Articles From the Team

Road Digging: An Associate’s Tale

It's June 2008 on a hazy summer day in the Strand, London. Tourists are flocking and the pigeons from Trafalgar Square have been kicked out by Ken, so are watching from afar as the road worker starts up his pneumatic hammer. Bang! A jolt of electricity strikes the road worker and the hammer stays fixed in the ground. All around him, lights go off, offices shut down and chaos starts as the traffic lights pack up.

Now, the Strand is known for various things including the Zimbabwe embassy, which is akin to going back in time about 100 years. (If you get the chance, ask to go the bar downstairs.) In addition, major accounting firms, global energy companies, The Savoy Hotel and various other international businesses are located there amongst Pret, Caffe Nero and Stanley Gibbons. In one office (a leading international law firm) a newly qualified associate's PC has just switched itself off. The office lights have gone off and there is a general hum of unrest as no one knows what to do. Outside the window, the pneumatic drill is still in the ground having pierced the arterial electricity cable for the whole of the area.

Meet Emily*

It’s at this point our NQ starts to pontificate about life. Emily has had a good life so far but has had to work academically for it. Her parents weren’t the wealthiest, but they made sacrifices and sent her to a private school in the West Country. She gained 3 As at A-Level, which meant she could choose which University she went to and opted for Warwick, where she studied history. It was during the 3 years that followed that she realised the sensible option was to go into law. She was never going to be a doctor with a history degree anyway. During this period she decided to sign up for various vacation schemes with City firms and following interviews, she secured a training contract. But alas, there were still so many hurdles to jump. The GDL followed and then she had to complete her LPC, which in total took a further 3 years (there were no compressed courses then). Having gained an abundance of friends in the same position, all she really wanted to be was a lawyer. Two years of training followed and finally, she could step into the firm as a qualified Solicitor of England and Wales. Emily's parents were as proud as punch and Emily had the biggest hangover from the drinks her and her cohorts had been to. One Jagerbomb too many. But it didn’t matter, she was now a qualified solicitor and her career in practice as a corporate lawyer had started.

So, GCSEs, A-Levels, University, GDL, LPC and training contract. That was 12 years worth of education. She mentally patted herself on the back. Onwards and upwards.

2013: En route to Partnership?

It's now 2013. Emily is considered a 5-year PQE Associate. It’s been tough, but fortunately, the worst of the market has passed and things are looking up. After the banking crash in 2008, Emily spent her time working on restructurings rather than putting deals together. But in the last few years, M&A and IPO activity had increased. In fact, she’d been involved in the listing of a major tonic water business and was proud to be involved. She’d been busy. She’d received multiple calls from legal recruitment consultants and ignored them. She was enjoying the firm, even although she was getting home at 11 pm each night.

Emily suddenly pondered: when was the last time she saw her friends. Most of her friends were lawyers in other firms and she was part of the ‘Party’ WhatsApp group but she could never make any of them. She was too busy. She was running hard to the next goal and her appraisals had been great. The word partnership was mentioned. Occasionally. But this was something a long way away.

2016: Business Development?

2016 approaches and Emily is tired. She's 36 and single. She’s seen a few people but is too busy to hold down a relationship. She's been to a few parties but generally finds herself yawning and talks about work. Her friends are bored of her chat too. She needs to get a life. But, "no, I’m going to be a partner and I can get all the rewards I need then," Emily says to herself. She's now 8 years qualified. She's asked to attend a meeting with two of the partners in the corporate team on Friday morning.

"Emily we really like you. You are great at your job and you are a pleasure to have in the office," says the first partner.

"But, there are no partnership options here. You haven’t shown any business development capability and all our clients are institutional. You can be a Counsel if you like? Take the weekend to think about it."

The train flattened her. She felt like a cartoon character stuck to the floor as she’d been hit by the 8 am from Euston to Manchester Piccadilly. She’d worked hard, had good appraisals and was highly thought of. What else could she do? She’d been too busy. Business Development? Why would I need to start doing that as a midlevel associate?

The pneumatic drill and the power cut entered her mind. A life-changing event for some (about £50million of revenue was lost that day...)

She thought closely about some of her friends who’d been in contact with recruitment consultants. They spoke highly about a select few that’d helped them a few years prior. Those friends were on Partnership track with smaller firms, and she now recollected how at the last party Maria had explained that she was given a guarantee of junior Partner if she carried out various activities.

Emily hadn't listened. She assumed it was a fait accompli in her firm. She called one the legal recruitment consultants straight away.

"No nothing for you I'm afraid. If you’d thought about moving earlier in your career, we could’ve helped" So she called another one. It was the same. In fact, she spoke to four highly reputable agencies who all gave her the same response. She felt trapped. She didn’t want to work as an in-house lawyer. Her passion was to deal with multiple firms, not one client. What could she do?

Should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve

Two years later, and it’s summer 2018. Emily’s at home. She’s restyled herself as an interior designer and left law. She interviewed with a few firms but didn’t have a portable book of business and the firms weren’t willing to take the risk. Interior design was fashionable but not really what she wanted to be doing. She thinks she has an eye for design and reads all the magazines, but the voices in her head are constantly nagging: “Why didn't you explore options earlier? Why didn't you ask the firm about the long-term options? My network was there, why didn’t I use it? Damn!” She realised that she should’ve taken some of the calls, kept her options open and listened to what was out there. She should’ve given herself the best chances in reaching her career goals.


Hindsight is not a great thing. It's too late. One should never make assumptions about their career. It’s safe to assume that you’re not going to cause £50M worth of lost revenue by digging up a road. Equally, it’s safe to assume that your career path is safe... or is it? Take the calls on offer, explore the market and make your choices carefully. Your current firm may make you a partner, but from one risk-averse lawyer to another, make sure you have all the cards. If Emily had explored the market, she could be halfway through to partnership by now with a work-life balance, friends and a relationship; all that training and education to leave the law in the end.

If you’re going to ‘dig’, explore where you need to dig and use the advice that’s given before you electrocute yourself!

*Emily is a fictional character and bears no resemblance to any actual person. Although, her story is a blend of various conversations with lawyers over the last ten years.

If you're a City lawyer and you're interested in getting in touch with a leading legal recruiter (to start 'digging', touch base, or look for another job).

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