Career choice: Solicitor

Matthew Evans

Name: Matthew Evans
Level of PQE: 9 years
Current position and immediate former position: Solicitor, Forsters LLP. Formerly planning, highways and public lawyer, London Borough of Hackney.

Why did you go into the law in the first place?

I've always been interested in politics (which I studied at A-level), and wanted a career that combined that interest with my academic skills.

Law immediately sprung to mind, and I was lucky enough to have contacts (a cousin who is a solicitor and a family friend who is now a QC) with whom I was able to sit down and discuss the realities of law as a career.

What was your first job as a qualified solicitor?

Being thrown in at the deep end, helping to draft a large section 106 agreement for the redevelopment of Eastern Quarry, Ebbsfleet.

What was your reason(s) for choosing your career path?

Even though I opted to qualify into a planning department, I always wanted, at some point, to work for a local planning authority.

The particular choice was solely down to circumstances - the financial crash around 2009/10 meant I was looking to move on, and a suitable job was available at my London borough (Hackney). The following four years were fascinating. The variety and amount of work available at a local planning authority is incredible.

Unfortunately, following the 2015 general election, local government was set for another round of heavy funding cuts, which persuaded me to look elsewhere.

Forsters was an ideal fit, being a different proposition to the City firm I had worked at previously, both in terms of work and location. That the firm was seeking to continue to grow was another factor, given my previous experiences.

What steps did you take to make that move a reality (include details of resources that you found particularly helpful)?

A lot of research and patience, and also thinking carefully about where I wanted my career to go. I knew that I didn't want to go back to working in the City, but that I wanted somewhere I could learn and develop. A number of roles did present themselves, but they weren't right for a variety of reasons. Eventually, the opportunity at Forsters arose.

How easy or difficult did you find the move?

Far easier than I thought. It helped that I was able to draw on my previous experiences in private practice, but you always wonder about the reality. I think the key difference is the full client service in private practice.

Unlike in local government, it does mean going beyond undertaking specified work and tasks, and anticipating questions that the client might have.

What do you consider to have been the key factor in enabling you to make that successful move?

I think that my previous experience of working in the private sector was the single biggest factor. It meant that employers could see I had diverse experience, which was extremely useful. That’s not to say that opportunities like this don't present themselves when you have only worked in local government - if you are looking to move, then any contact with the private sector is a chance to demonstrate your skills.

For example, I know of local government lawyers handling section 106 negotiations, or working on public inquiries, who have subsequently been poached by law firms on the other side.

How did you find the transition after you made the move?

It was a pretty intense few months. When coming into the private sector from local government, the key is to demonstrate that you can appreciate the more commercial focus that clients demand. First impressions are important, and every introduction or piece of work is an audition to show you have the necessary skills, and that your background is an asset.

What do you most enjoy about your current role?

Working as part of a larger team, and focusing on planning/development matters again. The team at Hackney was fairly small, and covered a wide variety of work. While that was a great experience, I am enjoying concentrating on the specialism a little more.

What did you learn about how to make change effectively and what would you have done differently?

The need to keep an open mind. When you've worked in an environment for a number of years, you'll be used to the same people, instructions and approaches. Being set in your ways makes any move harder, for all concerned. I certainly picked up new ideas and approaches in my short time at Forsters so far.

What are your three tips for a successful change in career direction?

  • Talk to people. The only way that you'll find out what it's really like to work in a place is by asking people who work in that type of organisation. That includes everyone, from paralegals to the managing/corporate director
  • Research. You can never do enough research. Researching local government is particularly easy, given that you can attend various committees (during the day or in the evening) to understand the role of legal advisers, as well as the political element to the work
  • Trust your instinct. You can never be completely sure whether a move will be successful or not, and no amount of research or data will give a definitive answer. The only way you'll feel happy and motivated about a move is when it feels right

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