Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

General Practitioners - a dilemna

General practice dilemma.

I took a call yesterday from a solicitor on the south coast who described himself as a general practitioner of whom there are very few left these days. He had a young family and wanted to maximise his earning potential, as his current firm were not paying him very much at all. In fact, I estimated that he was being underpaid by a minimum of £5000, and even then, that would be low for a three year P2E solicitor. His dilemma was that as a general practitioner, he had covered a whole wide variety of law and hence had no particular specialism in one area. This means of course when coming to look for an alternative job and with the increased specialism that has taken place in the legal market, he was left to decide what field of law to specialise in and wanted some advice on it.

He was dealing with a mixed case load of contentious and non-contentious work. Fortunately the non-contentious work was wills and probates and not conveyancing, as the market for conveyancing in a lot of areas is disappearing fast in the current climate.

My advice was, especially with a young family, to concentrate on non-contentious. Contentious work is not only less well paid until partner level, it also involves higher stress levels for the practitioners, particularly when undertaking advocacy. It also hinders any flexibility you may look for in future years, as it is much harder to be a part time litigator than it is to be a part time non-contentious lawyer.

Speaking as someone who worked part time as a litigator, it becomes very awkward when a regular client has a trial or a hearing on a day when you are not supposed to be at work, as not only do they expect you to be there, but also your boss does to cover that particular case.

So firstly with his young family, I recommended he considered non-contentious work.

I also recommended to him that instead of looking for general practice posts he should look for a specialised post, as I think that often firms will try to downgrade someone calling themselves a general practitioner, and offer lower salaries as a result. I’ve always found that anyone who calls themselves a specialist and looks at specialist roles will get a better paid salary although I appreciate that in small firms it is sometimes impossible to just do one area, and may need other areas covering as well.

If you are in a similar position, and your firm is not paying you sufficient money to cover even the smallest mortgage, it may be time to consider a move. The only way in the legal profession to generate large amounts of pay rises is either to set up on your own or go to a firm where there is the opportunity to take partnership within a certain amount of time. Obviously that is a different article for another day, but you could certainly think about both options, perhaps speak to your current firm about future partnership prospects before making that decision.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk). He regularly commentates and writes on the state of the legal profession and can be contacted for free careers advice or press comment at cv@ten-percent.co.uk

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