Monday, March 23, 2009

Law Firms v Law Centres - training contract choices

Law centres v. Law Firms

Is there any difference between doing a training contract at a law centre or working for a part of your career at a law centre, than working in a law firm?

This question obviously relates to anyone about to progress or currently in a high street legal career as opposed to a city firm or commercial practice. Is there any difference between work you would do at a law centre or the training there or a local or small high street practice?

In terms of a career move, you will probably find that if you work in a law centre, you will get greater exposure and depth to a range of legal issues than you would working in a high street practice. It is also possible that the work you would do would be slightly more interesting than the work in a high street practice as law centres are more likely to pick up more interesting cases. However, the types of law you would deal with in a law centre are dramatically different to those you would expect to be covering on a daily basis in a law firm. Firstly, law centres tend to specialise in social welfare work, namely housing, welfare benefits, debts, employment and some family law.

High street practices on the other hand tend to avoid social welfare law as much as they can and focus more on the legal aid fields of crime, family and mental health.

The other factor to take into consideration is that the high street firms will also do non-legal aid fields so you would expect part of your training contract to include some form of conveyancing, wills and probate, commercial property, company commercial or similar. This will not happen with a law centre training contract or with law centre experience.

The other factor to bear in mind is that although both entities are dependent on generating income to keep going, the pressure in a high street firm to bill and bill well is much higher than the pressure in a law centre where there is still an environment that you are there predominantly to help the clients who are coming to see you, whereas in the high street, that is just not possible as they are very dependent on you billing a certain number of hours each day and if that helps the people you are seeing, great, but if not you are still justifying your existence.

The final point is the money. Law centres do on the whole pay better salaries to more junior members of staff than high street law firms. High street law firms sometimes think they pay well but in actual fact, don’t put it into context and forget that a salary of £16,000 is very unlikely to buy you any sort of mortgage or lifestyle that you could comfortably live off and then are surprised when somebody hands in their notice after six months. Law centres are more linked to local authority levels (although more senior salaries tend to be quite restrictive) and so have a more reasonable expectation of what you will need to live on and how long you will stop in a post if you are paid that sort of money.

In summary, in terms of career progression, you may be better off focusing on high street training contracts as opposed to law centre contracts as the law centre contract is likely to expose you to a much narrower area of law, and will restrict your movement in future years and also your salary level should you decide to move into private practice.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and can be contacted at cv@ten-percent.co.uk for any careers advice or recruitment needs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What do I do if my training contract is cancelled?

What do I do if my training contract is terminated?

This started to happen a few years ago when some crime firms were struggling following new reforms by the Legal Services Commission. When a firm got into difficulties or thought they were about to the first thing they did was to terminate training contracts.

Another scenario is when firms in recent times have trainee Solicitors due to start 12 months or 24 months in the future and then realise that their finances are not going to permit it. Training contracts are withdrawn and suddenly someone who had made a firm decision to join one particular firm and turned down others finds that they no longer have any training contracts to choose from at all.

The first thing to do is not to panic if this happens to you, quite a lot of the time over the years we have seen Trainee Solicitors who have training contracts terminated walk into another post within a few months. Other firms who are still in business or not struggling financially see the benefit of having someone part of the way through their term as it saves them the time of training them up and also the length of time it will take before they qualify.

It is a very stressful time as everyone who is striving to be a Solicitor struggles incessantly to get a training contract and then has to spend two years in what are usually fairly undignified circumstances being bossed about by everybody only to find out halfway through that it could be that they have to start again or find someone else prepared to take them on.

If you are informed by your firm that this is likely to happen the first port of call must be the Law Society, as far as I can remember the Law Society are the only ones who can agree to the ending of a training contract.

Obviously they are not going to insist that a firm pay you to keep you on if the firm have no money or are about to cease trading, but they may ask for documentary evidence from the firm that this is indeed the case.

If your training contract is withdrawn by a firm before you were due to start (and this happened in quite a lot of city firms for example in 2000-2002) then start looking immediately regardless of how the firm who have indicated the withdrawal put it to you. Sometimes it is simply indicated that they may not be able to offer you a contract and they put you on notice. If this happens then I would strongly advise looking around for something else and that you are in a position to have a back-up plan should the first one go pear shaped. Again, speak to the Law Society and also to the Trainee Solicitors group, they’ll be able to give you advice.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and regularly commentates and writes on the state of the legal profession nationally and internationally. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk or telephone 0207 127 4343.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Bullies in the Workplace - Guide for Employees

Dealing with Bullies in the Workplace - A Guide for Employed Lawyers

Bullying colleagues and employers can be an absolute nightmare for lawyers. The legal profession is rife with them, particularly as the pressure to achieve targets and billing levels gets higher and higher in difficult economic circumstances. One of the major issues we deal with from candidates and career coaching clients is how to handle bullying colleagues and employers:

Bullying is about power and control and the results can be absolutely devastating. At worst the target will eventually leave to work somewhere less unpleasant; at best they will stay; grit their teeth and get more and more miserable, and less and less productive.

