Over the last two months a raft of firms have used their resources flexibly to save on recruitment fees and prevent redundancies.
Addleshaw Goddard has funnelled work from busier to quieter departments, and Walker Morris has trained banking, corporate and property lawyers in insolvency to take advantage of the anticipated surge in the New Year.
Although the individuals concerned may prefer to try their hand at new areas rather than lose their jobs, some cases from the previous economic downturn show that it can have a negative impact on long-term career prospects.
During the dotcom crash a junior associate at Linklaters moved from corporate to financial markets. It is understood that when the market picked up, there was no job for her in her original practice area.
A five-year-qualified associate at the same firm was redeployed from corporate to securitisation and struggled to rebuild his practice from scratch. At the end of the downturn, he was unable to move back to his original practice area and never made partnership.
Peter Smart, managing partner at Walker Morris, said: “The ability for people to move away from their specialisms depends entirely upon what it is people are doing, what their experience is and how many years PQE [post-qualification experience] they are.
“If you’ve got a one or two-year PQE property lawyer who begins doing property litigation, that kind of individual could make a transition relatively simply, as they don’t normally have their own clients anyway. If you try and take a five or six-year PQE lawyer, it’s almost impossible.”
One City recruiter told The Lawyer that the majority of the candidates on his books who were unable to progress in their careers had made the wrong move at the wrong time.
But Addleshaw Goddard managing partner Mark Jones said lawyers needed to stop thinking in narrow terms, adding: “If you want a career as an employment lawyer, there would be a lot of benefit from gaining a wider perspective by spending a year as a corporate lawyer. There’s no inherent reason why you shouldn’t have maintained your client relations.”
Jones noted that the experience was something that those who go on secondment face all the time.
“If you go on secondment to a client, on one level you have been apart from your contacts, but you’ve adapted a more commercial mindset, developed broader experience and are better-placed to exploit contacts,” he said.