I am a solicitor in a smallish legal team for a charity (there are three of us). I am deeply committed to the charity, but the head of legal has no plans to leave. Do I have to leave to get the experience necessary to secure a more senior role?
Laura Hayward, senior manager, Sellick Partnership, says…
This is a pretty common situation in smaller organisations and one where there is no right or wrong answer; my opinion is that there could be three possible outcomes.
The first point of call should be to have a frank and honest conversation with your head of legal and discuss ways that you can take on more responsibility without stepping on anybody’s toes.
If you are happy in your current role and see a future with the organisation, then I believe this is the best option in the first instance.
You could discuss taking on more complex cases, picking up/ gaining exposure in other areas of law, or assisting them with some management responsibilities.
This could give you the option to develop your skillset, while also working in an environment in which you are comfortable. This way will also give you access to experienced peers who may be able to assist with anything you may not fully understand.
The second option is looking at gaining experience outside your organisation on an extra-curricular basis. Have you considered doing a voluntary legal role outside of your ‘day job’? Have you looked into external courses or even CPD events that could help you expand your knowledge and experience?
Either of these ideas could enable you to learn new skills while retaining the job security you currently have. Not only that, but CPD events are also a great way to network with other legal professionals who may well be in similar position to you – it is not uncommon to have small legal teams that are fairly established and settled.
If nothing else, this may provide the opportunity to meet like- minded people who work in your sector, seek advice, and further down the track it may turn into job opportunities!
The third option, but by no means the least, is to leave the role for something elsewhere. I would not automatically discard this even if you are happy in your current role.
Before making any big decision, I always advise candidates to think about – and number in order of importance – role, location, money.
Once you have put those in order I think that it helps to decide which role is best for you. If ‘role’ comes out on top, then I would advise to have a really hard think about what it is you want out of your career, and then ask if you are getting that where you currently are.
I would strongly recommend that you discuss your career aspirations with any prospective new employer.
It is important that you move for the right reasons, and moving to an organisation that is the same as your current one would be futile. Instead, find an organisation that can give you the support and the opportunities you need to progress; plus the interview process provides a fantastic opportunity to discuss this.
Ultimately it is a really difficult position to be in – you love where you work but you have hit the ‘ceiling’.
Weigh things up, decide what is most important to you and go from there. If you are happy where you are, able to take on more work and want job security I would stay.
But, if you want to progress quickly and seek a more challenging environment, I would look to leave or to gain experience externally that will help when applying for new roles in the future. To reiterate, start with ordering the three motivators – role, location, money – and then consider the three scenarios above.
In doing so, you will hopefully be able to make an informed decision on what works best for you and what route will give you the best opportunities to progress throughout your career.