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Not Retained as an Associate? These top tips will help!

Not Retained as an Associate? These top tips will help!

Not Retained Top Tips

How to embrace and overcome the challenge of not being retained as an Associate after completing articles of clerkship.

At VDI, we understand what it is like not to be retained after completing articles. Whether expected or unexpected, the harsh reality of not being retained as an Associate can be challenging to say the least. In our current economic times, it’s easy to favour security over salary, or stability over experience, but we would caution against a bullish mindset just to get a job. We recommend some light reading (or heavy reading depending on the behaviour of our parliamentary delegates) to get a feel for the economic market you are about to enter.

The reality is, that you are only starting your career right now. Up until this point, you have been a professional full-time law student. As fun as it was (for some,) we kid, this could be the most important point in your career. We are here to help you take on the task of finding the right position to put your career on the fast-track to success, and by fast-track, we mean the right track. For examples of legal jobs that could be available to you when the time is right, have a look at our jobs page.


How to wrap-up before you leave your firm

Usually, you will be informed ahead of time that you are not being retained. There is likely a legitimate reason for this, be it company budget, space in the team or the firm wanted to retain you in a team you did not want to be in. Whatever the reason, there are a few key things you need to do before you leave:

  • Obtain the most recent payslip. Make sure to cash in outstanding leave days too!
  • Ask your previous Principals and Senior Associates for written reference letters. We absolutely CANNOT stress this enough! An application with commendable references from reputable Directors screams “amazing candidate right here! We couldn’t keep them due to bogus bureaucracy, but if we could hire them back we would!” This is definitely something you want.
  • Arrange coffees with key people in the team you wish to see yourself working in one day. This will help keep you top of mind if a position pops up in the future. Internal referrals carry the highest weight when companies assess potential candidates.

How to build a professional profile and CV

Since you are going to be sending your CV to prominent firms and people in the industry, your profile needs to be on point. We won’t go into the details of how to build the “perfect” CV in this article, but rather highlight the key points that MUST feature in order to help you land the right position:

  • Your CV should contain a matter list. This is a list of matters you were involved in during each rotation. The list could take the format of a table with headings such as Title, Description, Matter Value and Involvement. This list could be the difference between being shortlisted or overlooked in a pile of CVs. The matter list should feature as early on in your CV as possible, even on page two before your work experience.
  • Your CV should contain your personal contact details and a link to all the articles you have published as well as a link to your LinkedIn profile.
  • You should have a professional LinkedIn profile which mirrors your CV. It should include your matter list and specifics about duties and responsibilities within each rotation. Make sure to load a business-like profile picture. A smiling headshot will be perfect! For guidelines on how to build a LinkedIn profile, click here.
  • A cover letter is not necessary, but a short introduction (the same one you would use in your LinkedIn profile) will suffice.

Decide on which area of the law you would like to specialise in

The time for this decision is NOW! Unless you are wanting to run your own generalist practice, then this will be an important decision. The legal industry recognises specialists. There is also a solid body of research concluding that being a specialist in your career contributes to overall job satisfaction and well-being because of the more direct career trajectory and reduced anxiety about the future, not to mention financial stability. You may fall into one of two scenario’s below:

Completing Articles at a Top-tier Firm

Now, we have to say, there is a subtle difference if you are completing your articles at a top-tier, international or highly specialised boutique firm v.s. a medium-sized or generalist firm. If you are at a top-tier firm and your only option is to be retained in a team that you REALLY don’t want to be in, then you could, depending on your personal circumstance, decline the offer and rather search for a team or firm that specialises in what you want to do. At the top-tier level, you will wear the badge of the area of law you are specialised in and it is exceptionally rare that you will get to change specialisations (not impossible, but highly unlikely, like winning the lotto).

What kind of professional will you be if you are doing something you truly don’t enjoy? A better option is to land a position doing something you are good at and that you love, albeit at a boutique or smaller firm, and then get headhunted a few years down the line. This is a risk, but remember a career is a journey where slow and steady wins the race. If your personal circumstances require you to take the offer, then do what is best for you and progress from there.

