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Blog Name: The Legal Agony's blog

Should I Stay or Should I Go?
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27 February 2017

Problem of a reader….

“I am a secretary at a smallish law firm and I have been offered a training contract starting in a year.  However I have now been offered a job as a paralegal at a well known mid-sized firm.  If I take the paralegal job then I may be able to use that to get a training contract at that bigger and more prestigious Name firm but there is no guarantee.

The job market is so screwed that the paralegal job pays much less than my secretary job but if I get a training contract at the new firm it pays more than I would get as a trainee at my current firm.  I am sure that the prestige of having that Name firm on my CV will be much better for my career.  On qualification I will earn much more at the Name firm or others of that ilk than at my current place.

So do I risk the certainty of a training contract for the possibility of a TC at a Name firm somewhere down the line?”

The old fashioned answer:

I am clear on my advice.  Stay where you are and take the certainty of the TC and then once you are qualified you can move on.  The market always goes up and down and in a bad market everyone struggles to move but in a good market you can easily move up to a Name firm from a small country firm, especially if you have good exam results (which still weirdly obsess big law and law generally).  You will learn some basic skills at a small firm which will stand you in good stead, such as how to sell, how to build a client base and how to speak to clients and actually give advice. You will also know how to enlarge and clear a jam on the photocopier which is the most useful talent you will ever acquire.

 "All this to look forward to"

I know from your longer letter that you have the clear promise of a job in litigation which is where you work now as a secretary and you will be able to see your path to qualification without any risks.  Yes you may get some more money from the Name firm but if you figure in the reduced salary as a paralegal for at least 2 years and the risk that you will not get a TC, the extra money is pretty minimal and it's not worth risking the future long career for a possible short term gain.   Break your career down into small sections and focus on each stage and once you get to the end of that stage, you can move on to the next.  Get the TC, get the NQ role, get some experience, move job at 2PQE and then onward and as far up the ladder as you can get.  To paraphrase the poet Oleta Adams “I don’t care how you get there, just get there if you can”. "Which way now?"

This career path is designed that if you fall - or are pushed - off the ladder, the higher you are, the more rungs there are beneath you which you may be able to grab on the way down before you hit the bottom.

Now the modern answer I want to give you:

Leave.  Take the job.  Go with your gut.  Things work out the way they are supposed to. Kismet. Onward and Upward.                     


Don't dwell on the risks (like lawyers are trained to do) but rather look at the opportunities. Make the change - especially as at your stage these things will all add to your experience and your knowledge.  You may find yourself exposed to new environments, people, offices, practices and skills, new areas such as property or family and then, when you actually try them, find out you don't actually f*cking hate them.


It may be the move which sets you free.  You may get the Name firm job and the TC you hope for.  But if you don’t get it, you will have a different path and maybe end up in a whole new area instead of being trapped doing litigation. Maybe move out of law altogether.

Without moving, nothing would have shaken you from that path but you will be glad that you did get shaken from it  - or fell off it - and ended up landing in a more interesting area.                        

Seeing the world will make you change your views.  

Law can be an incredibly rewarding and stimulating professional but there is a long career ahead of you and you want to see all of the options and areas you could experience.  People are so of the view that the TC is the be all and end all that they let that goal cloud their vision. I want us to start to realise that we need to get a firm and job that works for US.  It’s our job and our career and we should make sure we have seen all that we can before we sign our life away.                       

Like "is it the right place", "is it the right offer", "is it the right team", "might I accidentally murder the crotchety old bugger in property litigation if I stay where I am" etc etc?  All those proper, sensible considerations fall by the wayside, but they shouldn't. We are begging them for jobs but they should be wooing us.

For instance maybe you’ll do criminal, maybe you’ll discover you love scum bags, love going to court, find out you love you a moiderer.  Maybe you’ll marry Robert Maudsley.   "The course of true love never did run smooth" The world is your lobster…..

