As September draws to an end so too does the autumn qualification round for final seat trainees. Thankfully, by now most newly qualified solicitors (NQs) will be settling into their new roles, be that with the firm they trained with or somewhere completely different.
Unfortunately, for some final seat trainees the road to qualification won’t have been as smooth, and as the number of external NQ opportunities start to dwindle the prospect of facing unemployment is rapidly becoming a daunting prospect.
If you’re one of the unlucky ones then please try to hold your nerve because there may still be a number of options that are open to you.
But before exploring some of the alternatives to the traditional routes followed by NQs I think it’s vitally important to stress that any decision you do make may narrow your future choices, especially in the event of a contracting jobs market when opportunities across the board a less plentiful.
Therefore, please think long and hard before taking any paths that are less travelled. Discuss the pros and cons with trusted business contacts, family and friends and do remember what works for one NQ may result in failure or disappointment for others.
So what are the alternatives to securing a permanent NQ job with a new firm (or in-house legal team) in your first choice practice area and location?
Qualification in another area
The obvious option would be to look at a different practice area or location. Though the idea of moving to a new part of the country or indeed overseas sounds like a big deal, it needn’t be. For example, if you’re currently based in London where the NQ jobs market is most competitive then working in the Home Counties doesn’t necessarily mean a full-blown relocation as it may be possible to do a reverse commute.
What’s more, the move doesn’t have to be forever. Most legal recruiters (me included) would argue that returning to London after a period overseas or in a different UK city is potentially easier to achieve than changing practice areas. Indeed, the number of lawyers I know who have made a geographic move significantly outweighs those who have switched specialisms. And the small handful who made it a reality either did so gradually or via an internal transfer.
Gun for hire
If a permanent NQ position continues to pass you by then it is also worth exploring fixed term contracts or freelancing. In that case, it’s worth noting that most recruitment agencies operate a separate temps desk so I’d recommend making yourself known to the consultants who focus on such roles. You may also benefit from registering with some different agencies as this can inject some fresh energy to your job-search.
Some of you may be thinking about parking your job-hunt and going travelling.
Most legal recruiters would advise against this because as soon as there is a gap on an NQ CV it becomes more difficult to market that candidate to employers. As such, continued employment, albeit through a fixed term contract, would be a more sensible option.
The most radical move would of course be leaving practice altogether and changing careers. But as I wrote earlier, such a decision should never be taken lightly because it will inevitably have significant repercussions in terms of how easy it will be for you to re-enter the profession at a later stage.
That said, plenty of NQ do follow this route and as you read this article are enjoying fulfilling careers in non-lawyers roles within the legal sector or have even launched new businesses.
Indeed, as a career changer who made the switch from working as a magic circle corporate associate to journalism I can safely say there’s definitely life beyond the law.
Husnara Begum is a legal recruiter, career coach and outplacement specialist and works with lawyers with all levels of PQE.