It is estimated that workplace bullying affects 1 in 4 people at some point in their career.
Bullying is about actions that are deliberate, debilitating and repeated. The target will be bullied until they either leave the organization or is totally subjugated. And then the bully will find their next target.

Rule No 1 - never, ever confront a bully. Not in private and not in public.They have been playing their game for a long time; they are skilled at it. All confronting them will achieve, is to actually make your situation even worse.
Try never to be alone with them...
Keep notes – find a quiet place after an incident and jot down the key points of what just happened – what was said, what was threatened and what you said and did in response. This will also help you to calm your nerves.
Let someone know what is happening. Do be very careful who you choose to confide in – telling the wrong person can risk them letting the bully know you are making complaints, and then Rule No 1 comes back into play again with even greater force.
Start planning your exit – whether that is to another department or to another organization, it really doesn’t matter – the longer you stay the more stressed you will become and the worse the effects will be on your health and your self-esteem. Remember that bullies do not give up. Once they have selected you as a target, they will continue bullying you until you leave or are totally subjugated.
Be aware that this isn’t YOUR problem. You are not to blame in any way. It is their problem and the problem of the organization for not recognizing what is happening and for not dealing with the situation, because if the person has been with the organization a long time, you can guarantee that you will not be the first person they have done this to.
Laying a complaint about bullying is often one person’s word against another, and if the ‘other’ person is in a management position, the manager seems to be believed more than the employee.
66% of organizations have no bullying protocols
23% of bullies work alone
77% coerce others to bully alongside them
Only about 4% of bullies are ever punished
Women bullies target another woman 87% of the time
Male bullies choose women targets 71% of the time

www.evancarmichael.com/Franchises/687/Bullies-At-Work.html (the source of statistics and some of this article)

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Bullying in the Workplace - comment from a solicitor

This comment was sent through by a reader. I should emphasise that it is a comment - I had problems with my blogspot software and hence have had to post it as a blog entry. The comment does not represent my experience or views. Jonathan Fagan, MD Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment.

"Very interesting article on bullying in the workplace. In the legal profession there is, in my experience, a higher proportion of female bullies than in other walks of life. that's not to say more women are bullies than men - just that a larger number of the women in the profession have bullying traits. Perhaps that is down to the nature of the job, perhaps it is because it can be harder for a woman to make her mark and feels she has to adopt certain tactics.

I experienced bullying from a female solicitor when I was an articled clerk in London; best thing in that case was to get out - which is what brought me up to Yorkshire (apart from my wife). Thereafter the bullies all tended to be men, not prevalent everywhere, but in firms with high targets, or newly amalgamated, a blame culture semed to bring it on more than anything else.

Strangely it was when I looked at being in a quasi-legal workplace that I encountered female bullying again; the employer that I was engaged by had a huge majority of female staff (although a male manager) and from day one I was targeted. Eventually things came to a head, I was unfairly dismissed and pursued a successful case in the tribunal (although settled before hearing - details to be kept under wraps).

Although I won my argument it was not the happiest of endings and one that I tend to disguise in my CV.

I have since found enjoyable and successful employment "in-house" at a large commercial organisation which works hard to maintain a cordial staff atmosphere despite the current difficult financial conditions. Just goes to show that things can work out well!"

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Dealing with Bullies in the Workplace - A Guide for Employers

Bullying colleagues and employers can be an absolute nightmare for lawyers. The legal profession is rife with the problem as far as we can see (we get a lot of calls to our career coaching service specifically on this subject), particularly as the pressure to achieve targets and billing levels gets higher and higher in difficult economic circumstances.

Bullying is about power and control and the results can be absolutely devastating. At worst the target will eventually leave to work somewhere less unpleasant; at best they will stay; grit their teeth and get more and more miserable, and less and less productive.

It is estimated that workplace bullying affects 1 in 4 people at some point in their career.
Bullying is about actions that are deliberate, debilitating and repeated. The target will be bullied until they either leave the organization or is totally subjugated. And then the bully will find their next target.

How to Identify and Deal with Bullying:
1. Understand what bullying is and the harm it can do your people and your organization.
2. Don’t confuse strong management with bullying – there is a whole world of difference.
3. Make sure you have a bullying policy in place and make sure that policy is communicated and enforced.
4. Make sure your managers and team leaders are trained in identifying and dealing with bullies.
5. Watch for the signs that a bully is at work – they are actually very obvious.

The signs are showing up in any department where there is:
  1. high absenteeism;
  2. high sickness rates;
  3. high turnover;
  4. high litigation costs

  • 66% of organizations have no bullying protocols
  • 23% of bullies work alone
  • 77% coerce others to bully alongside them
  • Only about 4% of bullies are ever punished
  • Women bullies target another woman 87% of the time
  • Male bullies choose women targets 71% of the time

Further Reading http://www.evancarmichael.com/Franchises/687/Bullies-At-Work.html
(the source of this article)