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Network Your Way Round THIS
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16 February 2017

A reader writes....“Networking events - are they a waste of time?”

Most networking events are agony. You turn up with your polished shoes and wearing your best outfit and you have to walk into a room of strangers and project a version of yourself which makes sophisticated and experienced business people trust and admire you and want to spend their money with you.  

If you have ever been to one of those commercial small business networking events, you can see there are some people just made for these events.  You meet people with 500 cards who come and talk to you for 30 seconds, tell you that they are video producers or run courses on excel, stick a card in your hand and then move on.  Every now and then you see them cutting across your line of sight, never duplicating their targets, never failing to get their message across.

Most lawyers aren’t like that.  You walk into a room and get stuck with one group.  99% of the time that groups consists mostly of other lawyers - there's some gravitational force which draws them together in a group, like the process after the big bang which gathered the swirling masses of gases together to form the first stars.  If you are really lucky, for the other 1% of the time they are people you knew before you got there.  

If you have recently been sent on a “Working the Room” course, you may be optimistic.  Your head will be full of how to enter groups and introduce yourself, how not to get stuck in a “dead end” couple and how to bring others into the conversation so that you can then move away.  So you go for it. You move and shake and finally hit that group of real business people. In your area of expertise - and not queuing for the coats. How it should work

What do you do for conversation? Start at A and work through to Z?  “Do you like apples?” “Have you got a boxer dog?” “What about the Coelacanth?”  That's certainly one way of doing it. Eventually it will work.

The other way is to worthily try and engage people in talk about work and what projects they have on and how busy they are.  The only virtue of this is that it allows people to big themselves up and say they are all really busy and doing lots of exciting projects with many irons in the fire, whilst you nod and smile at them like Nigel Farage to Donald Trump. How it actually works

Of course the alternative method is to actually relate to people like a human being and understand that everybody else is in the same boat, nobody knows anyone there, everyone is there just for work and would much rather be at the cinema, bowling, writing their first novel or wearing a gimp mask in the Torture Garden and this is simply a task that has to be done.  

Ask people what are their passions, what would they rather be doing, look like you want to get to know them as a real person, not simply as a potential purchaser of legal services. People do business with people they like. So go on, show a little bit of the real you (but not the bit that goes to the Torture Garden - not just yet.)

I think networking events are designed purely for the attendees’ internal market, whereby they can circulate an email to everybody saying they are going to this event, then the next day say that they can't make it (as they have another 7 events at the same time) and unless someone goes in their place the whole event will be a disaster for the organiser who is a power referrer and the 200 other attendees will be desolate.  Then they send another email the next day revealing that in fact they did go and it was amazing and they made incredible contacts.

  "My new client"

Of course you can just say to your internal market that you are going and then not bother to turn up.  If anyone checks up, you say you suddenly had a late night call from a client who was overseas and you couldn't get there.   At the end of the day no one expects you to make any contact from a networking event - it is simply a means of ensuring that your colleagues are “putting in the hours" as much as you and, if you are a manager, a way of making sure your subordinates have a crap evening just like you used to have when you had to go to Insurance Professionals / the organising group for the sponsored bed push of the local Lions club / Women in Business / Men in Business Looking To Avoid Women / Women Looking To Get Business Whilst Not Having To Speak To Men About It.

Networking events - they're a nightmare.  And useless.  Just say “No”.

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I'm Cleanin' Out My Closet
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09 February 2017

A reader writes.... “Problem of a "friend": he’s not out as gay at work, mainly because the supervising partner in the department is a raging homophobe. The partner is too powerful within the department to be dismissed (brings in mad dolla). He also dresses up his homophobia as (awful) gags etc, managing to appear to hover on right side of the 'I'm just an un-PC buffoon' line. Main thing is if my friend comes out the closet, he fears the partner will subtly manage him out, turn off deal tap etc. Solution?”

So, it depends on how much he values his job.  The Legal Agony has consulted and we have come up with three solid options.  In this response I use “you” and “your friend” interchangeably and nothing should be read into the use of one term or another.

