The squeezed middle

February 6, 2013

‘Counsels’ and ‘Directors’ should beware the axe, warns The Survivalist

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Personally, I’m a big supporter of the battlefield veteran. I’ll take a bit of life experience and a few lines around the eyes over bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, four A-stars and the common sense of a brick any day of the week.

But the lords and masters who run law firms ain’t of that way of thinking.

The more senior you are, the more expensive you are. And you tend to plateau. Of course, firms don’t really do much about this. They just let you drift, doing what you’ve done faithfully for years, and concentrate their efforts on the ones coming through the ranks.

Sponge cake vs. crunch

In the recession, all kinds of ‘counsel’ and ‘legal director’ roles came up. This was a way of keeping the (few) senior people they thought were absolutely necessary but who weren’t going to make partner.

(Of course, what they should have done was got rid of more of the useless buggers who made partner back when it was relatively easy, but that story’s for another day.)

So they created a layer of fudge in the rich and spongy cake of the law firm, but as the crunch continues, those expensive people – who ain’t goin’ nowhere and who are blocking the young ‘uns – are looking increasingly vulnerable.

If you happen to be in the fudge layer, the first step is to recognise it. The second is to realise and take on board that you could be a casualty at any minute. The third thing is to plan your exit now.

Firming up the fudge

Don’t wait until the axe falls, because there ain’t a recruiter in the market who can miracle up a new position for you. Period. Especially not one at your current golden salary.

In the background, you can help yourself by paring your household expenses to the bone and saving every darn cent. Cos you’re gonna need every last one when the dung hits the ventilator.

Start thinking about what else your skills might fit you for – in-house, local government, NGO – but recognise they’re all pretty rare and highly competitive. Then start making yourself indispensable internally. Work hard, start early, leave late, make connections with as many work-givers as you can.

In other words, get yourself battle-ready before the battle. It may just save your skin. More later. Stay frosty. TS

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