Completing Articles at a Medium-Sized or Generalist Firm

If you are completing articles at a medium-sized or more generalist firm, then you now have the option to decide on what type of law you think you would like to specialise in. Similar to the case above, you will wear the badge of your specific specialisation for a long time, however, you have the chance to determine what that specialisation is.

You may have done a rotation in Dispute Resolution and loved it, or in Property and hated it, but either way, it is in your interest to do the research and find the area of law you will be great at, and quite importantly, where the future of law is going. Have a look at the types of lawyers currently in demand in South Africa as a start, but in our view, some form or corporate and commercial law will give you a good base to further specialise in a particular industry down the line.  We discuss the application approach in more detail in the next section below.

Where your CV should go for the best chance of finding a position

As with many things worth achieving, this will require some work. In fact, the strategy and steps you should follow are expressly outlined in another article that we will link to at the end of the paragraph, the only difference is that you will now specifically target firms or teams that focus on the area of law that you want to specialise in. Even if you have to take up a position in another area of law to get your foot in the door to a great firm, you should do that (except in the case of having completed articles in a top tier firm, then you ideally need to go into the right team from the start at either a boutique or another top tier-firm). Please read this article and come back to this page to find out what else you should be doing while you are applying for Associate positions.

What to do while you are job hunting

Seeking the right position can be time-consuming and challenging. We highly recommend having other related goals to focus on simultaneously. One of the best things you can do is further your education in-line with your interest in law. You can complete an Honours or Masters in the area of law you would like to specialise in. If you have already done that, find a diploma, course or certificate that you can do which which will enhance your skill-set. This is absolutely vital because it shows that your interest in a particular field of law is sincere, that you are dedicated, academic and committed. You can’t lose with this approach.

You can also leverage social media to start creating the impression of already being a specialist in your field. Publish articles on LinkedIn, submit writings to polity.org and share interesting legal updates. Increasing your activity on social media and digital platforms is effective as both a marketing and networking tool. In fact, you should create this habit now to carry through with you on your journey.

Another option is to take up temporary employment at a reputable firm, or contracting your services out to rack up experience. These employers and clients will be excellent advocates and references for your skills and abilities. The positive impression these references can create for you simply cannot be overstated and is a worthwhile commodity to seek.

Remember that your career is a journey and you must enjoy the process as much as reaching the destination, which truthfully, is only a temporary destination to the next. Find ways to make it fun, don’t rush, don’t panic. Make calculated and smart decisions and believe in yourself. Most of all, work harder than your peers and you are guaranteed to stand out.

Kind regards, The VDI Team.

Candidate Attorney: a proven strategy to secure Articles of Clerkship

Candidate Attorney: a proven strategy to obtain Articles of Clerkship

become a candidate attorney

How to Become a Candidate Attorney and secure Articles of Clerkship in South Africa.

There are many ways to skin the proverbial cat, and becoming a Candidate Attorney (or obtaining articles of clerkship in South Africa) is no different. For the record, at VDI we don’t promote skinning cats at all, rather we promote the growth and development of our youth to become quality legal professionals that our country (and the world)  needs.

VDI is here to help and guide you to land that Candidate Attorney job in the best way possible so that in the near future you have the best options available as a qualified lawyer. For examples of legal jobs that could be available to you once you are an admitted attorney, have a look at our jobs page.


University Scouts for Candidate Attorneys

You may have seen the presence of the “big 5” at your university career days, and no we are not referring to the big 5 animals from the Kruger National Park, although these companies do indeed carry a tremendous presence. The top law firms are scouting talent early on in your academic career at Uni (see top Uni’s), seeking only the best potential lawyers. They will generally select the top few percent of students from 2nd year and follow them through to final year. The students with the highest marks win and may be invited to apply for articles at the said firm after attending holiday vacation programmes which normally happen by way of invitation or application. If you are in your 1st or 2nd year at Uni, the time to get distinctions is NOW. And not for some modules, ALL OF THEM. This will undoubtedly give you the best chance of success in the legal industry and we encourage you to take your academics seriously and give it your absolute all. You will do the same for the clients of your own practice one day, so it is best to cultivate the winner attitude right now. As a strategy to obtain articles, this is a rewarding and challenging route with proven results.

