Theo Varcoe, RedLaw Consultant, discusses factors crucial to your success;
The destiny of solicitors is determined by their early careers, from the selection of vac schemes undertaken to the order of seats as a trainee – the first few years set the trajectory for your career.
What can be done then to ensure that you end up getting what you want and deserve?
Crucial to long-term success is getting absolutely sound technical skills in your early career. To do this, one has to be exposed to the right work, supported by the best partners and given the responsibility to prove your worth.
Internal politics and dynamics within your firm and team will have a huge impact on your ability to get and keep the best quality work and set a career trajectory that appeals. Learning is front loaded in law – by the time you are 8 years into a potentially 40 year career you should have 90% of technical ability in your area. If you move down the wrong (or different) path for even as little as 1 or 2 years in these early stages then you can be cut off from going back or changing direction.
The problem comes when, as a junior, your work is dominated by an overpowering partner and you are forced to specialise in an area that you are not interested in or your practice becomes so narrow as to limit your career options.
The solution is either to move firms or risk upsetting the incumbent partner by trying get work from others.
However, a new, less-severe option has presented itself within the operating models of some firms in London.
Blind allocation (which is a little more considered than the name suggests) is all about using the firm’s associates efficiently (getting more from the whole team rather than individuals). Employing full-time middle managers to track associates’ skills and capacity to work on deals should result in partners having a wider range of suitable associates to choose from when building a team for a new deal and also ensure that associates at the junior end are developing competence in a range of sub-specialisms. To justify the additional cost of full-time middle managers, associates can expect stricter adherence to time recording – all with an emphasis on efficiency. Closer scrutiny of having time written off/down and total recorded units will be a result. It could lead to less profitable clients finally being let go. It could also lead to less profitable associates being pushed out.
Personal relationships and networking will always be crucial to progression and the patent advantage and disadvantage to the blind allocation system is that it will force together associates and partners who may not be compatible as well as force apart strong partner and associate mini-teams (which may be a blessing or a curse depending on your position). Progression in firms is often tied to having a senior partner sponsor you and, in order to do so, associates need to have built up goodwill.
Favoured associates who have worked to develop a niche within their practice area and become the go-to associates for partners will be frustrated with a system that doesn’t reward their dedication. The system should even out hours between associates but if it costs you your preferred status will this negate years of hard work and frustrate your track to partnership?
We will have to wait and see but it is clear that those associates who have fashioned themselves as indispensable may find the strength of their positions weakened under the new system.
Equally those who has longed for a broader practice and who don’t want to divert energy to internal politics may find Blind Allocation the salvation of their careers.
Does your firm operate blind allocation? What are your views on the success of the model and its impact on junior to mid–level associates?
For a bespoke assessment of your career and position within the market, please contact RedLaw for a confidential discussion.
Theo Varcoe, Consultant
0203 815 6803