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Careers focus: Working hard to redefine success

Photo of Simon WhiteheadLaw student, trainee, associate, solicitor, senior solicitor, partner… It’s the path most people set out on when embarking on a career in law. But, what if your ambitions don’t extend all the way to the top? Partner, Simon Whitehead, explores why we need to re-evaluate the common industry models…

The notion of a job for life no longer exists, so if you want to climb the ladder, you’ll have to work your socks off.

Law isn’t easy – as a degree or as a profession. As is the case in many professions nowadays, your role will rarely be 9-5. In large firms, 10 hours plus days aren’t unheard of – in the really big firms, they have beds. Junior lawyers at the firm where my colleague trained considered it a badge of honour to don a new shirt (it meant they’d “done an overnighter”, and we’re talking corporate completions, not wild parties).

For those who do want to be part of the senior management team, we have to ensure that access to that tier is fair for all. And for those who don’t share such ambitions, we must redefine success so that lawyers don’t feel that they’ve stagnated (or be made to feel that way) just because they don’t want partnership or to join senior management. Structures have changed within law firms, but the industry’s culture hasn’t necessarily caught up.

In particular, the remuneration model that extends to all staff has a huge impact on culture within a firm. Hard work should pay off, no matter what your level or ambitions.

At HRC Law, we have a discretionary bonus scheme that applies to all staff and if the firm meets financial targets everyone gets a share.  We’re transparent internally about what our targets are and discuss whether we are on track to achieve them as one of the agenda items at our monthly team meetings.

We recognise that the non-lawyers in our team are crucial to the firm’s continuing success too and we want to reward them for their hard work and commitment too.

If you’re comparing law firms with a view to a career at one, career progression paths within that law firm are an important consideration.  They impact on the whole culture of the firm, and, if you intend to stay there, they’ll impact on you more directly in due course too.