|My new mug for the office|
I will say that my firms retention rate this year was 100% - in fact, there were more jobs than trainees qualifying, and no-one got their second choice of position. However, if you'd have said that to me back in November, I would have laughed at you. The simple truth is that the recession has hit law firms hard, and the last couple of years have been really difficult for qualifying trainees. Retention rates have been very low and there has been a lack of NQ jobs in the market. This has now picked up, but the uncertainty adds to the pressure of the NQ process.
I don't think those outside the law (or indeed, those who have been in the profession a while) appreciate how much pressure trainees are placed under during the run up to qualification and the battle to secure an NQ position. From the start of the second year, the white elephant of potential unemployment starts to grow. Bottom line: your career is in the balance. This may sound a little dramatic, but it is entirely true. Your workload, firm, job security, wages are all dependent on securing that NQ position. Getting the job offer can be the difference between making the first strides on the rest of your life, or scouring the adverts for a new firm. If you add the fact that nearly all trainees have a large amount of financial debt, built from years of student living and training on wages that don't match the expected lifestyle, the potential of being thrown into the job market at little notice isn't particularly relaxing.
If you remove the question of employment, the question of practice area still remains; what do you want to do for the foreseeable future? This is question is as loaded as when you were asked it after your A-levels, and for some is just as unanswerable. Trainees hope that during the course of their training contract they have a romantic epiphany; they look across the room at a lone practice areas, the seats meet, electric energy charges the room and at that moment they know career satisfaction. They have found 'the one'. I was actually surprised at how this happened at my firm, 4 out of the 7 of us (including me) fell in love with one of our second year seats. The rest have positions but I don't sense the same passion in them - maybe their choice was fuelled by other motivations, perhaps they are just less verbally smitten. What I do know is that there has been a visible release of tension in all of us since we signed on the dotted line. I don't think any of us realised the stress we were putting ourselves under.
Personally, that stress was enormous. I have been working for 7 years to get where I am now, struggling financially for the most part, constantly striving to do better, to stand out, to get ahead (I am writing this watching the Olympics and realise I sound like one of the athletes - took me down of my dramatic high horse a little!). The ramp up of the pressure in the second year was one I wasn't expecting. Looking back I realise I was stretching myself very thin - never saying no to anything, willingly burning the candles at both ends and travelling round the country to stay in my boss' good books. I'm not complaining in the slightest - I was and am willing to do what it takes. However, I don't underestimate what it did to my social life (what social life!), my interests (what interests?) and general health (what health? there's a pattern here....). Coupled with this was my ability and drive to blog - it was the first casualty of my stress ridden life.
Trainees-in-waiting shouldn't be put off by this post. Anyone who has got as far as the second year of their training contract and is serious about qualification is likely to be willing to put themselves through the stress. It takes a certain type of person to become a lawyer - one of the personality traits tends to be a drive to do well is one of them (This can be based in ambition, arrogance, neurosis... they all have the same result!). In all honesty, you don't realise its there until you get the job offer and it disappears. Qualification is the anti-climax on the cake after signing your contract of employment.
I am happy to say I qualified last Wednesday. Let 1 August 2012 be set in stone as the first day of the rest of my life. I am very proud of myself and currently very happy. As yet, I have not been set upon by the stress of targets, billing, time recording etc - the general responsibility of the qualified solicitor. And so I return to my neglected blog - for the time being. I am now Miss NQ - please don't sue me!