1) Come out and be the best employee there is, so the boss (let’s call him Mad Dolla), can't manage you out. Use that position as the best employee as a platform to try and change the culture.  This involves putting your head above the parapet and also (unfairly) having to be better than the rest to make the grade.  If you don’t know any other openly gay lawyers and want to know what this involves, the easiest way is to have a chat with a woman* who made partner after having children….. or before having children but whilst still of “childbearing age”.

2) Stay in the closet.  Live that lie.  Hide your FAB-U-LOUS true self, talk about the “other half” but never reveal their name. Get promoted, live your whole professional life behind a mask and retire, still in that closet.  You can’t even make a move on that gorgeous big bear in Marketing, even though he’s a dead cert. What a waste. "It's my girlfriend  ....  no we weren't in Kansas"

3) Recognise that a firm which values a homophobe who makes money over being an inclusive place is not somewhere you want to work, so take your considerable talents to a competitor that will appreciate them more.  As well as the technical gifts you will bring to your new firm, you will also bring some positive diversity.  As the SRA and the Law Society love a diversity survey, that’s a selling point to any employer.  I’m convinced a deafening klaxon goes off and a dusty bottle of Pomagne is produced from the cupboard somewhere in a basement in Redditch when someone ticks a box other than “white heterosexual” on the survey. For those of you younger than 73.

Other options, less straightforward:

4) Your friend could harness the majesty of the law to fight for his rights.  As we know, “the law” and “justice” are two different things and we may ask for one but get the other…. and it's a lottery as to which of the two you get.  In any event he should also keep a diary and note Mad Dolla’s homophobic comments.  It is simply precautionary in this litigious age (bloody lawyers) and whilst this may not be about money, if the situation becomes untenable then you need the paperwork.  You would be stopping others suffering the same treatment that you have to suffer. However you would inevitably have to move on before you launch your claim.

5)  Most firms are trying to move forwards in their attitudes (whether from a moral conviction that discrimination is wrong or from a business point of view, fearing an audit from a large client).  All firms will recognise that homophobia in the workplace is unacceptable and illegal but Mad Dolla may be able to shrug that off. However, Mad Dolla may have enemies and personal enmity always triumphs over business sense in a law firm, so if the right people hear of the issues then your friend may be able to unleash the political machine to get Mad Dolla out. An anonymous disclosure to HR? Nominating the firm for the Golden Turd on RoF? (Combined with a concerted campaign of shitting on the floor of the bogs and weeing in shoes, the firm should at least get in the top 5.)   If you are the rising star of the team you could use the resulting power vacuum to rise to a position where you can introduce a culture of tolerance, benevolence and openness.   Or terror, depending on your style.   "My Mentor" Or at least no longer have to endure comments of “sherry for the lady” and “backs to the wall boys” every time you go to the team drinks.

Obviously the UNFORGIVABLE crime is the dispensing of awful gags.  It may be that the Human Rights Act could assist - Article 3 - no torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  Get in quick before Brexit-means-Brexit takes away those rights and raise funding through Kickstarter and pursue it all the way to the European Court of Human Rights. I’m with you.  Let’s ban Trump, burnt toast and re-runs of Rude Tube whilst we’re at it.

Let's make the world a better place - for you and for me and the entire human race. Let’s MARCH!

*Other discriminated-against minorities are available.  Sadly in a law firm they are all even harder to find than a newly made-up female partner with children.


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“Why is it that I only get any satisfaction in my job through feeling the person on the other side is an idiot?"
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02 February 2017

This from a reader ....

“Why is it that I only get any satisfaction in my job through feeling the person on the other side is an idiot?"

We are only human and everybody needs to cling to the raft of superiority in this cold and stormy sea of professional life.

