I had almost exactly the same conversation with two different candidates yesterday, both frustrated about the fact that the legal profession in New Zealand seems to be so linear in its requirements. They both have an excellent education, great experience and are committed, intelligent and engaging individuals. The problem they are facing is that one doesn’t quite fit into the traditional career trajectory and the other wants to take a slight side step. They both commented separately, and unprompted, that when they worked overseas there seemed to be more flexibility and transferable skills and aptitude were genuinely considered.
Their experiences are actually at odds with what firms are saying when they brief us on a new role or discuss the longer-term recruitment strategy. They almost all want to find a person who mirrors and embraces the culture and will be the right ‘fit’. This suggests that there is flexibility and that aptitude and attitude are as important as PQE, discipline, jurisdiction and pedigree. The reality is they are important but don’t come into play unless the PQE, discipline, jurisdiction and pedigree are tick the boxes first. Certainly there are some very technical disciplines, and the higher up the food chain you are the more need there is to show genuine expertise, but after two or three years in an area of law are you really so deeply enshrined you couldn’t possibly turn your hand to anything else?
One refreshing conversation recently with a managing partner concerned a top tier candidate looking to move across to a different area. His comments were that ‘intelligence, a good attitude and hunger go a long way’. I would never advocate that you can do anything simply with the right attitude – I am not a page from a desk calendar or a Facebook quote – but perhaps partners should be a little more open minded. Could it be worth looking at skills gained rather than just subject matter or desire and drive rather than just PQE? The candidate shortage is going to get worse before it gets better and firms who can be more open-minded will gain talented, engaged and loyal employees – three things that would be at the top of list of what you want from your team.