Online Applications

Online applications have a reputation for being tedious, time-consuming and sometimes even compared to a black-hole. But online applications are a good way to find a job whether for articles or other. From a global perspective, online application technology is improving and becoming more streamlined which has its pros, but the cons are that there are more and more job board application sites popping up, therefore, creating potential “choice-fatigue” for candidates, agencies, and employers. A recent survey conducted by VDI recruitment on the use of job boards (from the candidate’s point of view) shows further insight into online applications and the general sentiment around them in SA. Overall, we can vouch that if your CV matches the job spec, you have a good chance of being shortlisted. If you don’t hear back from the company or agency, there is a good chance you are not suitable. We encourage you to try the following job boards for online applications:

There are literally 100’s of additional online job application platforms, but in our experience, the ones listed above cover most of the legal market in SA. This is because of the likes of LinkedIn and Indeed aggregate jobs across most other platforms anyway. LinkedIn and Indeed are also the largest globally, but steep competition is arriving in the market (the likes of Glassdoor and Monster).

Recruitment Agencies

For the majority of aspiring Candidate Attorneys, this is an unlikely way of obtaining articles. The main reason is that there are way more LLB graduates than there are articles vacancies in the market. Therefore, firms do not need to spend on agency fees to secure candidate attorneys. Additionally, due to the low earnings of candidate attorneys in comparison to being an Admitted Attorney, agencies fees would be very small and may not always justify the time spent on dealing with the volume of potential candidates. VDI has chosen not to place Candidate Attorneys but rather help aspiring legal professionals in other ways. Our view is that you focus on the other methods provided in this post. Having said all of this, there are agencies that do place Candidate Attorneys in the South African market and may be quite good at it. You are welcome to engage with these agencies as well.

Direct Applications

If you did not graduate with distinctions in Uni, this is a great way to secure articles at mid-tier and smaller boutique law firms around the country. It takes some effort, but then again, anything worth doing requires effort! Since you find yourself in the boat of applying to law firms directly, there are a few things you should consider:

What law you would like to specialise in?

For example, if you would like to be a construction lawyer or property lawyer, then research firms who specialise in construction law or property law. Even generalist firms may have a specialist construction or property team. You want to be applying to these firms first, as soon as possible, the 3rd year would be good! We encourage you to do your research in 2nd year so that by 3rd year you are already applying.

Who do you send your application to?

You don’t want to annoy anyone off the bat, so send your CV to the email address provided on the website or to the HR manager. But part of being an attorney is negotiating and being able to communicate and be tenacious, so don’t be afraid to send your email to the partners of the firm if there is no feedback from the firm in a few weeks. Call in and follow up with the partner directly if need be. Try and get feedback so that you know where you stand. Do not let this go!

How will you find all these law firms to apply to?

Google of course, however, we suggest that you use attorneys.co.za and download an e-copy of the Horters Legal Directory. With these two resources, you will have access to the majority of the firms available to you in the market. We know of an Attorney who had applied to over 200 firms, had 6 interviews and received 1 offer for articles, true story! Where there is a will there is a way.

How will you keep track of all your applications?

You can use an excel spreadsheet, email folders, anything really as long as you are able to follow up and track your application progress yourself. Unfortunately, there is no single piece of technology with this ability, only technological tools to help at points of the process.

Referrals and Personal Networks

“It’s not what you know but who you know” is not entirely true. You definitely need to know that “what”, but knowing the “who” can be helpful. Network with ex-student colleagues, senior family, and friends, your ex-boss from vac-work, engage with your LinkedIn contacts, engage with anyone who can open the doors to potential articles of clerkship. The caveat of this approach is that networking is something natural and social and cannot be “turned on” just because you need something or else it will come across as disingenuous. During your early years it’s important to be involved in projects, vac-work, volunteer work, networking events, conferences, actually as much as possible to make genuine relationships through your years of study. Many candidates get jobs through this method. It may even be better than direct applications and we would encourage this method throughout your career as a professional.

