Ask an expert: how to have no regrets in your legal career

Matthew Kay, who heads up Vario from Pinsent Masons, knows a thing or two about building a career that is regret-free. Here, he shares his expertise on choosing the right legal path, and sticking to it.

  • Last updated Feb 27, 2020 10:15:44 AM
  • Matthew Kay

No one aspires to regret their career decisions, but when there are a number of different options for you, especially in law, it can be difficult to know which route to choose. In terms of how you practise law, there are more options than ever before, and some of you may be facing a tricky predicament—“should my end goal be partnership in private practice, or are there other fulfilling alternatives that would better suit my aspirations?” 

Knowing which path to choose, and which one best suits your ambitions and personality, can take reflection and experience. Sometimes, it requires jumping into the deep end and trying something new. It’s very easy to have ‘tunnel-vision’ when it comes to one’s career.  You get your head down and work hard, from the education system, through work experience and into a legal career, all the while barely looking up to take stock of your surroundings. All too easily you can feel like you’ve reached your current position without making many impactful choices. And now you feel as though you’ve reached a stalemate and you’re thinking “what do I actually want from my career?” 

You may want to travel/work abroad, pursue one of your hobbies or even set up a business. Sticking to the same old, day-in day-out routine isn’t going to get you there, and you’re going to need a hefty dose of courage to make a change. 

So, when you finally do pluck up that courage, how do you go about finding a career arrangement that’s best for you? 

Review your legal career options

Nowadays, the opportunities and options for flexible working for lawyers are varied—it could be private practice, in-house or even freelance. But these roles aren’t as restrictive or limited as they used to be.  

Presenteeism, long hours, and the “one-track road” to partner are no longer the only schools of thought in law firms, and the stereotype that in-house legal work is less challenging or varied than private practice has been crushed. In a similar vein, freelance lawyering is no longer seen as an option for those simply looking for an ‘easier’ legal career. The landscape has changed. So, now, how do you know which one is right for you?

Private practice suits those looking to work in wide-sector teams, who are keen to work for a diverse set of clients in a more structured ‘corporate’ environment. There are lots of opportunities to network and receive training and experience in a multitude of areas.

 In-house will be enjoyed by lawyers who want to be more involved in the commercial aspect of running a business. The legal function is seen as one of the most essential parts to companies these days and you will be seen as authoritative in your area.

 Freelance lawyering is for those who will thrive working for themselves and prefer to set their own daily routine. You will need to be personable and resilient, being able to jump into new projects and work well with new colleagues without an induction. 

What if I want to travel?

You may have always wanted to go travelling, but never been able to take the leap, because you think that it won't be beneficial for your career, or that your employers won't allow it. 

Explore your options—could you take a sabbatical, or a segment of unpaid leave? If you can explain the benefits to your career of doing so—for example including volunteering into your travels—you might stand more of a chance. 

Perhaps your employer can even offer options for you to work remotely, giving you and your employer a win-win scenario that could see you free to travel, and your employer free to retain your talents.  

Alternatively, if you’re working in private practice, could you complete a client secondment abroad? What about your firm’s CSR initiatives? There may be a chance to volunteer on a charitable project in another country. In short, there are often more ways than you realise to fulfil your travelling dreams without giving up your career aspirations.

What if I’m interested in pursuing a career and establishing a business—can I do both?

At Vario, many of our freelance lawyers run businesses on the side which are completely unrelated to the law. For example one of our lawyers runs a ski business in the winter whilst working as a lawyer in the summer, another runs a private therapy and a “mindful wine” company. 

Working as a contract lawyer means you can better pick and choose when to work as a lawyer—which can help finance your business venture. It’s also a good idea to seek out mentors in your industry—this will help you understand how you can make a ‘slashie’ career work for you. 

Pursuing a career in law and a modern way of working, setting up a business, or going travelling are no longer mutually exclusive. Nowadays you have less chance of career regrets: check out your options, have confidence and be willing to take a leap of faith.




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