This time, a lawyer turned investment banker answers a reader's query about making the transition into finance. (In our previous post, recruiters offered tips.) Here's what the former Am Law 100 lawyer, now a managing director at a major bank, has to say:
Timing: You need at least three years of experience in M&A, corporate finance, or similar area. The assumption is that you should know 80 percent of your specialty by then. After three years, you should have developed good relationships with clients, who can help you make the move.
Personal Contact vs. Recruiters: I got hired by my clients [three years ago]. I think that's the way to go, because your clients know you, like you, and are vested in your training. Some people go through recruiters, but their success rate is lower [both in getting hired and staying hired]. If I get a call from a recruiter about a "great" associate at Skadden who wants to be a banker, I don't get too excited; but if that person came recommended from someone I know, it'll get my attention.
Be Picky: Don't jump into the first opportunity without thinking about the level you're hired for. If you're a third-year at your firm, you should expect to be a first- or second-year associate at the bank. That sounds like a big step back, but you are starting over again. The advantage of being junior is that you'll have time to learn, and expectations won't run so high.
If you have five or six years of experience, you should be a vice-president or a "light" director at the bank. If you go in at too junior a level, it'll be a long haul to get to the director level; but if you go in too senior, expectations will be too high.
Lifestyle: People think bankers have a better quality of life. But my life got worse when I got into banking. It's a quantum leap going from being an adviser on deals to making decisions about them. I underestimated that.
Is It Really You? You have to ask yourself: Am I happy chasing work, or having work that's there? You need to be much more aggressive in banking, and you have to enjoy marketing and be comfortable chasing things that don't come to fruition.
There's something to be said for the gentility of practicing law; you are part of a profession. Banking is much more about life in the state of nature.
Readers, how hard is it to make the transition from lawyering to Wall Street? Are lawyers lusting after I-banking job these days?
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.
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