What to do if you don’t get articles?

Although not an ideal situation to be in you may find yourself dealing with a bit of bad luck even if you have followed the steps outlined above. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, and the light will come from unexpected opportunities during this time. For example, a friend of yours may want to cede articles to another firm for some reason, therefore, opening up a referral opportunity. Or you may take up a temporary position in-house as a legal assistant while continuing with other applications. You may find that the extra 6 months allows you to get into that boutique specialist firm you had your eye on instead of the generalist practice that you were not too keen on. Your legal career is just getting started so there is no need to panic. Use the time to your advantage to increase your skills, study a masters or post-grad diploma, write relevant legal articles for LinkedIn or online legal publications (such as http://www.polity.org.za/). This is a small speed bump on a long exciting road ahead.

We hope that this article helps you in your quest to find articles and start your career off on the right track. You have done so well to get into this dynamic profession, so remember to play to your strengths, keep pushing and the right doors will open at the right time.

Kind regards, The VDI Team.







What has happened to the good ole CV?

What has happened to the good old CV?

Nothing. You need one. A good one. Not a flashy, graphic enhanced presentation made from cosmic software, just a regular word document detailing your professional career and academic qualifications. Agents need to screen it. Companies need to shortlist it.

We are often asked if a CV is ok. Is it put together correctly or does it have too much or too little detail? What format or layout should be used? Colours, font size, header, footer, Mac, Windows or Linux? We are going to make this EASY for you by touching on two topics:

  1. Creating a CV
  2. Sending a CV

Creating a CV

You have the best template in the world, at your fingertips, for free! Yes, ladies and gents. Your LinkedIn profile is the best CV template you can get! Why? Global professional standard, clean and simple, people contact you for a job if you have a good-looking profile. This isn’t rocket-science.

When creating your LinkedIn profile, the offered template tutorial is super easy, like CV-creating for dummies if there was one. Once complete, you can download it in PDF version and use it as-is, or copy-paste the text into word and add a little more to it.

Heck, someone may have even created a Word template which mimics the LinkedIn profile format. Either way, it’s easy and clearly shows what you are made of from a professional perspective (how you show up in the interview is reserved for another webinar). Spelling, grammar, accuracy. I think this goes without saying considering your profile is publicly visible and your entire future career may depend on it.

The question of CV length. Put everything in! Captain of the Choir, first aid, the enormous project you just delivered to the CEO. ALL IN. If it feels too long, create a career summary at the top of the CV, but please don’t send your Agent or potential employer a 1 pager. This isn’t America (they indeed only want one pagers, go figure) and it doesn’t help anyone out when comparing candidates.

Sending a CV

If you are one of those candidates who do not want to send us your CV for “confidentiality” reasons, please note we have already found your Facebook page, Instagram tag, Twitter handle and mug-shot on your company’s website. We have even used lead-management systems which have extracted your email address and contact number from the matrix of Google. If you are one of these candidates, please realise that you are 1 in a million. A million are getting jobs and you are being “confidential”. It’s a futile strategy I’m afraid.

As for the rest of you, please do send your CV to your recruitment agent, but ask them to disclose the company that they are sending your CV to first (for each and every CV presentation!) We have had cases where candidates thought they were going to an Auditing Firm but in fact they were presented to a Law firm. We have had cases where candidates were sent for a job in a different province.

If your agent does not want to disclose where they are sending your CV, then how exactly do you trust them to negotiate your salary on your behalf? How do they manage all these CVs going out anonymously? Your agent is meant to disclose where your CV is being presented, for a myriad of reasons such as culture fit and whether you even want to work there.

