Where do young lawyers (really) want to go?

This article was first published in Solicitors Journal on 20 August 2014 and is reproduced by kind permission (www.solicitorsjournal.com)

There seems to be an overwhelming amount of attention paid in trainee-focussed literature to aspiring to the dizzy heights of a training contract (and ideally a subsequent NQ position) with a magic circle firm. I only ever attended one careers session at University, due to the fact that I was so completely terrified by the first one, I never dared go to another. Perhaps this fear served me well in terms of focussing my academic work, but one thing it certainly did was turn me off magic circle firms forever. Admittedly, being born and bred in the South West, I was hardly the biggest advocate of life in the 'big smoke' to start with, but the "do or die trying" and overtly competitive attitude this particular magic circle firm running the session was ramming down our throats, very swiftly made up my mind on this issue. Consequently, I am confused by the focus of many trainee publications on the magic circle dream, as it does not reflect my experience of the reality or indeed of my own career-based wishes and aspirations. 

Although I resent the currently abundant stereotype of 'Generation Y', it is undeniable that there is a growing focus amongst my peers on obtaining a cohesive 'package', balancing a glittering career with a fulfilling social life. However, I would argue that this desire spans genders and importantly generations rather than being a trait specific to 'Generation Y'. I have spoken to more solicitors than I can recall who started their career in a large city firm and had subsequently relocated to a regional firm in the hope of achieving a better work/life balance. Does this decision to break away make them by default a lower calibre of lawyer? Or do those who have served their time in a large city firm get a hall pass from being tarred with the 'regional slackers' brush?

Let's not forget the 'glamour factor' in this analysis of what young/prospective lawyers want from their career. One of my earliest blogs forewarned law students against any misguided dreams of becoming Ally McBeal, something I truly believe does sway law students' vision of where they picture themselves on qualification. This could be part of the trade-off between long hours, hard work and an astronomical pay-packet.  Accordingly, the fact that some students may claim something different to what they actually want, should be taken into account in debating this issue. 

I have no doubt that my magic circle contemporaries would view my bucolic  aspirations as somehow of less importance than their own. Is my ambition to work for a regional firm in any way less ambitious than their wish to join one of the 'big ten'? On the face of it, probably yes. However, I will always refute any such highbrow assumptions that I am somehow of a lesser calibre than someone who chose a different but not more superior path. Surely the real question is what you are driving towards as an individual. Whilst others may see my decision as a 'copout', I view it as a compromise between doing something I love and the remuneration I receive for doing it. My question for the magic circle trainees is what are they willing to compromise for salaries that admittedly turn me green. In my opinion, this comes at a personal cost. 

I am passionate about what I do, but I have always known that I didn’t want post 9pm to be my average home time. On several occasions during my training contract I have worked late into the evening, and on the weekend. However, surely there comes a point for everyone where it doesn’t matter what your salary is, if you don’t have time to enjoy spending it then surely it is worthless? Does the 'limited' scope of my ambition make me a less worthy or impressive trainee? In my own, albeit provincial, opinion, not one bit.