Time is ticking for the QLTS – here’s why you should cross-qualify as a Solicitor by 2021

An England and Wales bar qualification can provide many professional advantages in an increasingly interconnected world as many cross-border transactions and international disputes are often governed by English law.  Whether your motivations are to facilitate a move into an international law firm or overseas mobility; to reinforce your skills on cross-border transactions; or to gain additional faith from clients and peers on complex deals; then now is the time to act as the cross-qualification examination process is set to become much longer, harder, and more expensive.

The Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) is working on a new set of examinations for everyone looking to be admitted as a Solicitor in England & Wales, regardless of whether you are already a foreign qualified lawyer or a fresh graduate from a UK university.  Dubbed the “Solicitor Super-Exam”, the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) will roll out several changes to the qualification route for both domestic and foreign applicants – wiping out the LPC (the 1-year postgraduate course that UK law graduates must complete along with a training contract) and QLTS (the current route to dual-qualification for foreign admitted lawyers).

 Why the changes?

This change comes as a response to criticism of the LPC. Costing up to £16,000, around 9,000 people pass it every year although there are only around 5,500 training contracts available in the United Kingdom – leaving thousands of budding lawyers, often with impressive academic skill but a lack of ‘connections’, locked out of the legal industry. In June 2016, the SRA’s executive director, Crispin Passmore, stressed that the purpose of the SQE proposal was about “higher standards, not reducing them in any way, shape or form”. Everyone had to be confident that those holding the title of Solicitor were “good enough” to do so, and that “good enough is a very high standard indeed”. The following year, the SRA reaffirmed that their goal was to make sure all solicitors meet consistent, high standards at the point of entry to the profession.”, with Paul Philip (Chief Executive), adding that “The new assessment will mean the public and law firms can have full confidence that all new solicitors meet the same consistently high standards, regardless of how they qualified.” With all of the emphasis being placed on ‘high standards’, one can only assume that the benchmarks for getting qualified may be about to get harder to meet.

What is the current QLTS format?

The Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme is available to lawyers qualified in recognised jurisdictions outside the UK and comes in 2 parts, with a total of under 19 hours of assessment and at a total cost of £2,925 + VAT (£3,510 in total).

Part 1: The MCT

The MCT is a multiple-choice test with 180 questions to be answered within 6 hours (split into two equal sessions – often morning and afternoon with a break in between). The subjects covered are the Legal System of England and Wales, Constitutional law, Judicial Review and Human Rights, Professional conduct (SRA Accounts Rules etc.), Contract law, Tort, Criminal law, Property law, Trust law and Business law. The MCT must be successfully completed before moving on to the second part of the QLTS.

Part 2: The OSCE

The Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) consists of 6 exercises (client interviewing, completion of attendance note/case analysis, advocacy/oral presentation, legal drafting, legal research and legal writing) repeated across 3 subjects (Business, Civil & Criminal Litigation and Property & Probate). The exercises are a mix of written and roleplay, designed to imitate a real law practise environment, and take 4h15min for each subject, normally offered over several days.

Exemptions:

Currently, only EU, EEA and Swiss applicants can apply for exemptions to the QLTS. Those who have passed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) are able to apply for a complete exemption from Part 1 of the QLTS. Applicants with demonstrable knowledge and experience of English & Welsh law practise may be considered for certain exemptions in those specific subjects by an SRA assessor (for example, a Corporate associate practicing England & Wales law in an international law firm may be able to apply for an exemption from the Business Law questions). Applicants who are Ireland or Scotland qualified are automatically eligible for a pre-determined set of exemptions.

What has been proposed regarding the new SQE format?

The exact format and content of the SQE is still under review, and open to change, but proposals from the SRA have given an indication of what we could expect to see. The SQE is expected to clock in at a mammoth 35 hours or above of assessment time. It has been proposed to cost in the range of between £3,000 and £4,500 (+ VAT) but given the significant increase in assessment hours, it would be fair to assume that fees are likely to fall on the higher end of this scale, and the SRA noted in November 2018 that the eventual fee may even be outside this range. Like the QLTS, the SQE will comprise of 2 stages:

SQE stage 1

The SQE Stage 1 pilot starts in March 2019, giving us a good idea of what it is likely to involve once it is fully launched. The SQE1 pilot assessment will consist of both Functioning Legal Knowledge (FLK) exams and a practical legal skills assessment. This will be completed over 3 days, with days 1 and 3 of the pilot lasting approximately 7.5 hours and day 2 lasting approximately 5 hours, making the current 6-hour MCT look like a breeze in comparison!

The FLK Assessments consist of three multiple choice tests (MCTs) of 120 questions each. That’s twice as many questions as the current MCT! The subjects covered are Business Law, Dispute Resolution, Contract, Tort, Property Practice, Wills and Trusts, Solicitors’ Accounts, Land Law, Public and Administrative Law, and The Legal System of England and Wales, Criminal law.

On top of this, the Legal Skills Assessment consists of two practical legal skills assessments, each containing one legal research and two writing exercises, completed over a period of half a day. Judging from the assessment guidelines for the pilot, these appear to be based around client advice scenarios.

SQE stage 2

SQE2 can only be completed once SQE1 has been successfully passed and is proposed to be a behemoth of an assessment, clocking in more examination hours than the entirety of the QLTS! 20 hours of practical assessments are expected in 5 key skills areas: client interviewing, advocacy/persuasive oral communication, case & matter analysis, legal research & written advice, and drafting. Each skill will be assessed twice within 2 legal contexts chosen from a list of 5: Dispute Resolution, Property, Business Practice, Criminal Practice, and Wills & Trusts. Some SQE stage 2 exams will be taken on a computer, and others will take the form of role plays.

The SQE2 will obviously span across several consecutive days, but don’t worry – if you aren’t a masochist, or just generally enjoy keeping your sanity, then you will also have the option to take it in two parts. The SQE2 pilot plans have not yet been released, so this content is still very much speculative at this stage.

