‘I am a family solicitor practising in child care/child abduction. I recently had an appraisal with our managing partner and expressed a desire to expand into advising other areas of law. The main reason is that I am nearly six years’ PQE and am becoming bored and stagnating. I want a new challenge but do not want to start right at the bottom. Is there any advice for expanding areas of law, for example courses/approaches to take? I was given the green light by my boss but it would be alongside my current work/caseload. I want to gain knowledge of an area that is more transferable.’
Chris Owen, consultant to the legal profession
Your managing partner is supportive so must have ideas as to which other departments in the firm can help give you experience in a new discipline.
I think you need to draw up a shortlist of which areas of law you feel might interest you and get approval from the managing partner and head of the practice area that is agreed upon as to how this is going to work.
Being a family practitioner, you might be best transferring slowly across to private client work if the firm does that, as it is buzzing at present and is not too far away from what you currently do. Commercial seems too far, as does corporate.
Once agreed, you need a settled time each week where you shadow another lawyer to see how this new area operates in practice. Then the firm needs to agree what courses or extra tuition in the new area is available. So if private client, is a STEP course appropriate after a while to help you gain a qualification in that area?
Because every lawyer has to pay their own way with billings targets and so on, the pressure will be on not to drop your productivity levels while learning a new set of skills.
I have to say this is not easy for the firm or the individual and if your salary is X, will the firm guarantee X when transfer is complete?
Firstly congratulations for taking the first initial steps, being self aware enough to realise you need a change and having the courage to discuss this with your manager. The good news is that whatever area of law you decide to try your hand at next there are masses of materials; blogs on-line training paid and free ready to be tapped into.
The two main challenges are:
- deciding what area to try; and
- getting practical experience.
As for which area of law to try next many areas provide good broad experiences that are transferable but two that come to mind and were the start of my journey are dispute resolution and general commercial contracts.
Commercial contracts inparticular provides a good foundation for then moving into real estate or banking. Ok I am being overly simplistic but generally at its core ’a contract is a contract’.
As for the experience this is going to involve an open honest chat with your managers and other lawyers in the practice. Whereas the theory can be studied in your spare time how you get to practise will depend on your workload. Ideally you would go on secondment to another team and emmerse yourself in a new area. A interim compromise might be to lend support to other teams in your chosen area and bit by bit swap into he new role. What you need to avoid is getting stuck helping in a new team and essentially keeping the same workload.
Good luck and in the words of the jedi master Ben Kenobi you have taken your first steps into a larger world.
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