon find a substitute for your throne.

Finally, always remember where you came from. That’s easier for you to see from where you are now, driving to Scotland having left your family waving to you outside a Cheshire hotel. Keep the picture. It’s where you’ll be returning. No need to resist. You may even return happier still.



Phil Sanderson was the former co-chair, private equity, at US law firm Ropes & Gray. He is now running his own executive coaching consultancy