I have no idea why law schools don’t skip the law degree, LL.M and LPC, and simply move to educate ‘Partners’.
Given that the majority of the profession work in private practice and they all aspire to Partnership, why don’ they just offer a training course designed to produce the next Partner cohort?
My undergraduate studies certainly didn’t prepare me for what was ahead. If anything, it gave me a very narrow and, dare I say, unrelated perspective about the work of a solicitor. I may, also, have been seduced by the status or status symbols (notwithstanding my overriding wish to help others), but had someone been able to parachute me 10 years hence, then I would have paid far more attention to some subjects, ignored others and been much more questioning about the whole process.
Given my background in sales, I had a head start in private practice, particularly when it came to billing.
For one thing, I was not fazed about targets or having to pay my way. But where in all the education process, I had so voraciously consumed, had anyone explained to me the over-reliance on billing, as a metric for future success.
I don’t care what anyone says, and you can dress it up all you like, but absent a Return on Investment (almost from the off of your training contract), you can forget the idea of promotion.
I have lost count of the number of conversations I had with Partners and more senior fee earners about fee earner (financial) performance. It was as if there was nothing else.
Now I am not saying that billing is the only thing that makes a Partner but it is weighted too heavily against the promotion criteria, at least for the moment. This is brought into stark relief when you look at the current crop of Partners who lack some really basic skills like communication, manners and people management (very often with a large team under their control). Junior fee earners must wonder how on earth they got there. Oh sorry it was that billing issue.
Even if the idea of bespoke training for Partners is out of the question, you would do well to focus on the Partnership path almost as soon as you make the decision to start your A-Levels. Yes, you would want to know something about law, history and politics but I would go and work in a retail environment or something intensely client facing, so that you get a good idea of the real world of business. Better still if you have the entrepreneurial flair go start up your own business. Just taking that step will expose you to a myriad of issues – company formation, employment, debt recovery and regulation – that very likely you will come across in practice.
You also need to become more questioning of what you are being taught. That is not to degenerate the process of legal education but when you are studying contract or land law, start thinking through the sort of clients that you might end up working for and how this might be applied in the future. Will they really be interested in the obiter dicta of Lord Denning?
But, most of all, start thinking through all the range of skills that you need to very quickly assimilate if you are going to stand any chance of making Partner, which, despite all the obvious drawbacks, is still perceived as the Golden Ticket to success.
Go to work on the fundamentals. You know the sort of issues that every small business owner has to face day in day out. You still need to keep honing your legal knowledge, and trying to become the best in the World in your chosen area, but you need to weight things less than you think.
You may feel that watching those around you is a sure fire recipe for success. If I only ape Mr/Mrs/Miss [name] enough then just like them (they were promoted in double-quick order) I will get talent spotted and rise to the top. That might be a strategy worth pursuing but my advice is to consider your strenghts and what you need to focus on to make up for any deficiencies. No one is expecting you to be the finished article from the off but you ought to know where you need help and where you can make the biggest impact.
I have had the great pleasure to help train and develop numerous trainee solicitors and it was fairly obvious to me, early on, what they were really good at, where they needed to build their confidence so that they might become great and in some other areas where they really were going in the wrong direction. I wish in hindsight I had spoken up a few more times, and made it clear what I thought there chances were if they didn’t develop in certain areas.
Partnership will, for many years to come, still hold the allure of the Golden Ticket of success and, that being so, you need to start planning now the 3/5 most important things to work on to give yourself the best possible chance of promotion.
Don’t get seduced into believing billing is it. Yes, it is important but if you spend all your time billing like a demon, hit your target year in year out, you will be bitterly disappointed when you don’t make the cut.
As I have said before, go to work on your career and not in it.
Develop a entrepreneurial mindset and move out of the technician mode.
And if you are lucky one day you might just make it.
~ Julian Summerhayes ~
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