Exemptions

Good news! In their January 2019 Consultation paper, the SRA stated that “Under the SQE, qualified lawyers from all jurisdictions will be entitled to apply for exemptions from the SQE where they can demonstrate that their qualifications and experience are equivalent in content and standard. We have taken this position because it is fair, open and treats all jurisdictions equally.” Hooray for equality!

However, it’s important to consider that getting exemptions is not necessarily in your favour. You currently need to get a total mark of around 55-60% to pass the MCT. If you choose not to take an exemption in a subject you have expertise in, that means you’ll be examined in the subjects you’re comfortable with as well as on those you are not previously familiar with, allowing you to gain a certain percentage of the marks with relative ease. If you take exemptions you will be dealing entirely with questions in unfamiliar subjects – and whilst the exam may be a bit shorter, it will be more challenging to achieve the percentage required for a passing grade.

Additional Criteria

It has also been specified that 2 years’ qualifying work experience (QWE) is expected to be required to be admitted, unlike the QLTS which has no such requirements, which can be with up to four different legal employers and can include pro bono work. It has not been mentioned whether there will be exemptions available for this.

When will these changes come into force?

There is still a lot of uncertainty about exactly when these changes will come into force and what they will involve, as the changes are still under review and the inception date has already been pushed back from 2020. However, it has been confirmed that the QLTS will be available to start until at least July 2021. Once the SQE is introduced (currently proposed for September 2021), then no new applicants will be accepted onto the QLTS. For applicants who have already completed the MCT prior to the SQE rollout, the final cutoff date for qualifying under the old route is currently set to be 2024 (based on the present rollout targets) and such candidates would be able to choose between completing the OSCE or the SQE2 – although based on the proposals I am not sure why any sane person would wish to choose the latter option unless they had missed the OSCE deadline!

While the SRA have not finalized their plans, the fact that the SQE looks like it will be an enormous increase in assessment hours and could cost significantly more should be solid motivation to get into the process this year! If you are unsure about whether dual qualification would be advantageous to your career then please do not hesitate to contact us for a chat and some tailored career advice.

Authored By Daniella-Louise Bourne from Abeo Consulting – a specialist legal search firm headquartered in Singapore.

We place a high value on our relationships and work with a comprehensive list of clients which include international law firms, multinationals and financial institutions operating in Singapore and within the Asian region. We give an objective, impartial and honest advice on your career and we pride ourselves on the tailored recruitment solutions we offer.

www.abeo.sg

Creating a Successful LinkedIn Profile

LinkedIn is one of the most popular professional networks on the internet – your details are freely visible to over 467 million current LinkedIn users (109 million registered users in Asia) who can search you by name, and also depending on your settings, are available publicly to others without a LinkedIn account (you can check and change your settings from your profile page – click ‘Edit your public profile’ in the right rail).

LinkedIn also has a high Google search ranking which means it is almost always one of the first pages found by anyone doing due diligence checks on your professional life (or general internet stalking!). Clients and contacts will often visit your LinkedIn to check on your credentials – especially if you do not have a background page on your company website. Furthermore, you may find your details viewed by potential dates and old flames, classmates and long lost relatives or even landlords doing a few extra checks before offering you that tenancy.

Not just a way to get yourself headhunted, it can also be a useful tool for business development, attracting new clients and strengthening your personal brand. However, in order to do so, you have to present yourself and use the platform in a professional manner. 80% of all LinkedIn members consider professional networking to be essential to a successful career – we at Abeo Consulting noticed that there are still mistakes that several users make on LinkedIn that make us cringe and we also found that many users are not utilizing the platform to its full potential.

Here are some tips for you to get the most out of LinkedIn:

BE MINDFUL OF YOUR ACTIVITY

Following the more recent LinkedIn Updates, your LinkedIn activity now sits front-and-center at the top of your profile. This meant that one of the first things that anyone browsing your profile will see are your most recent likes, comments, shares and publications, and anyone drilling down into the section will be able to get a full record of your activity. Therefore, it is incredibly important to be mindful of this while using the platform. Everything you do – that offhand insult you made in a comment to another user on a post 2 years ago, that like of a status containing a divisive political view, that mention that your Partner is a total dragon – would all be there, conveniently listed for any other LinkedIn user to see. As LinkedIn is a very large, open network containing all different backgrounds and cultures, the best way to avoid offence is to play it safe and avoid bad language and any ‘dinner party conversational taboos’ such as politics and religion. Furthermore, keep your posts professional and relevant – avoid ‘chain posts’ or anything that belongs on Facebook or other purely social networks as failure to do so may portray an inability to differentiate between business and social and an overall lack of professionalism.

INCLUDE A RELEVENT PROFILE HEADLINE

Your headline is the first piece of text that anyone will see when searching for you, so the first rule of LinkedIn is to include your job title and current employer. For lawyers, it is also pertinent to include your practice area – a good headline could be ‘Senior Project Finance Associate at Allen and Overy’ or ‘Corporate Associate specializing in Private Equity at Latham and Watkins’. It may be advisable to avoid faux-job-title buzzwords like ‘ninja’ (unless you happen to be an assassin), ‘rockstar’ (unless you are also a member of Guns ‘n’ Roses) as some people (including us!) consider these to be tacky.

