Ex-City assistant lectures LPC and then returns to practising law
As a student, Cher Wright already knew that she wanted to be an employment lawyer and later qualified into the employment department of Eversheds. Four years later, with the partnership track looming, she switched to teaching the LPC at BPP. She has since returned to practice, and now works in-house. She talked to us about the changes she made and why she feels she’s benefited from them.
mtl: Hi Cher, please can you tell us about working in private practice.
Cher: I studied law at Cambridge and knew then that I wanted to be an employment lawyer. I chose Eversheds as they had an excellent employment department and it gave me the option of moving back north if I didn’t take to London life. I ended up settling happily in London and stayed at Eversheds for six years. I worked with a great team and got some good quality work.
Law, Cambridge University
Training contract, Eversheds – London Office
Employment solicitor, Eversheds
LPC Lecturer, BPP - HolbornSmith
In-house employment counsel, Cantor Fitzgerald / BGC Partners
However, as many find at the 3 or 4 yrs PQE mark, people you work with move on, the work starts to feel overly familiar and you can begin to remind yourself of your pet hamster in its exercise wheel. When you start off in law you can go quite a few years without really having to think too hard about career choices. It is incredibly structured from university, to the LPC, to training contract and qualification. If you’re not careful you can end up being pushed onto the partnership track without having really thought about whether it’s what you personally still want and without fully considering the alternatives.
Working long hours doesn’t allow much time to properly think or when there is time you are so shattered all you want to do is switch off from any thought of work at all. If all you have ever known is law then you don’t always have much of a clue what else could be out there and I don’t think lawyers always appreciate the general skills they have that would make them suitable for lots of other types of work.
I could have left Eversheds to try another firm but that wouldn’t really have exposed me to anything new. There were no in-house jobs that appealed to me at the time. I somewhat pathetically made a list of the aspects of my job I enjoyed most, one of which was the client training work and helping develop the trainees and junior colleagues. I therefore thought lecturing on the LPC would suit me. It wasn’t exactly the most radical choice to make but it had the advantage that it wasn’t so far removed from what I’d done that I couldn’t go back.
mtl: How did you find teaching the LPC?
Cher: I genuinely enjoyed it. It broadened my skills as a lawyer as I taught the “Business Law and Practice and Private Acquisitions” courses and therefore had to get my knowledge of company law, accounts, tax, insolvency and IP etc. back up to scratch. Explaining complicated concepts in basic terms is a really useful lawyer skill and the variety in the subject matter was good after being a specialist employment lawyer for so long.
It was interesting being around law students again who were still, in the main, really enthusiastic about their legal careers. Talking to them about the work I’d previously done reminded me of the positive aspects of being a lawyer. When you’ve been doing the same thing for a while you can become preoccupied with the negatives, particularly if others around you may not be that happy themselves.
The downside of the job is that some (not all) of the subject matter is quite dry and can be pretty hard (some might say impossible) to make interesting, but that’s part of the challenge in some respects. Of course it also does not pay as well as fee-earning, which is an issue if you’ve still got a mortgage based on your old salary and a social life where the majority of your friends still earn at the level you used to. However, it may seem a small thing but it is amazing how much stress it takes out of your day when you start it knowing exactly what time you’ll finish (and it is not sometime around midnight). I still sometimes worked late but I had more control over when that was.
My first year of teaching the LPC was challenging and a good experience. But then in my second year I decided that I wanted to get back into practice rather than simply teaching about practice. I therefore began to look at in-house roles.
mtl: Was it difficult getting a legal job after teaching?
Cher: One problem I felt in going back was that some people, possibly as they have always been in practice themselves, just don’t get why you chose to try something different. I think they may assume that you left because you couldn’t hack it. Perhaps my irritation at this kind of attitude is why I ended up choosing a particularly challenging financial services environment to show that this was not the case. I now work for Cantor Fitzgerald/ BGC Partners as an employment counsel. The work’s varied and international in scope which makes it interesting. I am also fortunate to again be working with a really good team, which is always one of the most important things for me.
When I started, I was naturally concerned that I would somehow have forgotten everything, but within my first week of starting I felt like I had never left practice. The broad areas I’d been teaching really help in an in-house role and I’m told the teaching skills really show through in the training work I now do internally.
In-house is very different to private practice, although I think you have to choose your role carefully. If you are more commercially minded then you will get far better insight into the business side of decisions and your advice will be much more commercially and practically focused in way that just isn’t possible as an external lawyer. You also have the chance to be more proactive about what you do because you have the means of finding out about issues you would never hear about as an external lawyer. You’ll have to deal with more internal politics, which may not suit everyone, but you’ll also get the chance to build up a whole different level of trust with the people you give advice to. Frankly it is also nice not to be around just other lawyers all the time.
mtl: Do you have any tips for lawyers based on your experience?
Cher: When I left Eversheds, I thought I might want to go back to law but didn’t just see lecturing as a mere stop-gap. It was a chance to think about what I really wanted to do whether that turned out to be practice, teaching or something completely different. I gave myself a year to really try the new role and then again reviewed what it was that I wanted to do.
You do have to appreciate that law is still a pretty traditional profession and there are those who will regard you with deep suspicion for not simply having carried on the traditional path. In fact, to my amusement, someone I worked with at the time showed her complete lack of understanding by announcing (obviously not to my face) that she thought I was having a nervous breakdown when I announced my plans to start lecturing.
However, others are more broad minded and will see the positives. Those that can’t are probably not the type of people you’d necessarily be suited to working with anyway. I think the important thing is to remember the broad skills you have and not just think that law is your only option. In the end I realized I had other options but still wanted to be a lawyer. Provided you can explain why you genuinely want to go back (and it isn’t just because the money’s better) then the legal profession isn’t going anywhere and you don’t lose the value of all the legal experience you’ve had simply by trying something else for a while.
mtl: Thank you for talking to us Cher.
Click here to read a previous interview about teaching the LPC.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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