Ex-management consultant finds the law
Something different below: someone who has moved from an alternative career, to the law, rather than our usual OUT OF LAW stories.
Our interviewee, Alana Tervo, had a successful career in management consultancy and marketing and has now moved to a legal career at a US firm McDermott, Will & Emery. Given her extensive experience, we thought it would be interesting to get her view on how life as a City lawyer compares to the alternative options of management consultancy and marketing, which are options that many graduates consider (and ones which now attract a few disillusioned qualified lawyers).
mtl: Hi, let’s start at the beginning. Take us through your pre-law career.
Alana: Ok. I studied Social and Political Science at Cambridge. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after that.
I considered a PhD because all my family have post-graduate degrees, but was eventually wooed by management consultants who came to the university to recruit.
They talked about the breadth of experience that could be gained and they emphasised that responsibility would come quickly – that appealed to me. So I joined Gemini Consulting, a strategy and operational management consultancy. That was great. The people were fantastic (I still have some good friends from there), I got some really good strategy work and what they had said was true: it was a broad commercial experience with good early responsibility and client management.
Unfortunately, after only 18 months of my time there, things changed. The parent company of Gemini Consulting, Cap Gemini, merged with Ernst & Young Consulting and combined all three companies into one. The focus of the company changed and moved away from the work that I enjoyed. A lot of people were leaving and so I decided to look around.
I was offered a fantastic job at Diageo, the drinks conglomerate. I was an in-house strategist for the GB market. The drinks industry is great for this sort of role because it is constantly growing and changing, and at the same time it raises a number of interesting social and political questions. I had a brilliant year in that job, gaining exposure to the entire business and managing teams of people from all levels in the business (including the board).
However, I was then encouraged to take a marketing role to expand my skills base and position me for senior management. It was a step sideways into an implementation-orientated position. On paper, it looked like a really good role, but, in reality, it wasn’t for me. Before, I had been carrying out research and analysis, solving problems and managing teams to define and achieve particular goals. But this new marketing job felt like constant fire fighting, with low autonomy and little time to think and work things through. It was an important role but I didn’t feel as though I was using my strengths and I became unmotivated.
For the first time I found myself in a job that I did not really enjoy. Note that this was a job which many MBA graduates would fight to get and which was a fantastic opportunity for anyone wanting to make their way in the business world. But it was not me. This realisation made me think about what it is that motivates me in a job, in other words, what aspects of a job get me up in the morning, really keep me going and allow me to go home at night feeling satisfied with my day.
Graduated Cambridge (Social and Political Science)
Strategy at Diageo
Brand Manager at Diageo
CPE at City University followed by LPC at BPP
Received an MA from Birkbeck College, University of London (part time masters in Modern History)
Joined McDermott, Will & Emery UK LLP
I think so many people fail to ask themselves that basic question: ‘what do I enjoy?’ They think ‘I’ll be a lawyer or a management consultant, that’ll be good’ or aim for a far-off goal without really thinking about what that entails and whether it really suits them as something they have to do every day of the week. Of course, you never really know until you try, but if you have done a few jobs you can start to think about what aspects of them make you happy. You can also draw on other times of your life for insight.
I had a good think about this and wrote down some ideas. I liked research, analysis and problem solving. I liked having a mixture of extroversion and introversion time (i.e. time when my phone would not keep ringing and I could actually think about things).I liked short deadlines. I liked working with clients, in particular the challenge of gaining their trust and becoming their problem solving partner. It was not hard to see why I liked management consultancy, but I knew that that role was not a long term option for me.
I looked at this list and thought: ‘what about being a lawyer?’ Ok, it meant going back to the beginning but it did seem to tick all my boxes. Once I had got the idea into my head, I had to look into it. I thought it might suit me and I decided to give it a go.
I approached US firms because I felt that I wanted to be part of a smaller group of trainees, still doing high-profile work. As a more mature trainee, I didn’t want to be just one of very many trainees in a huge office. I felt that in a smaller group initiative would count and be more noticeable. I was very lucky to be offered a role at McDermotts.
mtl: So how does it compare?
Alana: Well, I’m still a trainee (I’m in my second seat) but, so far, it is very much as I expected. Because I am only one of four trainees, I can get every seat I want. The smaller office means you can recognise everyone and they recognise you. And initiative does seem to count. If I want to be involved in a particular piece of work then I only have to ask.
Furthermore, when there are international events with the other McDermotts offices, the trainees are treated as if they are Associates. The hours can be long, but certainly no longer than magic circle firms. Furthermore, they are not longer than what I had as a management consultant. Most importantly I enjoy the work.
mtl: But what about the document-heavy work and the all-nighters? Surely your previous career involved less paperwork?
Alana: I have had no all-nighters, and certainly fewer weekends than when I was a management consultant. The hours are not really something that I would complain about as they are fair and based on what the client needs. However, I think it is important that I say that hours are not something which are currently important to me in a job; for some people they may be key as to whether they are enjoying things, but not for me. With regards to document management and classic trainee tasks (such as bundling), of course I would rather be doing other things. But this has been a very small part of my work (despite being in IP litigation for the last 5 months) and as even the most menial task is valued and appreciated at McDermotts, I am happy to do anything. The majority of my work has been interesting and challenging. Albeit, my responsibility level is much less than I had before, but I accepted that before I even changed into law.
I have many friends who have changed out of law. When I was considering the decision to enter the profession almost all my solicitor friends told me I was a fool. But they were not me and I was not them. They did not think through why they disliked their job so much. In my opinion for some it was because they were in a firm with a culture that did not suit them. All of the press over the last year regarding difficulties firms are having with associate retention due to them feeling unappreciated etc. supports that opinion. For others, law as practiced in a firm at least, really did not suit who they are as people. Perhaps they would be happier in the job that I did not enjoy.
mtl: So what would your advice be to lawyers considering a change of direction?
Alana: I think you’ve really got to consider what you enjoy very carefully. You are going to be spending most of your waking life at work. Write down what is important to you in a job and in life. Think about moments when you felt happy and try to work out what it was that made you happy (and not just going home on a Friday evening!). You may even find that you will have to go over moments throughout your life to identify the things which will motivate you at work.
For example, for me, writing my Cambridge finals (I know that this sounds odd, but this shows how brutally honest you need to be with yourself) was one of my best experiences — I was focused, goal oriented, thinking and discussing a lot, I had a great deal of quiet time without interruptions and a big party at the end. All of these aspects I now look for in a job. Try to do something that will satisfy you on a daily basis and do not fear to make small or big changes.
mtl: Alana, thank you very much for speaking to us and good luck at McDermotts.
If you know any other ex-lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives then please get in touch.
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