Thursday, May 11, 2017

It's Not Where You Work, But What You Make Out Of Work

It's that time of the year again. Flocks of wide-eyed law students, months away from tossing their hats into the sky, rushing to send CVs out to law firms.

Pupillage spots can be competitive. An ugly-looking 'C' on your transcript, a slip of tongue during interview, could well spell rejection. Day and night, you fret endlessly about whether you're good enough to make the cut.

But for strong graduates, it's their choice for the picking. The tables are turned. Senior partners of 20+ years of experience waxing lyrical about the wondrous delights their firm has to offer (nice pay package, steep learning curve, late nights being a rarity, monthly merry-making sessions, etc.), trying hard to impress you instead. If you're in this spot, lucky you.

Then the real question that burns in your mind - bold as it is - would be: "Of all the good firms out there, which should I join?"

"Hmm... who to choose?"

Big Firm versus Small Firm

For most students, the starting point is the whole classic comparison between big firm versus small firm.

I've explained before why their distinction is rather blurry and over-exaggerated, hence shouldn't play much of a driving factor in your decision-making.

But when it came to my own chambering, I was very sure in my mind of joining a big firm. Why so?

My logic was simple: Bigger firms have the inherent advantage of being bigger. This means more options, more room to manoeuvre, more margin of error. At that point of time, I wasn't sure which area of practice I wanted to pursue. And I didn't want to pigeonhole myself in any. I also wasn't sure which boss I would enjoy working for. Big firms guarantee a variety of choices. Like a buffet. And who doesn't love a good buffet?

The Uncertainty Principle

Was I then practising opposite to what I'm now preaching?

Not really. I joined a big firm because of my own sheer uncertainty.

If you're certain about what you want to do and who you want to work for, then you may be justified in joining a small firm. For one, that's where the 'legends' are usually at (not surprisingly, 'legends' tend to branch out on their own). And secondly, even if your ideal boss is at a big firm, it's very rare to get your own choice of master. Certainty only works well with small firms specialising in a niche area (criminal, family, IP, etc.).

However, note that I added the words 'may be justified', because it's a huge caveat.

Ultimately, I believe that we can never be certain about anything, especially the future.

When I say that big firm is not very different from a small firm, it stems from uncertainty. You're never sure if criminal law is your cup of tea. You're never sure that the noble lawyer you read about in the papers is truly as noble in person. You're never sure if the firm has a ridiculous policy of limiting each staff to a single roll of toilet paper per month.

Of course, that doesn't mean certainty is an impossibility. You can gather enough information and experience to attain near certainty. Maybe you've interned in dozens of firms. Maybe your Dad and Uncle are lawyers privy to secrets of the trade unbeknownst to outsiders. Maybe you're a super genius who can predict the future.

But most of us plebeians aren't any of that. So we're never certain about anything, and should stop pretending that we are. Roughly, on average, only a third of pupils get retained or stay on post-chambering; after a year, the survivors will further whittle down by half or more. This shows that >50% graduates get it 'wrong' when choosing a firm to chamber at. (Of course, 'wrong' here is being used loosely, on the assumption that getting it 'right' means finding the ideal workplace, whereas some actually don't plan to stay on long-term anyway.)

As Socrates once said: "The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing".

I joined a big firm not knowing if I would f**k up. But I knew, with some degree of certainty, that even if I did f**k up, it would afford me chances to recover from my f**k-ups.

And as it turned out, I did f**k up.

Even Einstein f**ked up once in a while

You're The Captain Of Your Own Ship

Last weekend, over a lunch conversation, a prominent lawyer (clue: former Bar President) said that practice is "what you make out of it". Well said. My own chambering experience is living proof of it.

Suffice to say, for reasons I do not wish to repeat and honestly don't remember too much anymore, it did not went well. My master and I just didn't click. Maybe we both equally f**ked up. Maybe it was never meant to be. Anyway, that's not the important bit.

The important bit is where I dragged myself out of the hole. I never gave up. I dug my way into the hearts of other bosses who appreciated my skills and quirks. Where there's a will, there's a way.

You just have to push and push, till you get your way. And things will go your way, if you push hard enough.

We're the captain of our own ship. Sink or sail, it's all up to us.

Reason versus Intuition

In the end, all our decision-making comes down to both reason and intuition.

Still not sure where to chamber? Fine, here are two simple steps, and you're done:

Step 1: Make a shortlist of firms, note down what you know about them, compare their pros and cons. Stare at it, mull over it. Take as much as time as you need to analyse. This is where reason comes in.

Step 2: Destroy your notes. Delete the file, tear the paper apart, just don't look at it anymore. Close your eyes, think hard. Make your choice, and stick to it. This is where intuition comes in.

My own final shortlist narrowed to two big law firms. Both were just as good. Very little separated them. Which did I choose? And why?

I joined the one my intuition leaned towards. No reason why. After listening to my head, I just followed my heart. And that's all there is to it.

Did my intuition get it right? Well, I did f**k up with my first boss. But then I recovered. Anyway, who cares? The whole point of intuition is not to reason with it, before or after. Things worked out because I made the best out of the situation. And that's all that really matters.

Bonus tip: Don't work for the guy in black

You Reap What You Sow

Practice is what you make out it.

What you give, is what you get.

So stop worrying about where you're working at, and who you're working for. Wherever and whoever that is, just the make the best out of it.

For no matter how bad things out to be, you'll always come out good if you give it your best shot.

No comments :

Post a Comment