“This is a guest blog by career strategist and coach Rachel Brushfield at Energise – The Talent Liberation Company (see below for more about her).”

Research shows that lawyers are one of the unhappiest of all the professions, so no wonder then that many lawyers are finding the prospect of a portfolio career appealing. There are too many lawyers and not enough jobs which is another factor. Some legal tasks are being replaced by robots too!

There are a number of reasons why a portfolio career is appealing to a growing number of lawyers

  • Lawyering is very repetitive in nature with little variety, which can be quite monotonous
  • A lawyer’s career path is to have a deep specialism in a narrow area with little variety
  • Lawyers are taught to think analytically – creativity and intuition are squashed in legal training – this can be frustrating for those with a creative streak
  • Lawyers are trained to be compliant which for some free spirits can feel like wearing a permanent ‘strait jacket’
  • Law firms are very hierarchical in nature and junior lawyers are dependent on senior lawyers to receive work, especially interesting cases. This can go against the grain for younger Generation Y lawyers.
  • Lawyers make a living from solving problems – this can feel negative which has an impact on their daily lives
  • The rewards for being a lawyer long term are becoming less compelling for working very hard and this is something that many Generation Y/ Millennials are not prepared to do, compared with Generation X and Baby Boomers
  • Younger lawyers perceive that equity Partners in law firms are overly concerned about looking after their own interests
  • Partnerships are structured so that partners share in the equity and make money from utilizing younger lawyers, making a margin on their lower charge out rate per hour
  • The ‘carrot of Partnership’ in a law firm has less appeal for younger lawyers than it once did. They are keen to set up their own business and travel and being a Partner with all the responsibility that it entails can feel like handcuffs
  • The government has recently changed the tax rules so Partnership is not as appealing a prospect financially as it once was
  • Lawyers have lost their monopoly due to the Legal Services Act which has opened up the provision of legal services to accountancy practices and other companies e.g. Coop Legal (called alternative business structures or ABSs)
  • Lawyers get paid a fraction of what clients pay the firm which can be demotivating for all their hard work
  • A lawyer’s life is stressful as they are under constant pressure to fee earn e.g. in some firms lawyers have targets of 2000 + billable hours a year
  • Certain types of law e.g. commercial and corporate are unpredictable and therefore it is hard to enjoy a healthy work life balance or plan your social life and do a regular evening class for example
  • The law is very traditional rather than modern in nature and there is minimal flexible working with a presentism attitude still rife
  • The legal profession has an ‘up or out policy’ with too many lawyers brought in then let go of quickly if client demand falls off and the way in which they are let go of can be unpleasant – people are ‘pushed out’
  • The growth in use of freelance lawyers for projects used on an as needed’ basis is opening up opportunities for freelance lawyering combined with other components of a portfolio career e.g. study, setting up an on-line business etc.
  • Senior lawyers – Partners are expected to be good all rounder’s – winning work, managing and motivating younger lawyers, efficient project managers etc. The pressure can be relentless when lawyering is 100% of your career
  • A lot of unconscious bias exists against women with maternity leave being paid for out of Partners’ own pockets. This can be resented in terms of time, perceived commitment and money creating a toxic culture
  • There is a direct clash between women’s readiness to have children and their readiness to be promoted to Partner after many years hard work. A portfolio career is a way of side-stepping both this clash and unconscious bias
  • Combining motherhood and a high pressure career in the law can be very difficult to achieve and the sacrifice is too much for many Combining lawyering part time/freelance with other things in a portfolio careers allows women to achieve a better balance for themselves on their own terms
  • Generation Y are hungry for early responsibility and want to be involved in decision making which is very different from how traditional law firms operate. A portfolio career therefore has high appeal
  • Traditionally Partners have retired about age 55-60. Life spans are becoming longer and a portfolio career is an excellent second career choice keeping their brains active e.g. a combination of non-executive directorships and volunteering
  • Lawyers can be very ‘left brain’ and sometimes can lack emotional intelligence – sharp tongues when under pressure by Partners can wear down the more junior lawyers reporting into them who have little autonomy

Lawyers are trained to think reductively and see the risks and downsides in situations. This means that they can find it very hard to see their transferable skills and go round and round in circles when wanting to make a career change.

Comment from Barrie:

Luckily Rachel is good at helping them untie the knots and move forwards! Some more information about her:

Founder of Energise – The Talent Liberation Company she is a professional career strategist and coach with over 27 years’ experience.  Specialism’s are: inspiring portfolio careers; second careers; becoming self-employed; personal branding; thought leadership and refocusing an existing business.  A published author on talent management, professional development, gender balance, work life balance & workforce planning, she attracts clients who are talented but don’t see it or believe it, perfectionists such as lawyers, and people who don’t ‘fit in a box’ nor want to!  An advisor to The Institute of Mentoring, Rachel writes career guides for The Telegraph and is an affiliate member of the CIPD.

Do you want to know more?

‘Talent quicksand’ – article for Managing Partner magazine exploring whether the Partnership model is still fit for purpose – click on this link:


The Law Society (all divisions) is having an event ‘Changing Career Direction’ on 20 October 2015 – click on this link for more information:


Feeling trapped in the law – guest article for Leaving Law:


Download this free report about Career satisfaction by The Law Society (Feb 2015):


To read example of portfolio careers, click on this link:


Interested in support to create, manage and market your portfolio career? Energise is giving a special offer to readers of www.portfoliocareers.net – send an e mail using this link and quote ‘Portnet’ for details.  http://www.energiselegal.com/contact-us/

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