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How to make the transition to NQ solicitor

Completing your LPC qualification is a significant career milestone for all legal professionals, however it can also trigger feelings of uncertainty and anxiety as you consider your next steps in the profession. Exam stress is replaced by daunting decisions, and you find there is little information available to support you in taking that pivotal career step.

Are you looking to better consolidate your position as a newly-qualified (NQ) solicitor? Cairan O'Neill, Senior Consultant at Robert Walters Manchester, provides four key tips to ease your transition to NQ status.

Additional insight is provided by Matthew Flanagan, Corporate Solicitor and Chair of Manchester Young Solicitors Group (MYSG).

Carefully consider your qualification area

The area of law you specialise in will go on to shape the rest of your legal career and it’s advisable not to take this decision in isolation. Cairan highlights the importance of evaluating the different areas of your training contract:

“Considering your experience as a trainee and talking through this with an industry expert can really help you make a confident and self-assured choice.

“Is the area of law you excel in the area of work you find the most rewarding? Has your training contract allowed you to explore an area that interests you? Is your firm offering you an alternative department to the area you want to specialise in? These are some of the key questions I ask NQ lawyers seeking advice about their next career step. It’s also important to consider that areas of law are broad, for example family law encompasses private funded family as well as legal aid family – you may get much more enjoyment from one facet to another.

The biggest challenge I encountered was the change in status from being a trainee solicitor to a newly-qualified solicitor.

“We help ensure that the legal professionals we work with are aware of the options available to switch specialisation, especially as the job market has opened up considerably since they were offered their training contract, with much more availability and demand for NQ solicitors. I would recommend that NQ’s seize the opportunity to make the switch now, rather than facing an uphill struggle if you decide to do so later on in your legal career.”

Look to a mentor for support

Staying at your training contract firm, a key barrier to establishing your new status can be changing perceptions of your colleagues, who still consider you a trainee despite your qualification. Cairan explains how your internal network is key to facilitating this transition:

“A qualification doesn’t necessarily change your role overnight in the same way as a promotion does, and you may not automatically be given the responsibilities that you’re now qualified to take on. Gaining recognition from your superior colleagues can be difficult to attain and there’s a certain level of determination required on your part to prove you are eager and confident to take on your own clients.

“Never be afraid to ask for help. I would always recommend looking to a superior or mentor in your firm for advice who will have undoubtedly faced the same dilemma in their careers. If you don’t feel you’re receiving enough support to thrive in your new position, assess the quality of the work you’re receiving and look speculatively to see whether you’d be given more responsibility elsewhere.”

Matthew Flanagan, Corporate Solicitor and Chair of Manchester Young Solicitors Group (MYSG) explains how he personally dealt with establishing his new status as NQ solicitor:

“The biggest challenge I encountered was the change in status from being a trainee solicitor to a newly-qualified solicitor. In my experience, getting involved in a broad range of work in your field of qualification and developing your knowledge/experience were the two key factors that assisted with this transition and changed my colleagues’ perception of me from trainee solicitor to solicitor (alongside having a fantastic mentor).”

Build your client portfolio

Your first few years as an NQ are key to generating your own clients and expanding your body of work. Cairan offers tips to build your client base:

“Be proactive and don’t let the work come to you. Look for networking opportunities and associations to access new work for yourself as well as other practice areas covered by your firm. You quickly find the majority of new clients come through referrals, and so keeping in touch with former colleagues and growing your contacts increases your chances of being recommended to a client.

“Your ability to bring in new clients proves your value-add to your firm, quickly develops your client management skills and provides you with access to rich, new work experience that will indisputably help you later on in your career.”

Consider your long-term plan

Whatever the driver in your career, whether it be partnership, a flexible lifestyle, rewarding work or high earning potential, it’s important to plan effectively to achieve your career goals.

Matt comments, “There is a tendency for some newly-qualified solicitors to specialise in their practice areas too early in their careers (i.e. only working on private equity work as a corporate solicitor), however in considering your long-term plan, my advice would be to get as broad a range as possible upon qualification.”

Cairan concludes, “A long-term career plan will give you a focus and clear objectives to aim towards.

Considering how you want to progress over the next five years will inform the nature of work you want to go into and whether you will get this from your current firm. It will also benchmark when you want to make a career move in the future.”

It’s easy to forget to celebrate the achievement of qualifying when you’re about to take a career-defining step. Before anything else, stop to acknowledge your newly accomplished status. If you plan, evaluate and communicate accordingly, you’ll be sure to break through that NQ barrier.

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