Thomas Eckardt From Young Lawyer Advisory Shows Us There’s More Than One Way To Be Successful
n the April issue of BucketOrange Magazine, we catch up with Thomas Eckardt, Managing Director of Sydney-based legal, finance and IT recruitment agency, Eckardt Guanlao Consulting, and its recently-launched limb, Young Lawyer Advisory. We talk career tips for law graduates, the importance of goal-setting and what it means to re-define ‘success.’
What made you decide to pursue law as a career?
“I actually have a degree in human biology and psychology. After finishing, I decided that law was more interesting. I had always been interested in law and after speaking with a career advisor I decided to apply.
As anyone who speaks with me during our consultation sessions will know, I talk about ‘telling your story’ all the time. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, we just need to bring it out. When you study law, especially in the UK, everything is about case law and interesting stories. That is what got me interested and started on the lawyer route. It was a short-lived professional choice for me.
Although that first career advisor was right to guide me down the legal path, they were not clear in pointing out what that would mean professionally or what other options I should be aware of. This meant that I made some decisions that ended with me working in an area that I didn’t enjoy. The experience did, however, get me interested in recruitment and particularly the ability to help junior lawyers make informed decisions about their careers.”
What is Young Lawyer Advisory?
“Young Lawyer Advisory helps law students and young lawyers achieve success. We help with resume writing, cover letter drafting, application review and mentoring. Our key area of expertise is providing a consultation to help your lawyers plan their career and build experience.
The consultation is a one-on-one session where we go over everything. For example, what you have done, what you want to do, whether there are gaps in your resume and how to fill in those gaps. We have designed our packages to suit all levels of need from simple review to application help. I believe that there is real value in booking a consultation. Our advisors have been through it all before and can offer real guidance and value.
We also help connect law students with graduate roles and make recommendations to our clients. We work closely with most large firms and in-house companies.”
What I am really passionate about is helping students to understand what they are getting into and then defining success. There are so many options for graduates and so much competition for placements. Career success does not have to mean working for the biggest law firm in the world.
What do you enjoy best about your work?
“I like meeting new people, especially law students and young lawyers who are just starting out. There are so many options available to them and they are about to have an incredible career. They just need to get started.
I really enjoy helping young people take that first step.”
The recent NSW Law Society FLIP report highlighted the need for greater mental health awareness and support for lawyers amid rapid innovation and changes happening in the legal industry right now. In your experience, particularly coming from a psychology and legal background, how important is it for young lawyers to be conscious of, and proactively manage, their mental health while working in a notoriously stressful industry like law?
“It’s great to see the legal industry become more supportive of mental health.
I know what it’s like both personally and through working with many junior lawyers professionally. When you first get into practice, you want to make a good impression. There is the feeling that you have to work all hours and keep your struggles hidden.
Some effective core strategies I’ve learned: 1) Speak to people – find a mentor, a friend, a confidant (ideally many) who you can speak with about your career, your struggles and your stress; 2) Find an outlet away from work – have a passion outside work that engages you fully. This helps give your life some balance; 3) Take some time for yourself – law is notoriously intense and very mentally challenging at times. You need to find some time each day to sit and be with yourself (believe it or not but meditation for 5 minutes genuinely helps).”
Many media reports emphasise the need for grads to now develop a broader range of skills, including tech and business skills in order to stay competitive. In your view, do these types of skills make an applicant more attractive and employable?
“In short, yes. I see so many amazing graduate resumes each day and the ones that stand out are the ones that are formatted correctly and have something more to offer outside just their academic qualifications.
It’s also important to remember that most private law firms and companies are businesses. The service that they offer is law. Any knowledge of how a business operates is going to be an advantage as you progress through your career.
Technology is rapidly changing the face of the legal industry. Every day there is a new article about a new legal technology disruptor that has entered the market. Students with an interest in working in a smaller disruptor, or an evolving business, need to stay in front of the curve.”
How important do you think it is for young lawyers to try to maintain a work/life balance? Is it something you have been able to achieve in your career? If so, how do you do it?
“I believe that a work/life balance is vital for junior lawyers and it is something that most tend to ignore. If the ‘life’ section of work/life gets ignored there is a high chance a junior lawyer will burn out and end up leaving the profession.
It’s also important to define what people mean by a work/life balance.
As a lawyer you are, more than likely, going to work incredibly hard in your legal career. The hours can be long. The pressure can be huge. As a junior, this will be especially true as you struggle to learn all that you need and to gain as much experience as possible.
That said, I believe that we should change the definition of work/life balance. If you are working at something that you love then it doesn’t feel like work. If you are working in a team that you love then it doesn’t feel like work. This contributes to achieving your work/life balance.”
What is one piece of advice you would give to a young lawyer starting their career?
“Be sure about what you want to achieve from your career and have a goal. Having a long term goal will make the long hours and hard work seem easier.”
What are some of the most common mistakes law graduates make when entering the job market?
“One of my pet hates is a cover letter that just re-tells the CV. Why are you submitting two documents that say the same thing?!
This shows that you are inefficient, have nothing more to say and don’t know how to draft a letter. It’s a simple thing to get right but is so often done incorrectly.
CV drafting is also poor, generally. This isn’t surprising as most law graduates would never have had to draft a professional CV before. Interviewing skills is also a minefield of mistakes. But, as always, practice makes perfect.”
What has been the hardest aspect of launching your own business?
“Time. In any given day, you have 28 hours worth of activities to perform. Making that work is a challenge.”
What has been your greatest achievement?
“Helping our first set of students find roles and talking to them about careers. It was amazing to see the process work and get initial great feedback.”
Who, or what, inspires or drives you?
“I am fortunate to meet and work with some very inspirational people who want to do well in their career. They inspire me on a daily basis to do better for them.”
What is your ultimate dream that you would like to achieve through your work?
“Ultimately, if we can help educate and guide law students across the world in what is possible for them in their legal career then I would be happy.”
Where do you see yourself, or your business, in 5 years?
“I want to be able to help students move into roles on a global scale. Within 5 years, I would like to be able to help law students from Australia move to a position in London, or New York, and vice versa.”
Do you have a favourite expression, saying or philosophy?
“‘Everything will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.’
I also heard this one from my girlfriend which I love in a work context:
‘Not my circus, not my monkeys.’”
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
“Don’t be a dickhead. People generally want to like you, don’t give them an excuse not to.”
What helps you work at your best?
“Activities. I have a weird desire to do hard long distance events. I regularly do triathlons, and last year I did my first Ironman event. This year I competed an uphill triathlon event at Mt Kosciuszko and I am signed up to do the North Face 50 trail run soon as well as the New Zealand Coast to Coast next year.
I find having something to worry about outside of work tends to help me work better.”
What is your favourite legal series or movie?
“Suits – I love how unlike an actual law firm it is. I also loved a show called ‘Boston Legal’ although I watched that while going through law school in the UK.”
BucketOrange Magazine / April 2017 🍊