The absolute worst headline you could have is ‘currently looking for opportunities’ or ‘seeking work’ as that screams desperation and you should try and avoid this at all costs. Even if you have an excellent background, prospective employers will tend to assume that either you’ve been looking for a job for a long time without success, or that you are too lazy to actively apply to firms, or that you don’t have a sense of direction your career and are just hoping something will come to you. Experienced headhunters on the other hand would also generally steer clear of anyone with these headlines as the assumption would be that you would have been already approached as an easy target for every low quality, ‘fresh’ or desperate recruiter around, or that you have already exhausted your preferred market with (usually badly targeted) applications, so problems with conflicts will likely arise. If you are not working, a better headline would be more subtle and skill focused – perhaps something like ‘Legal Associate with 5 years of Funds experience in International Law Firms’ or ‘Columbia LLM student with a passion for International Arbitration – graduating June 2017

GET PICTURE PERFECT

In a series of experiments studying judgement from facial appearances, Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found that it only takes 100 milliseconds to form an impression of someone from just looking at a photo of their face. I know, whatever happened to don’t judge a book by it’s cover! Apparently, members who include a profile photo receive 21x more profile views, up to 36x more messages and up to 9x more connection requests so it is important to add one instead of remaining an anonymous grey silhouette. Furthermore, users who have a professional headshot get 14 times more views so you may want to consider using your photo from your company website or get one clicked by a professional.

First impressions count – so please avoid some of these common photo mistakes:

–         Selfies – Save the selfies for your other social media accounts. Whilst the high-angle shot may be your ‘best angle’, it looks unprofessional and a straight on headshot may be the best way forward

–         Sunglasses – Unless you are a private detective, a sunglasses retailer or blind then it’s time to ditch the ray bans

–         Alcohol – Unless you want to give the impression that you might turn up into the office with a hangover or smuggle miniature whiskeys into the office in your briefcase, please put down your glass before snapping away

–         Sports Cars – Unless you are in an industry related to sports cars – for example if you work in a car dealership or are an F1 driver – then there is absolutely no reason to include cars in your profile photo. Indeed, nothing screams conceited, arrogant or phony more than posing with a Lamborghini you spotted parked on the side of street

–         Inappropriate clothing – as a professional network (not Facebook), whilst you may look gorgeous in that short bodycon dress with full evening makeup and beauty-queen hair, it’s not going to do you any favours on a professional site. A rule of thumb is probably to dress how you would when meeting a new prospective client

–         Inappropriate poses – Lying on a couch portrays laziness and please avoid peace signs! Nicholas Boothman lists ways in which body language can be open or closed in his book ‘How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less’. If you want to show an openness on your face, try opening your mouth – in fact, an open mouthed smile is apparently seen as more friendly than a closed mouthed smirk

–         Inappropriate surroundings – It is a good idea to take your photo with a professional looking backdrop. Users on various social media have found that simply changing the colour of the background of their profile picture has led to an increase in views, so play around and find something that works for you!

–         Filters – as LinkedIn is not Instagram, and whilst a little touch up here and there to cover any major blemishes may be fine, extreme filters should be left to Instagram. Stick to clean and clear, naturally lit headshots

One good way to really test the effectiveness of your profile photo is through Photofeeler, a website where you can upload a photo and have other uses anonymously rate it out of 10 for perceived competence, influence and likability. It’s free to join and you may be surprised by the results you get back! Having tried this myself using the same photo on a number of different coloured backgrounds, I found that opinion and feedback was most positive with a blue background and extremely negative with a red background.

Beyond your profile picture, also consider your cover photo. A company branded photo can really help sell your product or firm, but otherwise use a photo that portrays a professional image.

CREATE A COMPELLING SUMMARY

Adding a summary can be a good way to drill down into your experience and services you offer, and a summary of 40 words or more also makes it more likely to show up in a search. It may be a good idea to write for prospects, not recruiters or employers – for example, include how have helped clients in the past as opposed to how you’ve hit billing targets! This is your chance to exude your personal brand attributes, and a compelling summary may include figures and statements about your work life, as well as perhaps a little bit of personal or life experiences and motivations, but try not to ramble too much – keep it concise like an elevator pitch. Try to steer away from using the most overused words on Linkedin such as ‘passionate’ and ‘focused’ to avoid sounding clichéd and try to keep humour or statements that can be misinterpreted to a minimum – for example I have recently seen “shouting at my juniors and being shouted at by my seniors” written in a lawyers profile. Whilst I’m sure this written in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it could also be interpreted as an indicator of incompetence!

Also remember that people seeking someone with a certain skillset will search Linkedin with keywords – for example “public m&a”, “project finance”, “construction disputes” etc. If you have experience in any particular niche then this is good to mention it in your summary.

Summaries can also be livened up with the use of media, such as law firm/company publications. However even if you are actively looking for work then NEVER PUT YOUR CV ON YOUR PROFILE. In this same vein as putting ‘seeking opportunities’ in your headline, this seeks desperation. Furthermore, putting details of your transactions in such a public way – especially ones that are not published elsewhere may not be viewed positively.

Finally, make sure to check your spelling! As a lawyer, you should be expected to have a keen eye for detail. If you can’t spot an error on your profile, how can a client or employer expect you to be able to spot any errors in legal documentation?

CURATE YOUR ENDORSEMENTS

Endorsements are arguably the easiest way to highlight your skills on your profile, and the aforementioned keyword searches will pick these up alongside your summary, so it is important to curate them appropriately. In fact, members with 5 or more skills listed are up to 33x more likely to be contacted (messaged), and receive up to 17x more profile views. You are able to re-order your endorsements in the profile editor, so a good idea would to be your most relevant skill at the top, then list the rest in descending order. Keep out anything that is not current and relevant – for example if you are a senior Funds lawyer then endorsements for Intellectual Property, even if perhaps you did study it as a training seat 10 years ago, are irrelevant and can look sloppy on your profile. Any of your connections can recommend new endorsements for your profile, however do need feel obliged to add them if they aren’t relevant to your current practice. There are indeed some very interesting endorsements available but “smalltalk”, “house parties” and “wine”, are not appropriate on your Linkedin, even if you are the perfect host!

Endorsements were created as a way for your network to quickly and easily ‘vouch’ for your skills in a particular area, however in practice even if you have a skill endorsed to the maximum ‘99+’ times then you must still note that these are generally not seen as a reliable gauge for a person’s overall aptitude.

