The Chinese Legal Market has been growing rapidly in recent years, riding on the back of the economic growth of the world’s second-largest economy. In China and across the APAC region there is an increasing demand for legal services and lawyers/solicitors with strong credentials from top schools. And over the years, having covered the legal recruitment industry in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Hong Kong, I have noticed a trend in the way lawyers who are at the cusp of their legal career make decisions regarding their career path.
On average, half stay in practice with law firms while the other half choose to move in-house to work with a corporation. The reason why candidates choose to switch to in-house roles is often to be part of hot industries such as fintech and p2p firms where the market is niche but highly dynamic. For those who choose to stay in practice with a firm, they tend to be in established and/or international law firm. With such exciting opportunities at their disposal, how does one decide whether to stay put at a firm or move in-house to a bright, shiny, buzzing industry that is showing plenty of potential for growth?
As a lawyer, how you plan and map out your career path is crucial. Your first two jobs are more often than not, the determinant of how your career will continue to develop. Personally, I have come across many situations where candidates make a job switch only to regret their decision.
Here are a few things to consider for a long-term career success:
- Wants and needs are as different as night and day – What you need for success in your career may be something very different from what you want in the short term. Distinguish between the two and look beyond your immediate ‘wants’. Its when you start working towards the ‘needs’ that will then take you further in the long run.
- Look after your long-term wealth vs short term pay – Once again, the long-term outweighs the short. All too often, candidates jump into a new job for a supposedly attractive pay hike but fail to notice the finer details that make the long-term investment a more worthy deal. Do not be immediately swayed into jumping ship the moment you are offered a higher salary package. Carefully weigh out the pros and cons beyond the monetary incentive to see where the long-term growth potential lies.
- Watch out for stability – If you are considering a move in-house, specifically into startups and p2p firms, do take a moment to think and carefully evaluate your decision. While there are some success stories, there is also a worryingly high risk of failure with such firms.
- It’s your career – Take steps to look after your own career and be mindful of peer pressure. It’s easy to get swept up in the flow when those around you are excited about potential new opportunities. But always remember to pause and take a breather to discern if whats buzzing around you is really something to consider or is just what it is – buzz.
- Watch your opportunities – Not all that glitters is gold rings true for opportunities too. Many start-ups have exciting openings for counsels. The flipside is the reason that these roles are a necessity. Prepare yourself to be at the forefront of managing their ongoing legal obligations (which can be a minefield to navigate for new industries).
- Expand your cross-industry experience via a reputable firm – In doing so, you are building a solid competency base and broaden your future options.
- Take care of your resume – Top tier companies and law firms look for stable talents who show that they have staying power. And stability only comes with longevity in a firm.
My personal recommendation for candidates beginning their foray into their legal career is to go with the stable and predictable and work your way up to becoming a partner in that firm. It may not be the sexiest of career paths but its the one that will take you far. In fact, even if you do not have plans to become a partner, staying in a law firm for the first 5 years of starting your career helps to create a solid cornerstone for your future. When you stay with a good law firm, you will be able to build your credentials and develop your knowledge and competency. Moving in-house too early in your career can be disastrous if not done right and you may unwittingly limit your future options as well as your income levels in the long term.
This article is written by Warren, a Practice Leader at PeopleSearch Shanghai. He leads a team of 10 and specializes in Greater China Private Practice & APAC Counsel. Whether you are looking for a career move or perhaps, unsure of what your next step should be, get in touch with him at firstname.lastname@example.org for a conversation.