Constant & Constant, Solicitor, Ship Finance, London
Career Change Story
I am now in-house with Barclays Wealth but the road here was a combination of goal setting and decision taking. I was made redundant at the above firm due to a downturn in the market. In addition, personal considerations were at play and I decided to get out of private practice. In the usual naive way, I approached multiple recruitment agents and had my CV flying about the market like confetti. Luckily for me the firm I had just left and the firm I trained in were of suitably niche and highly regarded standing that my CV got me into a few interviews.
What did come from the process of looking for a new job was how I approached it. I have previously employed the often used “shotgun” approach to recruitment agents. This time I sat down and took a very detailed review of my desired path to a new career (what that new career was I had yet to determine) and how that would be achieved and decided that to get to where I wanted to be I needed to look at what I had down (both by way of career and method used to progress it) and rethink my approach to recruiters.
I considered recruitment agents as a necessary evil, but I had a friend who is a successful actor who gave me the idea that perhaps, like artists, I needed to develop a relationship with a successful Agent and treat the relationship along the same lines. I selected one that I had a great respect for and loads of fun dealing with and then sat down with her and set out where I wanted to be in the next 5 and 10 years and what I needed from her to achieve that and what she felt I needed to do to provide her with the requisite ammo in order to sell me.
So to give you an idea of events – I determined that I hated something in my professional life. I was 3 years pqe and still wasn’t sure if it was “the law” I hated, “the private practice environment” (– “have you billed yet” being my utmost pet hatred!) or what? I determined that I should remain in law for a further 2 years (to become 5 yrs pqe – not sure why that target was picked) and that I should, as an experiment to ascertain an answer to the above questions, change the environment to see if it was “law” or “environment” I hated. I left my private practice firm to go to my first in-house role, albeit on maternity cover, which also meant a move out of London to what has been called the “Bordeaux of Berkshire”, Slough – admittedly by the drunk guy sitting behind the reception of my new job! On my first day there was a shooting outside the front door.
The company was a firm specialising in luxury fleet cars and private jets (so the topic was familiar and thus a perfect chance to see if the environment was the key). I loved it from day one. What a relief and what a change to have your client sit across the room from you and you can attend to things directly, efficiently and see the results first hand. My contract was for 9 months. This was extended to 18 months and then 21 months – by which time they offered me a permanent position but with another division. However, by this time I was coming up to 5 years pqe and the plan I had set out with my Agent was in need of moving to the next stage – a move back into London and up the food chain. I had confirmed by this time that it is was the environment I had hated, though there was a small amount of doubt still as to whether I wanted to remain a lawyer.
So, instead of accepting the perm position, my Agent found me maternity cover (not my preferred choice but a necessary step to achieve my next goal) at Citibank. My goal had been to move into Banking – apparently that was where the money was and the varied matters I craved. Citi was both a great opportunity and a exercise in frustration. It was quite a restricted environment, but it looked good on the CV and once again my contract was extended to 11 months.
In the meantime my Agent, keeping my career plans in her focus, came to me to see if I was interested in moving to a new start up legal position in a small Investment Bank, where the Head of Legal and Compliance had just been appointed and he was inclined to begin setting up the Compliance team and needed someone to set up the legal team. After taking her arm off I went to the interviews and got the job. All I can say is this turned out to be the “perfect” job. After 3 months there I had found the perfect balance. I was involved in the internal processes of legal service provision for all the various business lines within the Bank. I was involved in the external panel set up (something that had never been done in the 100 years the Bank had been around), the ongoing relationship building with them. I was part of the Company Secretariat so was involved at Board level and thus exposed to the workings of an Investment Bank.
It was an exciting time as new owners arrived in the form of the very expensively tailored but youthful and exuberant Icelandic vikings called Kaupthing. The work was interesting, on the edge and the environment was invigorating. Then the wheels started to come off. The first “wobble” was my boss being fired. I was then promoted. A poisoned chalice in hindsight. I had been there for 2 years and began to see the underlying mechanics of why this job had seemed to be so perfect. Things were not being run with much restraint accountability. I began to seriously question things and finally came to a head with the COO and I left – but not before my Agent came to me again, knowing of my situation, and found me a similar role but in a bigger, long standing, stable but in a new flush of development, household bank. I have been with Barclays Wealth now for 2 years, right through the worst banking crisis in history (we’re told) and though there have been some seriously mental times, I have loved it. I have also just been promoted to start up the legal function from scratch in our Middle East regional offices (looking after Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi).
Career Change Reflections
In summary of the above, I have determined that my ultimate goal is to move into a COO position within a large multinational company (not necessarily a Bank). My legal training is the base. I then build on this by working with the front office divisions within the Bank to gain exposure to strategic planning, processes, product awareness, projects and development etc. By gaining a thorough and grounded knowledge of the whole business and enhancing that with legal knowledge, I am looking to move away from “being the lawyer” to being the “strategist”, “the businessman”, “the boss”. It is common that lawyers enter law with the ultimate goal of being a “Partner”. I have never aspired to do this. I determined initially that I was uncertain whether I wanted to be a lawyer or whether in fact it was the law or the environment I hated. My initial progress structure looked to put me in a position to determine which. I found that the environment was a primary reason I hated being in law, but I was still not convinced being a lawyer was what I wanted. I have now determined that I do like the law, but it is not ultimately where I want to end up remaining until retirement.
So my long term goals remained flexible and I allowed myself to take opportunities I wouldn’t normally have considered (whilst always remembering that whatever decision I made, ultimately it had to bring in money and would always look good on a CV). My move in-house was perfect for me. It is not for everyone and anyone who thinks it is a cushy number I am happy for them to take a day in my place and tell me if it is or not – I work harder and longer and in a far more demanding, pressurized environment than I ever did in private practice – but it is not the same environment. I currently work with a Partner, on secondment form a top 10 firm, who is constantly staggered at the pressure and speed at which we are required to work to service our internal clients!
My only tip for any move, whether out of law or to another arena of law, is this: This is your life, your career. Do not let it “just happen”. Most people spend more time picking out clothes than sitting down and planning out a strategy for their career. It may sound daunting but in reality, once you start, (and remember it should remain fluid), it is simple to set up. The hard part is applying it – but that comes with the game. Sites like this one are an important means for getting yourself started. Do your research. Be open to new suggestions, new directions, and always remember you will not get the job if they don’t want to give it to you. Go to every interview (even if you don’t want the job – use it as exam practice as it is never a lost cause), and remember when interviewing, you are interviewing them as well as they you, so go prepared, ask questions, delve into their practices, views, goals and long term objectives and see if they meet yours. One of the primary reasons I picked Barclays Wealth over a job with Airbus (which was a sweet offer – living in Toulouse, in a team of multinational lawyers, paid very well and flying all over the world etc), was that there was no obvious career progression. With a multinational bank with offices everywhere, you have options. I am going permanently to Dubai. I am very excited (as is my wife) but this is yet another step along the way. Good luck.