GET RECOMMENDED

Arguably the best way to demonstrate your competence is to request personally written short recommendation by a reputable member of your network with whom you’ve had dealings. This could be a colleague, an old employer or, where appropriate, a client. For more junior lawyers, an academic and personal recommendation could be requested from a University professor. The number of recommendations you have is listed on your public profile, so having a few can really add to your reputability, however remember that this is not a numbers game. An effective recommendation is one that comes from a meaningful and reliable source who has a significant connection to you and you can choose what recommendations are visible on your profile by using the recommendations page.

UTILISE ACCOMPLISHMENTS PROFILE SECTIONS

Under the ‘Add a Section’ sidebar on the right hand side of your profile page, you have a multitude of options you can use to showcase your talent. These include Publications (List your published work and be found 7x more), Certifications (5x more profile views), Honors and Awards, Courses, Languages, Projects and Organizations. If you have been recommended by one of the directories (Legal 500, Chambers etc) or have won an award for your work, list it under your honors and awards section. Interesting courses should be included, but don’t feel the need to mention every CPD seminar that you are sent on unless they are particularly unique. Even courses done outside of a business setting, for example extreme sports certifications can be added, and can provide interesting talking points when building rapport with your network. Bar Admission should be added under your ‘Certifications’ section.

MAKE SURE THAT YOUR EMPLOYMENT AND EDUCATION HISTORY IS COMPLETE AND ACCURATE

Members with “up to date” positions are discovered up to 18x more in searches and get up to 8x more profile views. Make sure to include your employer (not specifying this can look like you have something to hide or be ashamed of) and your correct dates of employment. Make sure to include your practice area and a brief description of your firm and responsibilities. Keep it relevant – for example non-legal work done prior to qualification can be left out unless it is particularly significant and admissible (e.g a Shipping lawyer who previously had a seagoing career may want to demonstrate this). An NQ+ lawyer does not need to include all of their internships and paralegal experience.

Education history should generally include anything from undergraduate level up, unless you went to an exceptionally prestigious high school. Including your education history can help old classmates track you down and can help provide some interesting common ground with other alumni who are perhaps prospective clients or other business contacts. If you are currently studying, but the end date in the future and feel free to add a note in the freeform text saying ‘in progress’. Remote learning or part-time students should consider mentioning this, as not to give the impression that you are located elsewhere or that you have taken longer to complete a degree because you’ve had to resit years! If you have a degree that you only partially completed and are not currently in the process of finishing, then state how many passing credits you earned (e.g. earned XX credits towards a Bachelor of Science, 9/10 to 5/12) or state which modules you passed (e.g. passed 4 core modules: The Law of Contract (30 Credits), Criminal Law (30 Credits), Equity and Trusts (30 Credits) and Land Law (30 Credits)). If you did not earn any credits or are in any way unsure then it may be safer to leave it off completely than to imply that you hold fictitious qualifications!

KEEP IT REAL

My biggest piece of advice for LinkedIn users is to avoid being dishonest on your LinkedIn profile. Remember that LinkedIn is publicly available, and anyone can call you out on your dishonesty at any time (incorrect profile information can be reported anonymously here). Furthermore, LinkedIn has been granted a patent for an automatic fact-checking system that has the potential to flag up falsities even faster. Lying on LinkedIn is the same as lying on your CV – best case scenario if you get caught is that you damage your reputation, and worst case scenario, not only could you lose your job but it has the potential to completely destroy your career.

The biggest example of this is the now infamous Alan Blacker – more widely known as ‘Lord Harley of Counsel’ who was first dubbed ‘the undisputed Lord of LinkedIn’ (and later the ‘Harry Potter lawyer’ due to his unconventional choice of court attire!). His lengthy profile claimed he had been he has been a member of nearly 30 different societies (including the Society of Model and Experimental Engineers, the Institute of Mental Health Act Practitioners, the Royal Artillery Association and the Zoological Society of London) and contained more than 30 different certificates and qualifications (including being a Transactional Analysis Psychoanalytical Psychologist, a Licensed Boiler Examiner and a Stanford University graduate). Whilst his profile is no longer available you can find some of the more entertaining highlights here. The eccentric LinkedIn page came to the SRAs attention, and following a two-day hearing at the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) the SRA had proven seven out of eight charges made against Blacker, some of which concerned “inaccurate and misleading” statements he had made about his academic qualifications and professional memberships. Mr Blacker was ultimately struck off and ordered to pay £86,000 costs – and whilst this is an extreme case – it should serve as a warning to all.

The most commonly spotted LinkedIn lies are inaccurate job titles, falsified employment dates and incorrect education information – usually given the impression that a degree has been completed when it has only partially been undertaken. Incorrect job titles and dates can be discovered by future employers when doing reference checks, or could easily be called out by past companies or colleagues. From an ex-employers perspective, you are still somewhat of an ambassador for their brand as an alumni of them if you are still advertising their name on your profile – to pass yourself off as something you were not could tarnish their reputation as well as yours.

BROADCASTING CHANGES

Finally, one thing to remember before you make any update is to change your settings so your updates are not broadcasted to your network

To disable these settings:

1.      Click the Me icon at the top of your LinkedIn homepage.

2.      Click Settings & Privacy.

3.      Select the Privacy tab at the top of the page.

4.      Under Profile privacy, click Change next to Sharing profile edits.

5.      Switch the toggle to the left to disable notifying your network when you change your profile, make recommendations, or follow companies.

If you are a lawyer looking for career guidance or more tips then please do not hesitate to contact Abeo Consulting on (+65) 6100 1900 for tailored advice.

Authored By Daniella-Louise Bourne from Abeo Consulting – a specialist legal search firm headquartered in Singapore.

We place a high value on our relationships and work with a comprehensive list of clients which include international law firms, multinationals and financial institutions operating in Singapore and within the Asian region. We give an objective, impartial and honest advice on your career and we pride ourselves on the tailored recruitment solutions we offer. 