In an industry where what we are selling is our “cleverness”, we are measuring our very selves against those we are working opposite. So to come across someone who is obviously even more incompetent than you is a wonderful resource of external validation and gives you a great rush of adrenaline. It’s the buzz of completing a high profile and technically challenging transaction, without having to do the transaction.

To be able to throw up your hands in exasperation and turn to your colleagues and say "this idiot has forgotten to put the primacy of the English translation in this Chinese company SPA/urghh he hasn’t capitalised *Business Day* even though it’s a defined term in this post enforcement call option agreement/she’s forgotten to exclude the carpets from the sale/he’s used *effect* instead of *affect*" is the only external validation of our cleverness we are ever likely to receive, except for being made a visiting professor at the College of Law. If your working life is 40 years you need as much evidence as you can find to help you believe that you are good at the job and bring some value and that you're not simply a document management system providing an insurance wrapper through a service your client thinks is too expensive.

Happily this small moment of external validation can be enjoyed in any size of firm. You'd be surprised how many people are incompetent and how far they have risen up the career ladder. You can find them anywhere.

As for the question - whether it's wrong to feel the sense of joy - of course it isn't.  In a job like this you need to be able to take your comfort wherever you can. You are not the only one. Any guilt you may feel should be leavened by the application of the rule which says that the more stupid mistakes the other side make, the more unpleasant and unreasonable they are.

Anyway, if you are actually feeling empathy for other human beings when they are in difficulty then perhaps you need to reassess your choice of career.

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Introducing a new Legal Agony Advice column
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26 January 2017

Law is a tricky career - filled with egotists, politicians, incompetents, experts, fantasists and psychopaths, it's a minefield which needs care and experience to make it through alive. In this blog I will distill and share the knowledge of young and old, naive and cunning, trusting and cynical, for the benefit of my fellow lawyers seeking to tip toe through that dangerzone. Please submit your questions and conundrums as comments on this article and I'll do my best to respond.

This week, the "capacity meeting".

“Every week my team meets to discuss how busy we are.   I’m not busy and don’t want to be.  How do I avoid getting more work?”

These meetings are usually an ego trip for the partner who has the power to deny a minion a night out with her friends or can reward their favourites and give a shitty job to someone else.

So how to avoid the trap:

"Keep it Simple": As out of sight IS out of mind, the simplest way is not to go to the meeting.  If you’re not there it’s almost certain you won’t be given anything.

If however you have to be there, then you need other tactics. "The Whirlwind”:  Arrive in a fluster with a big bundle of files.  Sit halfway round the circle, opposite the partner.  There’s always a load of chit chat and bullshitting about new clients and prospects, alongside getting cups of tea etc, to occupy the first ten minutes, so there’s time to make your presence felt with some comments showing that you would have done things better and how busy you are.  Then, once you reach the stage of going round the group to see who has any capacity, get ready for your move.  Just before the question reaches you, jump up and say you have to leave - shake the files - maybe drop a few pages from the top of your bundle - and scarper before anyone can ask what’s up.  Maybe set an alarm on your mobile.  Following an exit like that no one can give you any more work and even if the partner checks up on the reason for your departure, just say it was a new prospect who is at concept phase and it's going to be a slow burner. But huge.  MASSIVE. “The Pregnant Pause”:  Be slow in replying and someone will jump in to fill in the silence (this also works in interviews). “The Rainmaker”:  Say you have no capacity due to some non-specific client development project you are working on with another department.  Being “cross departmental” means there is no way to measure the efficacy or even existence of this activity. It also raises your profile within your team, as they think you have a firm wide profile rather than department wide (or even only team wide).  Get a friend in another team to book a meeting room and talk about what university friends you would invite for a lunch.  Make sure you minute it. Send an email to marketing asking for the process for approval of a budget for a project.  Never progress from that point.

You can apply all of these in rotation.  If you add those to all the times the meeting is cancelled due to low attendance or the partner being on holiday or being at a VERY IMPORTANT MEETING then these stratagem will be good for about 4 years - then you can move firm.

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