Should I leave when I qualify? The dilemna for Newly Qualified – 1 year PQE Solicitors
in Careers Advice, Changing Jobs, Job Applications, Legal Profession, Newly Qualified Solicitors, Staying in Your Job

Should I leave when I qualify? The dilemna for Newly Qualified – 1 year PQE Solicitors

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

In April every year we are regularly contacted by newly qualified and 1 year PQE (post-qualification experience) solicitors who ask the following questions:

1. Should I stay with my training law firm for at least 2 years when I qualify?
2. How much should I get paid?
3. What other options do I have?
4. Does it harm my career if I move when I qualify?
5. Does it harm my career if I stay where I am when I qualify?
6. If I move will I get a higher salary?

Our response is usually:

1. No, not necessarily.
2. Depends on the field of law, the firm and the geographical location.
3. Usually plenty.
4. No
5. No
6. Probably.

Slightly “on the fence” but here is the reasoning behind the above responses:

1. Should I stay with my training law firm for at least 2 years when I qualify?
A lot of recruitment consultants will advise this, together with most senior partners, understandably! I don’t think you necessarily need to remain where you are for 2 years. It all depends on a wide range of factors including: whether you like the firm, whether the senior partner is a deranged workaholic who regularly throws things at you, whether you get on with the staff, what the career prospects are like, how much loyalty you feel towards the firm – did they go out of their way to get you through the training contract? How much are they planning to pay you, what office space will you get? Will you have secretarial support? Will you always be the trainee solicitor and handed all the rubbish cases that no-one else wants to deal with? Is there a clear path to partnership or equity? Are you going to be offered work in the area you want to qualify into? Do not move for the sake of it. Do not stay where you are if it is affecting your mental or physical health. Do move if you are commuting miles each day when there are plenty of other opportunities closer to home.

2. How much should I get paid?
The quick answer is to implement the rule of thumb long used in this calculation. Work out your billing or contribution to the billing. Your salary should be 1/3, your contribution to the firm’s profits is 1/3 (yes they really do have to make money out of employing you) and your contribution to the administrative costs should be 1/3. So if you bill £100k your salary is likely to be around the £35k mark. This does not work for all, but it is a rough and ready way of thinking about it. Obviously if you bill £50k and get paid £45k you are doing very well indeed… If you are at a smaller firm who claim they have no money and can’t afford to pay you the level you seek consider offering to accept a bonus scheme. This would mean that you get a basic of say £25k and then a percentage of 15% on top of 3 times your salary. Such an arrangement gives you an incentive to work harder and then benefit from your efforts.

3. What other options do I have?
Usually plenty, although not necessarily so. If you are an NQ or 1 year PQE crime solicitor (my sympathies) then there probably are not that many options out there for you. However if you are an NQ conveyancing solicitor then in theory there should be plenty at the moment. This advice will vary according to the market – in 2010 this would not have been very accurate advice.. Remember – do not just move for the sake of it. If you like your current firm and everything is good, stay where you are.

4. Does it harm my career if I move when I qualify?
Not at all, although if you then make a move within 12-24 months it most certainly will. Similarly if you transfer your training contract for no apparent reason then alarm bells will ring amongst recruiters at a later stage in your career. Are you a ‘difficult’ or ‘prickly’ person with an issue with authority? Today’s employment market is very fluid and it is getting increasingly rare to see anyone remaining with an employer for longer than 5 years. Obviously our view is a little tainted in that we only get to see CVs of job seekers rather than those who stay with a firm for a longer period of time. However a move every 12 months or so is too much.

5. Does it harm my career if I stay where I am when I qualify?
No – in no way does it harm your career, unless you are qualifying into a field of law that you do not want to practice longer term. If you do this you will harm your prospects significantly.

6. If I move will I get a higher salary?
Probably, although it does depend on the firm and the work you will be doing. The usual advice is that when you move up from being a trainee and stay with a firm they will attempt to offer you a salary that is lower than it would be elsewhere. However it does vary. When I qualified many years ago my firm offered salaries about 30% higher than just about any other firm about. The firm were very fair and had quite a left wing, share the wealth approach to their work. I joined another firm, who were even more left wing but paid significantly less!

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk