Should you make the move from private practice to a P&I Club?

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By Kelly Wadkins.

 

This is a question I have been asked increasingly frequently as P&I Clubs continue to develop at pace. 

And the answer is – it depends on a number of factors and how important they are to you.  I have highlighted below the key points many of the lawyers we work with use to help them decide.


Which is more important to you, the complexity of work or increased client interaction?

Many lawyers who have made a move to a Club enjoy an increased level of client contact.  You will be the first port of call for your assigned members. You will get to know their business and will be the first line of defence when an incident happens. You will likely work with some leading shipowners and will deal with a variety of claims.

While your caseload and interaction with clients is likely to increase, you may find that you still need to instruct external lawyers when a case becomes complex.  While Clubs are increasingly keeping more work in-house, there are still a number of reasons why some of your claims could pass to an external lawyer.


How important is financial reward versus working away from the private practice billable hours model?

We have seen a number of Clubs offering very competitive overall packages in the last few years. Each Club varies but some Clubs offer strong base salaries, bonuses and attractive pension packages. Although at one time, you would need to take a significant drop in pay to move from private practice to the Clubs, this is not always the case anymore. 

On the other hand, we do see a significant slowdown in salary increases upon joining a Club, which means that the difference in pay will be much more noticeable in a few years’ time.  In addition, we have seen two interesting trends over the last 12 months. 

Firstly, private practice is paying more.  Some of the shipping firms have pushed their salaries and bonus systems forward ahead of the pack.  This has meant that we have negotiated a number of significant payrises for lawyers making a move in private practice this year. 

Secondly, the roles we are seeing from the Clubs are much more junior than they have been in previous years.  The typical experience level we are asked for is 2-3 years PQE meaning the roles that have hit the market are paying less this year.  Lawyers at a more senior level who are looking to move to a Club may need to wait a little longer for the right role in this current market.


How important is work life balance?

Many lawyers make a move to a Club to achieve a better work life balance.  We have kept in touch with many of the lawyers we have helped make the move and, depending on which firm the lawyer came from to begin with, there are many examples of lawyers who have benefited from more structured hours and a better work life balance. 

We have found that the opportunity to gain a better work life balance often plays a significant part in the decision to leave private practice. 

The counterbalance to this is that not all of the Clubs are as progressive with flexible working arrangements as private practice.  Working from home isn’t typically the norm and many lawyers have found it difficult to gain agreement from their Club employer to work flexibly around commitments at home. 

In addition, annual leave entitlements, benefits and maternity / paternity packages in private practice (especially with the larger firms) tend to be stronger than with many of the Clubs.  
 

How far would you like to progress your career?

We have seen a significant increase in the number of associates who no longer want to make it to Partner level.  This is consistent with the changes in expectations and career goals that we at Wadkins Associates have been seeing more broadly across the profession over the last 5 years. 

Making Partner is increasingly seen as harder than ever, and the rewards for doing so can often be seen as not worthwhile the efforts required to get there.  This has led to a number of lawyers seeing the Club route for their career as an attractive one. 

With that in mind, it is important to recognise that Clubs have a flatter, less hierarchical structure than in private practice, so progressing your career can be a slower path. 

However, there are opportunities at Clubs to develop into management and director level roles and the Clubs are increasingly promoting lawyers from within the business to their most senior positions. While this is encouraging, the path to reaching the top will typically take longer than the path to partnership.

Hopefully this provides useful insight into some of the key questions we are asked in relation to moving to a P&I Club.  It is important to bear in mind that each Club is different and the pay, opportunities and caseload will vary greatly from Club to Club.

For further insight into the Club market, please contact Kelly Wadkins – kelly.wadkins@wadkinsassociates.co.uk or 0203 633 0962.