Hit the Ground Running: The In-House Survival Guide

With companies increasingly recognizing the value of their in-house teams, this area of the legal market certainly looks like it is flourishing and set to grow in Asia over the coming years. The ALB’s in-house survey 2017 mentions that 40% of their respondents predicted that their legal teams will grow in 2017. Looks like we will be seeing even more lawyers leave their private practice days behind this year! In our last article we addressed some of the considerations before making a move in-house, but what happens once you’ve already entered the fold of your new company? An In-House environment can be a drastic change to a law firm and the key to your success really lies in your ability to adapt to your new environment as quickly as possible – below are some suggestions to help you navigate this transition.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR ROLE

Firstly, you must be clear on your responsibilities – the job description that you were provided during the recruitment process is probably a good starting point in at least understanding what the company and your colleagues envisaged the role to be prior to being hired and it would also provide you with the length and breadth and also the diverse nature of your responsibilities. But as we all know and can imagine, the reality is most definitely different!

We’ve mentioned before that companies like Amazon and Google have legal teams globally that rival the size of law firms like Davis Polk or Milbank, so if you find yourself working in such a department then it would be important for you to understand the division of work responsibilities and what all your individual role covers. However, many companies (especially in Asia) tend to have much leaner teams and even sole in-house counsels who encompass all legal responsibility for the company – resulting in a position more multi-faceted than you could have initially imagined. Usually these roles provide broad based legal and business advise to legal management as well as to the regional business teams. These roles would most definitely take you outside your preferred practice area and expertise and you will wind up dealing with and answering questions relating to areas outside your comfort zone – for ex. Employment law, IP licensing, data privacy etc.

You also need to be clear on how your company operates in terms of company culture, processes, work flow and strategy – which will then enable you to prioritize and direct your work accordingly.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING

Compared to a law firm – which have flat structures and even if hierarchical, simple enough to navigate (associate, senior associate, of Counsel, Partner etc), you would now probably be part of a different kind of team – so make it your first mission to find outwho the real stakeholders are in the companynames, roles and how you co-exist and co-function – it would be useful to get yourself and org chart and familiarize yourself with it. Your collaborative partners could generally be c-level executives (and it is important that you can speak to these people on an equal footing in their own language – using terminology and jargon that is widely used in the company!), however there are likely to be many more people you need to communicate with regularly. If you find out who the right people to talk to are early on, your life will be a lot easier, and they will also help to further you understanding of the company’s overall mission and pressure points alongside that of individual departments.

As a sole counsel with not many legally trained peers around you, you may find yourself in a slightly isolated atmosphere, so it might be useful to build a network with other in-house lawyers. Many will have been through similar struggles as you and the informal support could be of great benefit. Old friends and colleagues who have also moved in house are always a good place to start, but if this is not an option or if you simply want to expand your network – there are organizations like the SingaporeCorporate Counsel Association or Association of Corporate Counsel. You could even try joining one of the many networking groups – such as our very own Asia Legal Network. You will find that people in the same situation as you are often receptive to having a chat over coffee or a drink and sharing their experiences!

RISK APPETITE

It is usual practice for Private Practice lawyers to fire away advice on the law, with caveats – in a very risk-averse manner. It falls on In House Counsel to decide how that advice is to be adhered to – the various legal options and choices would have to be carefully examined and weighed keeping in mind the commercial strategy and business outcomes required. This cannot be pre-supposed as your colleagues and partners on the business side would have an equal amount of say and opinions on things.

This makes it critical for you to determine where your company stands on their risk appetite – you need to find the inner pulse of the company and where they stand on the amount of the risk the company is willing to take – you would then have to use that understanding to step up and make decisions. History could be a good tool is assessing these situations, feel free to dig around and find out how a problem or issue was dealt with in the past or in other markets within the organization. Some companies are very risk averse in and some others are extremely aggressive – Uber, for example is a pioneering company happy to shake up the legal landscape by stretching the limits of the law, most notably for their avoidance of taxi licenses – much to the annoyance of taxi drivers. Risk appetite can also vary within different regions and departments of a company – a bank that is very much risk averse in Europe, for example, may be prepared to take bigger risks for greater gain in Asia.

If you’re able to ascertain the risk appetite of your company early on, then you will certainly be on track for success.

WHOLESOME AND FOCUSED ADVICE

As an in house counsel, and especially as a sole counsel, your job will also certainly require you to delve into practice areas that you may have limited or no previous expertise in. To the average company employee, a lawyer is a lawyer and they likely do not realize that you do not have an unlimited knowledge of law outside of your specialisation. Which means that you will likely encounter someone knocking at your door with questions that are outside of your ‘’comfort zone’’. You must try and not dismiss your colleagues and be adaptable and autonomous in finding all the right information and help in finding the answer. This would indeed go a long way in developing trust and building long term partnerships.

You should also carefully consider any advice you give in a wholesome and rounded way – for example, when advising on a terms in an employment contract – something which you may never have done before – it would be good to also consider the possible tortious liabilities surrounding a breach along with the more obvious elements that would fall under contract and employment law.

Reputational risk also must be considered alongside legal and financial implications – take Samsung’s handling of the exploding Galaxy Note 7 phones last year – there were 40 days of production, sale, and advertising of the Galaxy Note 7 after the first explosion, and 2 recalls where faulty replacements were given out. One of these replacements given even caught fire on a US domestic flight, leading to airlines globally making special announcements about the device on flights and at check-in counters – flyers the world over have been specifically warned of the hazards of this Samsung device in what is probably one the greatest PR disaster of all time involving a phone manufacturer, and it seems like if that one customer had been given a refund this could have never happened or handled differently. Whilst simply offering replacements and continuing production as normal must have initially seemed like the most cost effective option at the time – especially as the company were also resisting paying out for damages for the resulting fires – the reputational impacts were shattering and it will be interesting if Samsung Telecommunications and the Note range in particular can ever fully recover.

When dealing with questions you should try to be succinct and to speak the jargon of your colleagues. Unless specifically asked for, it’s unlikely that your colleagues would want to know that you know everything about a certain legal topic and why you made certain decisions – they would want to know the answer, the risk, and the cost.

