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‘There is absolutely nothing wrong with being honest’ with grads

Hiring top graduates is one of the most “vexing issues” law firms are facing post-pandemic – and retaining them past a mid-senior level is proving to be a major challenge within the profession.

user iconLauren Croft 30 June 2022 Big Law
‘There is absolutely nothing wrong with being honest’ with grads
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That’s something Fionn Bowd, chief executive of boutique law firm Bowd, argued is a result of firms creating working environments “where people don’t stay” as well as the stress graduates face when attempting to pick which law firms to apply to and the often-competitive nature of the legal profession.

Speaking recently on Legal Lightbulbs – the newest podcast stream from Lawyers Weekly and Bowd – Ms Bowd revealed how best law firms can attract and retain graduates following the Great Resignation.

“Lawyers and those who are attracted to the law students are people who are high-achieving; they’re people who like to do the right thing. They like to get things right; they like to make the right decision. And what to do about what you do when you leave law school is really, really agonising. And it’s something that does cause a whole heap of stress and anxiety for them,” she explained.


“Certainly, in my first year of practice, I went through a process of thinking that it really wasn’t what I wanted to do, that I was not going to find happiness or any kind of enjoyment. So, I went to a recruiter and I said, ‘What can I do?’ And they said, ‘Absolutely nothing. You are of no interest to anybody in the market until you are three years and above. So, either don’t be a lawyer or stay for another three years, and after that, we can start to talk about where else you might be able to go in terms of in-house or some other kind of a job.’

“And that was a standard position, that you couldn’t leave a law firm until you were three years plus. And so, at that point, you just had to tough it out, or you had to change careers. And after investing that long in a degree, most of us two degrees even back then, there wasn’t much of an option. And so, you just had to find a way through.”

Now, however, graduates have more choices – which results in more grads leaving firms after only 12 months or leaving the profession altogether. This can, in turn, damage law firms’ reputations if graduates have poor relationships with senior staff.

“It is not just about their year that they spend with you as a graduate, or their three years, or their five years, or their seven years; this is a lifelong relationship. And those people, they go on to become all kinds of other people in your world. And partners and seniors know this perfectly well. One of the biggest lessons that you learn as you get more senior is that, in our profession, it just gets smaller and smaller as you go along.

“And it really doesn’t matter where they are. They can be in Abu Dhabi, they can be in London, but we will know people, we will have people in common. And so all of these clerks, and graduates, and students, who we’re trying to build this relationship with as a firm, go on to become part of the ecosystem of our profession. And we wonder why our clients give us such a hard time. And we wonder why they aren’t interested in feeling sorry for us, or they don’t really care about our profitability, or our margins, or anything else to do with our business,” Ms Bowd added.

“Because they’re all refugees from law firms. They’re all people who’ve left law firms because they couldn’t live with the environment in the firm, and now they’ve become the client or your competitor. And so now they’re very happy to cut your lunch as hard as they can, because they owe you nothing. So, [it’s a] dishonesty, and it’s blindness.”

Therefore, firms should practice more upfront honesty with grads and younger lawyers, Ms Bowd argued. This can be done via many avenues – from being upfront about the hours that are required and what kind of real-world training grads will receive.

“Let’s be honest, let’s be open about why we are doing things. What is it that is on offer? It is training and experience. What is the price of that? Well, the price is, you work like us, and this is how we work, we don’t have a choice,” she said.

“These are client requirements, this is globalisation, it’s the nature of the work, nature of the deal. But here’s what your trade-off is. And yes, open doors. Yes, experience. Yes, relationships, and a brand that you can take anywhere you go. That is what you get in return. You don’t have to stay, but if you do stay, maybe there’s partnership [sic] here for you, but let’s be honest, that’s 15 to 20 years away. So, let’s focus on what you are going to get from this exchange now, for the next year, the next three years, the next five years, the next seven years; those are really the periods that people should be thinking about. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being honest.”

And whilst law firms often used to provide lawyers with everything they needed, Ms Bowd said that in 2022, lawyers are now running their own businesses – even at large firms – an important piece of information for grads to have early on.

“Each partner, even in a giant firm, is individually running their own business. And they see it that way because they can pick up that business and take it to another firm. It is actually hundreds of little mini businesses, quite profitable ones, all running in these individual firms. So why don’t we, as we are going through, starting from students all the way through, why don’t we see ourselves as people who are going to become business owners? To teach ourselves about marketing, teach ourselves about financials, teach ourselves about leadership, about managing other people, about managing ourselves, about what it is that we need to do to become better at what we do, we need to become better about ourselves,” she added.

“Looking at what our weaknesses are and what we need to work on. Instead, we almost go into this helpless phase where we just expect everything to come to us. But that isn’t serving us, and it’s not serving the firm, and it’s not serving the profession. So, looking at our own journey and taking responsibility for that is important.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Fionn Bowd, click below:


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