I’m a senior associate at a medium-sized City firm. A few months ago, we had our first child. I absolutely mean to do my share as a father, and engaged the firm early about what that would mean – taking some parental leave and some planned flexibility thereafter. It was made rather clear to me though that to be on the partnership track, they wanted the ‘right priorities’ from candidates – code, as it turned out, for billing my unlimited availability to the firm on demand. I am ambitious, both for partnership and for being a good dad. I feel I need to move firm – but how would you advise me to handle my ambitions?

Mark Bailey Sellick Partnership

Mark Bailey, associate director, Sellick Partnership says…

This is indeed a tricky situation and one we do come across from time to time. The legal sector is generally improving in relation to work/life balance, but we do still come across firms that are unable to offer flexible working for whatever reason.

Initially I would advise you to explore internally and find out whether or not the message you have received regarding your partnership track is the opinion of the firm or a specific individual in the business. You may feel you have to leave, but given that the views surrounding parental leave seem to be the main driver for you looking at other opportunities, we would certainly recommend that you are sure you cannot achieve the progression you want internally before looking at new opportunities. If you find that it is the view of an individual I would look to address the issue with a senior figure in the organisation to see if it can be rectified.

If you come to the conclusion that a move is necessary, and that you will not receive the support you need at your current firm, the starting point would be to draw up a list of firms that are of particular interest to you, and then think about what your main priorities are for your next position. That way you can marry up your wish list to firms that will likely offer you what you need. I would then target these firms as a first step to see what opportunities may arise from this.

The good news is that there has been a shift across the legal sector and most of the firms I work with have long since embraced the need for work/life balance, and you wanting to achieve this will not stop you achieving your aspirations. There are plenty of firms that will be happy to offer you exactly what you need.

I agree however that it can be difficult to identify which firms can truly offer the balance you would like, but here are a couple of tips:

  • Research firms who are accredited for awards such as Investors in People/Great Places to Work (often a great indication that they value and support their workforce).
  • Consider firms close to where you live – a long commute can often take up a large proportion of your day and can make it more difficult to achieve a healthy balance.
  • Be clear about what you are looking for and can offer to any employer, that way if they choose to hire you they know what to expect.
  • Speak with a specialist recruiter you feel you can trust – a good recruiter will know the market and can guide you on the best firms who can offer the environment you are looking for.

Finally, remember to enjoy this special stage of your life. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to achieve everything now. If you decide to move roles, you will be able to make up for any lost time in your journey to partnership, so stick to the balance that works for you and your family right now and trust that you will be able to achieve all of your ambitions in the right environment in the not too distant future.