You should know the limits of your time and of your expertise – Outside counsel are there to take some of the pressure off and to assist with the bigger matters outside of your abilities so be sure to develop a good relationship with them.

COST AND BUDGETING

You are now a back office function and cost centre – therefore keeping your budget in mind is a key to your survival, especially during difficult economic times. Asian Legal Business magazine reported that 43% of in house teams regularly report ‘outside counsel spend’ as a Key Performance Indicator and 24% regularly report legal spend as a percentage of revenue against the industry average – compared to only 18% of teams having litigation win rate as a performance indicator. Clearly being able to demonstrate that you are thoughtful in your spending will certainly make conversations with your CFO and other partners go much easier. Although this is unlikely to have been part of your job description before, implementing methods of financial reporting could help you to predict your team spend as well as quantify savings, and this should give you solid data to demonstrate your value to those who may question it.

Outside counsel are certainly there to help when you need them, but it is also critical to make sure that you are not running to them for things that you have the ability to deal with in-house – that is the main reason that you are employed, after all! When you are going to external counsel, you should be also conscious of managing the spend. Perhaps you could reduce costs by using cheaper firms for certain types of work (for example, smaller niche firms for specialised work, or less prestigious firms for less complex matters), or try negotiating on price and using alternative fee arrangements such as discounts, rate caps and fixed fees. Furthermore, we have heard stories about some domestic law firms charging high figures without providing itemised bills, and indeed heavily discounting fees once questioned about it so perhaps this is something to also be aware of.

BROADER RESPONSIBILITY

You will likely be asked for input on things that aren’t obviously a legal problem – but remember this is an entrepreneurial environment and that there is often an emphasis on adding value outside of your prescribed responsibilities as you are now operating at a cost to the company instead of a fee-earner, so be ready to step up to the challenge of an increasingly multi-faceted role. Making efficiencies in the way legal issues are processed and managed will also help with your company’s overall profit and loss management – perhaps you could implement self-help guides or a portal to address minor issues that you frequently get asked about.

KEEPING UP WITH DEVELOPMENTS

You also need to consider that you won’t have the support and infrastructure that you once had in Private Practice. Whilst law firms do a great job of circulating legal developments, it will now be your own responsibility to keep up to date – so make sure you are signed up to law firm “client updates”, legal news bulletins, magazines and legal blogs. Furthermore, your new company is unlikely to have huge libraries of information and templates of legal documents at your disposal, and if you are their first in-house hire then be prepared for there to be nothing at all. ALB’s latest in-house survey reported that the most regularly monitored key performance indicator for legal teams was their response times, so it is important to utilize any downtime to start collating the resources and templates you need.

LONG TERM SUCCESS

The overall trend for staff turnover in the in-house legal side is relatively low, with the majority of in-house counsel have worked in-house for an average of 6.7 years compared to a tenure of between 2-4 years  for a private practice associate. We frequently meet General Counsels who have remained in the same company for 10 years or more, so once you establish yourself early on in your tenure, you will most likely be rewarded with a fruitful and ‘long-term relationship’ within your new company.

If you are a lawyer looking for career guidance or are a company looking for a new counsel or legal team then please do not hesitate to contact Abeo Consulting on (+65) 6100 1900 for tailored advice.

Authored By Daniella-Louise Bourne and Amith Narayan from Abeo Consulting – a specialist legal search firm headquartered in Singapore.

We place a high value on our relationships and work with a comprehensive list of clients which include international law firms, multinationals and financial institutions operating in Singapore and within the Asian region. We give an objective, impartial and honest advice on your career and we pride ourselves on the tailored recruitment solutions we offer.

Considerations of an In-house move

A move in-house can certainly seem appealing to a seasoned Private Practice lawyer – no more pressure about billable hours, no need to bring in new clients or be a rainmaker. Sounds like a dream! But what should you really be taking into account before leaving your Law Firm behind for the green, green grass of the corporate lifestyle?

Work/Life Balance: Fact or Myth?

A common perception is that as in-house lawyers only have to meet the demands of a single client, this gives them the luxury of working a ‘9 to 5’ role.   The truth in this perception depends on the individual company you will be working for, their corporate culture, and also a lot on your actual role – there are companies that want to get as much ‘bang for their buck’ as possible by working their legal teams harder than a Private Practice firm, and conversely there are also companies that have a strong emphasis on employee satisfaction and having a fulfilling lifestyle outside of the office!

You should also be aware that even in a flexible and relaxed company, if there are any large and critical issues then you will still be expected to put in as many hours as necessary to get the job done.  All-nighters may not be completely off the cards for you but they will not be as prevalent as in a private practice setting. This would be mainly due to the fact that if you are working on a time sensitive and rather large transaction, there would likely still be the private practice law firms running the transaction, turning documents around overnight for you (the client) to review in the morning.

Pay Cut/Pay Rise?

There is usually a trade-off for better hours that comes in the form of salary.  In addition, you are no longer a fee-earner but an overhead – even junior lawyers may have to take a hit on compensation and this increases exponentially for those at the senior associate, Counsel or Partner level.  There is a caveat to this however – what you may lose in your monthly packet may be made up for with other benefits such as stock options and bonuses, and of course the personal time you get back to spend with your family or on your passions is not something you can put a price on.

Beyond starting salary, you must also consider career progression.  Many law firms still follow traditional lockstep salaries that increase with seniority alongside a very structured career track up to equity Partnership, but in-house career progression does not follow the same trajectory and tends to plateau earlier.  Consider a General Counsel – that is a position that is unlikely to ever offer any further progression, and whilst you may get small incremental pay rises typical of any white-collar job, you are unlikely to be seeing any huge jumps in your responsibilities or your pay packet.  Even more junior lawyers in large multi-divisional legal departments may even find it hard to move ‘up the ranks’ as opportunities can be limited to when a more senior team member leaves or retires unless there is a significant increase in workload and consequent growth of the team.

