For final seat trainees who miss out on internal newly qualified (NQ) lawyer positions, the day their firms announce outcomes of the qualification process is for many the first time they’ll have faced rejection. From personal experience, the psychological reaction to such a knockback can be more challenging to overcome than the uncertainty of navigating the infamously competitive external NQ jobs market.
What’s more, given the current state of the legal jobs market I fear emotions are riding higher than ever before. I hope therefore my following top three tips, which worked really well for me, will help keep stress levels in check by offering a different perspective. Because for many NQs, the process of looking for a new role in such challenging conditions will I believe ultimately become a lesson in patience, tenacity and resilience.
Tip 1: Don’t rush into a decision
Most people in my social circle (including myself) accepted the first training contract offers they could get their hands on. But upon qualification, a wise person told me I was now of an age to make a conscious choice. So, I took a week or two to properly assess what I really wanted from life rather than limit my choices to what everyone else thought was best for me. For instance, it is perfectly reasonable to want to join a less well-known firm or even to move in-house as an NQ if that’s in tune with your long-term goals. But before committing to a decision remember to multi-source and fact check your findings first, particularly because you’re likely to get conflicting advice.
Tip 2: Avoid peer pressure
Many of us have a habit of conforming to established practices in our groups of reference. Lawyers are definitely not exempt from this. As such, if after completing your training contract you decide to follow a slightly different or unusual path to your peers you may well find friends quickly voicing their ‘concern’ for your future career.
To avoid the stress of discussing options with my trainee cohort or indeed being judged about my choices I limited conversations to a select group of close contacts who knew me well and had a proper understanding of my goals and bounced ideas off them.
Tip 3: Don’t take it personally
Above everything else, I kept reminding myself that I shouldn’t take the situation personally. The notion that ‘you should stay with the firm you trained with’ originates from a bygone era when all final seat trainees, with the exception of bottom performers, would be offered internal NQ roles. However, during the last couple of qualification rounds the uncertainty linked to Brexit and more recently Covid19 has meant law firms are now having to seriously consider their resourcing needs. This in turn means it’s now no longer uncommon for trainees with solid performance reviews to be let go.
Indeed, contrary to popular belief, whilst interviewing for external NQ positions I found that hiring partners were all too familiar with the challenging state of affairs and very rarely questioned the reasons behind the untimely departure from my training firm. I also found sharing my trainee appraisals with potential employers helped to mitigate against any stigma still attached to changing jobs upon qualification and reassured hiring partners that my lack of an internal offer wasn’t in any way related to my performance.
In short, I remember the weeks between the NQ announcements at my training firm and the day I signed my current employment contract as being some of the most exhausting in recent years. Working full-time whilst actively looking for a new job was undeniably tough and sometimes meant I found myself working much longer hours and simultaneously spinning multiple plates in the air. But on a positive note, I also think it was a point of incredible personal growth. Receiving a few NQ offers helped me understand I was capable of adapting and making the best out of any situation.
A special sense of empowerment came from knowing that I could navigate the ‘adult’ jobs market successfully and after weeks of uncertainty and emotional highs and lows I’m very grateful for how things eventually turned out for me.
Giulia Carloni is an associate with the London office of top tier off-shore firm Carey Olsen