Now, we need to discuss sending your CV to potential employers directly. Do you know who is receiving your CV? Do you know if you have sent your CV there before? Do you know who to speak to in order to follow up on your application? How many other candidates have sent their CV there? How many different employers have you sent your CV to? Wow, this can really get messy. Have you ever heard of the approach “spray-and-pray”?

Applying for jobs with your CV

We strongly suggest that you take a pragmatic and precise approach to applying for jobs and sending your CV. Be sure of what you want, be sure your CV reflects your skills in accordance with the job (this cannot be overstated, but it also must be the truth) and be sure to utilise the right tools for the right opportunities. If your CV is everywhere and you haven’t got a call back, you won’t know why. We recommend you make use of 1 or 2 recruitment agents (not more than that otherwise you are going backwards) to assist you in finding the right opportunity. Please note that although there is a skills shortage in our economy, and that skilled candidates are in demand, the reality is that companies need a VACANCY and BUDGET to even consider looking at you. They approach agencies to help when they can no longer recruit themselves. Therefore, your agent also cannot take a “spray-and-pray” approach. They need to scan the market, network, wait for volatility, movement or backfill. Whatever it is, it should be strategic. The more strategic your agent is the better your chance of getting the RIGHT position.

Where to from here?

Step 1 is to get your LinkedIn profile and CV in order. Then, it all depends on your ambitions. The South African economy allows for free movement of employers, employees and entrepreneurs. There really are minimal boundaries between where you are now and where you want to be 5 years, 5 months, 5 days from now. The future is waiting for you.



Why Be Busy, When You Can be PRODUCTIVE!


Too many times we answer the question. “Yes all good, busy. Very busy”. We are unknowingly on autopilot. We react in the same way to the same question because it’s the easiest way to describe our lives in a single word. Although being “busy” is a nice way to kill small talk conversation, it does however leave the enquirer feeling as though you are disinterested, uninspired and non-progressive.

If we were dead honest, even doing nothing is being busy. Busy doing nothing! My friends, my clients, my candidates and the market in general are all excited about 2016. We have seen a rapid increase in activity on the legal front, not to mention Facebook events, social fitness classes and more and more markets. We need to hop on the bus and get stuck in, but instead of changing your whole life, starting a revolutionary eating plan or quitting work to find your dream job, I challenge you to change the meagre word already mentioned.

I want you to replace the word “busy”, with “productive”. Now answer the question again. Is it true or not? Well it doesn’t matter at this stage because you have already achieved a few key steps in moving from good to great:

  • You left the enquirer feeling intrigued, inspired, potentially slightly envious but hopefully, mostly excited.
  • You have just committed that what you have been up to has moved you forward, either explicitly or implicitly. If you feel you did not achieve anything significant, you can at least look back and learn to improve on how you spent your time. See, “productive”!
  • You have just committed to what you are going to do in the future! As in the next hour, day, week and month. Once you say something out loud, to a friend or even better, a complete stranger, you will be much more likely to follow through. Ego right?
  • You have replaced a word containing vague meaning with a positive, specific and literal word that will lead to more questions from the enquirer.
  • Due to point 4 above, you have turned small talk into a networking opportunity. If the enquirer is a little on the boring side, you are at least excited having reflected on the meaning of being productive and how your life is moving forward, inch by inch.

Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great” and “Built to Last” has studied numerous organisations, their leaders, mind-sets, cultures and structures. I will spare the details (which are fascinating by the way) and point out that the companies who turned themselves around from being average to sustainably phenomenal, were the ones who were genuinely and consistently productive. They pushed on the flywheel, bit by bit, every day. There were no huge projects, acquisitions or leader-hires, it all came down to choosing a sensible direction and applying forward pressure to the fly-wheel of their business. The fly-wheel being the word used to describe their end-to-end business concept.

I challenge you to start pushing on your fly-wheel, starting off by being productive. Replace the language, the mind-set will follow and best of all, people that also want to push their fly-wheel will be there for you. An added bonus is that the laggards will become disinterested and get out of your way as you forge on towards greatness.

Try it from now, and you can let me know if I’m wrong?