The Office Environment

A law firm environment revolves entirely around its lawyers – lawyers are their life blood and their most valuable assets, every working moment is a ‘billable hour’ and their lawyers time is precious and extremely valuable. We have heard of stories where associates’ laundry and lunch and even dinner is fetched for them by a secretary or other so that they do not have to leave their desk.

As an  in-house lawyer, you must appreciate that you are a cog in a greater machine, and indeed an expense to the company.  Whilst you should still receive a certain amount of respect (as most professionals are valued), you are no longer the most important person around. If you like to have your ego stroked on a regular basis then perhaps in-house isn’t the place to be.

Furthermore, the resources available to you will certainly not be as abundant, and you may find that you no longer have access to libraries of information and swathes of legal secretaries and support staff like you once did.  Chances are, you’ll have to do your own photocopying and scanning so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.

If you are used to the prestige of your international law firm with its swanky marble lobby and incredible corporate biglaw perks like pro-sushi chef visits, steak at your desk or an office swimming pool and the unlimited budget that goes with being part of the core business then a move to a typical in-house company could be a shock to the system (although this is not to say that many companies don’t also offer great perks – for example Google’s California headquarters has a gym, a bowling alley, a game room, and basketball courts, a barber shop, a massage parlor, and a laundromat). It is unlikely that you will have the best office in the building unless you are incredibly lucky, and indeed you may even find yourself – dare I say it – in a cubicle or open plan office.

You are also inevitably going to find yourself working alongside a much more diverse set of people (accountants, project managers, HR staff etc) who hold entirely different skill sets, abilities and attitudes than what you are accustomed to.  This may come as shock to someone who has spent their entire career being surrounded by like-minded legal professionals, and before you make the move you need to question whether you can adjust, be accepting and be happy to collaborate. If you are the sole legal counsel, it could well be a very lonely existence.

Risk Management and Responsibility

One of the biggest differences you will find in-house is that a huge part of your role could do with risk management.  Private Practice lawyers are used to firing away advice on the law – with caveats and disclaimers – in a very risk averse manner, but it falls on in-House Counsel to carefully judge the advise based on different scenarios and to decide how that advice is to be implemented keeping in the mind the larger interests of the Company and business. This appetite for Risk not only varies from company to company, with some being risk averse and some being extremely aggressive, but it can sometimes also vary between different regions and jurisdictions within the same company.  Before you join a company, it would be important to consider where the company’s risk appetite stands and indeed see how much of the company’s inner risk taking abilities ties in with your personal ticker for risk! While it may not be possible to ascertain a company’s risk appetite in a couple of rounds of interview, asking the right questions can give you a fairly good idea.

Furthermore in Private Practice, you will likely have had Senior Partners to check over your work or to answer your questions when needed – and as a sole counsel this safety net would be pulled out from under you whilst you will also be taking on personal responsibility for deals and making potentially huge business decisions. Could you cope with this pressure and stress?

Ethical and Political Fit

With the most legally innovative (and potentially most exciting) companies often comes ruthlessness in terms of company ethos, and you may need to ask yourself how far you are willing to go for money. Following the landmark UK employment tribunal ruling stating that Uber can no longer classify drivers as self employed – meaning that they must pay drivers national living wage and holiday pay – the firm told 40,000 of their contractors to disregard the ruling. Are you willing to totally buy-in to this kind of strategy? Indeed some companies have reputations so bad that the name alone evokes an element of hatred – for example, would you be comfortable telling your friends that you headed up legal for Monsanto, a company that has gained such a bad name for itself that Bayer is considering changing it in the upcoming takeover?

Equally, consider whether you and your potential new company align politically. Would you be happy working within the Trump Organisation which has recently become a politically tangled web?

Clearly there are a lot of factors to think about before making an in-house move, and furthermore it is still important to take into consideration the overall reputation, culture, financial outlook, team, career progression etc. at the company as you would when considering a move to any law firm.

If you are a lawyer looking for career guidance or are a company looking for a new counsel or legal team then please do not hesitate to us.

Authored By Daniella-Louise Bourne and Amith Narayan from Abeo Consulting – a specialist legal search firm headquartered in Singapore.

We place a high value on our relationships and work with a comprehensive list of clients which include international law firms, multinationals and financial institutions operating in Singapore and within the Asian region. We give an objective, impartial and honest advice on your career and we pride ourselves on the tailored recruitment solutions we offer.

Why resigning without a firm job offer is career suicide

Recently I have spoken to an incredible amount of lawyers who are thinking of handing in their notice before having secured a new job. Maybe it’s due to wanting to take a break between jobs to travel or spend time with families, or maybe its due to issues with working conditions or internal politics. Maybe its due to a belief that having a shorter notice period or immediate start date will make you more appealing to employers (it won’t – in fact you may find yourself out of work for many months leaving a big gap on your CV that would be difficult to justify, potentially hindering job searches not just immediately, but even for the rest of your career).

My biggest piece of advice to anyone right now is to tough it out.

I know that’s not what you want to hear, but in this job market it is a harsh reality. You are considerably more appealing to an employer when you have a job – that means someone else is willing to pay you to work and that you haven’t been managed out for poor performance.

Regardless of your reasons for leaving, in this competitive market Law Firms and Legal Departments will always err on the side of caution and remain cynical towards anyone currently out of work. By resigning you are giving potential employers room to doubt your employability, making your job search infinitely harder – and in some cases impossible.

Furthermore, resigning before you have a job offer can negatively affect your salary negotiations. If you are no longer earning a salary, you lose the upper hand in this situation  and leave yourself vulnerable to being negotiated down. This becomes an even greater issue if you find yourself in between jobs for some time – under the pressure of having no salary, you may find yourself in a position where you need to take a job that is even worse than the last.

Overall, resigning is a bad idea. But just because you shouldn’t resign it doesn’t mean that you are permanently stuck in a job you hate. Here are a few things you should be doing instead of quitting:

1) Update your LinkedIn profile – make sure you have your practice areas listed and a professional profile photo. It is important to select “No, do not publish an update to my network about my profile changes.” in the LinkedIn side bar in order to avoid your employer or colleagues becoming suspicious of your intentions to leave.

2) Have a CV at the ready – with a full transaction list. The last thing you want is to miss out on that perfect opportunity because it took you a week to get your CV up to date and you miss out on the shortlisting.

3) Reach out to trusted recruiters and contacts. A good recruiter will have an inside scoop on what is going on in the market and will be able to guide you on how best to target your applications. Make sure that you are working with someone well-connected and that you are comfortable with, as haphazard applications can be detrimental to your job search.

If you keep these things in mind then you can make sure you are in the best position to advance your career and secure that dream job!

For a more detailed discussion about the market or legal opportunities in confidence, please call our Singapore office on (+65) 6100 1900 or email Daniella-Louise Bourne (Danni) at danni@abeo.sg

Authored By Daniella-Louise Bourne from Abeo Consulting – a specialist legal search firm headquartered in Singapore.

We place a high value on our relationships and work with a comprehensive list of clients which include international law firms, multinationals and financial institutions operating in Singapore and within the Asian region. We give an objective, impartial and honest advice on your career and we pride ourselves on the tailored recruitment solutions we offer.

Getting noticed in the tech industry – Resume tips for lawyers

With the growth of in-house legal departments and the majority of these roles being in the technology sector, it’s time for lawyers to make sure that their CVs are tech ready!

You may be surprised to hear that the in-house teams of some technology companies are behemoths – Amazon and Google among others have legal teams globally that rival the size of law firms like Davis Polk, Quinn Emmanuel, Debevoise & Plimpton, Milbank etc.  In addition, today’s innovations are furthermore changing the face of the legal landscape – just have a look at the Watson project of IBM and its application in law and legal research. The future of legal research compared to even a decade ago is very, very different.  The time is not far where law firms or legal teams of the future would no longer require junior lawyers to perform research, cross referencing etc. which then makes it all the more important to highlight on your CV what the companies are really looking to hire you for – your core skills and competencies!

Here are some quick tips to enhance your CV to keep up with these changing times:

Keep your audience in mind.

Your CV will likely end up in the inbox of an internal member of the HR and recruitment team who is used to seeing resumes of techies and self-professed IT geeks – a far cry from the dull and stuffy legal CVs that we have become accustomed to.

For example – take a look at this sample CV of Yahoo’s President and CEO Marissa Mayer. Whilst pie charts may not work for what you are trying to put across as a lawyer, note the clean layout, and the focus on strengths and achievements.

Whilst we usually advocate including a full transactions list on your Law Firm resume, 5 pages of transactions will likely be utterly incomprehensible to the hiring manager at a tech company! Try and keep your jargon to a minimum, and explain things clearly but concisely.

Skills, Skills, Skills

Your typical internal HR team will filter out potential candidates based on skills and keywords as they lack the technical understanding to judge you on anything else. Often the preliminary screening is entirely skills based. With this in mind try a more ‘skills’ based CV, splitting all this down into skills-based headings and going on to explain relevant key transactions. Headings could be something similar to:

  • Delivered high quality and timely advice to clients on strategic, regulatory and practical aspects of deals
  • Managed, analysed and optimised Risk giving high weightage to clients’ commercial objective
  • Applied judgement to navigate complex cross border business and legal issues for clients, structured commercially viable solutions
  • Successfully closed several cross border transactions and supervised teams in several jurisdictions under tight timescales

Successes and Failures

While you might be used to putting together a comprehensive transactions list, just consider the intent of ‘’WHY and WHAT’’ that establishes and highlight that.

Instead of just mentioning a cross border litigation in your Deal List and who you acted for, expand on the same and say things like ‘’worked collaboratively’’,  ‘’successfully co-ordinated’’ and explain the outcome of it and how that came to be. Every HR team likes to understand a few key things: Are you a lateral thinker? Are you a leader? What were your successes? What are your failures and what did you learn from them.

Industry Recognition

Recognition in publications and industry directories such as Chambers and the Legal 500 is very prudent to mention. A tech company hirer may not always recognize the ground-breaking transactions you’ve worked on, but will however be impressed with any awards or recognition that you have received and any validation by a client or third party is crucial.

Contributions

Tech companies also have a strong interest in your contributions and accomplishments outside of work unlike a law firm who may have a greater emphasis on you hitting 2000 billable hours. Perhaps you’ve had roles within industry bodies, speaking engagements, pro bono and charitable work which are all important to highlight as it shows you are a thought leader and are involved in the development of your community.

Enthusiasm

Many companies appreciate an enthusiasm about their product no matter what the department you are working in. Perhaps mention something pertinent in your covering letter – for example any genuine industry interest, or if you have used the company’s products/services. For example, we were recently working with a start-up where we didn’t even forward the CVs of any candidates who did not know of the client and hadn’t used their products before.

Online presence

Your CV is not necessarily the only thing that your potential employers will look at when shortlisting for interviews – It is safe to assume that tech company staff are generally social media savvy.  Before you send out your CV, it may be time to think about taking down those tweets about how your Partner is a dragon, the old Instagram photos of you passed out drunk with a traffic cone on your head or that raunchy blog you write in your spare time! Also, update your LinkedIn profile, add a professional photo, and add any speaking engagements or slides you’ve put together.  Do a little ego surfing just to test out what your online profile looks like to a third party!

Need any more thoughts and suggestions?  Feel free to contact us!

Authored By Daniella-Louise Bourne and Amith Narayan from Abeo Consulting – a specialist legal search firm headquartered in Singapore.

We place a high value on our relationships and work with a comprehensive list of clients which include international law firms, multinationals and financial institutions operating in Singapore and within the Asian region. We give an objective, impartial and honest advice on your career and we pride ourselves on the tailored recruitment solutions we offer.