Flat Shoes and Tattoos

Written by Alison Dart – National General Manager

What do you do when you have secured an interview for a professional services firm but you never wear heels and even more perplexing what do you do with your visible cool university tattoo

Do you pretend to be some else or should you be open about who you are?

The answer is yes and no, not helpful then let me explain

Flat shoes are very acceptable, they need to be presentable and in good condition, so no trainers, espadrilles or lace up sandals

Presentable and in good condition means, closed toe flats a preferably in a neutral tone that matches your outfit, think Black, navy, neutral and clean.

But what about that tattoo? Yes cover it up!

You can tell your new team how cool you are later, if you want the job you need to cover it up for now.

Wear an opaque stocking to the interview if it is visible on your leg and be prepared to wear pants and stockings once you secure that job! On your arm then wear a long sleeve blouse.

Professional services firms are conservative and don’t often endorse the freewheeling, open ideals of the tattoo generation.

While I am on the topic can I also add some advice for

Nail polish …make sure it is a neutral colour , not black or bright blue

Piercings …. Take them out unless it is a simple earring


An interview is not the time to show your alternative fashion sense , it is the time to present a more conservative version and keep you’re your fashion personality for the weekend or casual Friday.



Networking, as we know, is a skill you can learn but one that people sometimes hate to have to do. There is so much to think about – how much to drink (or not to drink), where are the business cards, who are the important people to meet etc.

However the so called ‘soft skills’ needed for personal and professional development are not soft at all – they are human characteristics that will take you far, and can be applied equally as successfully to networking. Here are some tips to sue these ‘soft skills’


Keep your eye out for someone on their own at networking events

Is there someone not in a group? Ask them to join you. Can you notice someone standing awkwardly to one side? Turn and make room for them to join your group.


Be on time, or even better, early

Being always late is just rude – it delays others, delays decisions and destroys trust. And that is just at work! Vow to be on time, and plan to be early. Being early to networking events means that you are able to join conversations early – and we use the word conversation deliberately – it is a two way thing not about you talking about someone


Connect people because you can

If you know two people who would like each other, or work well together, or who have mutual business interests – introduce them. In person is grat , but email after the vent is just as useful. I can’t tell you how many business relationships have been built on something as simple as this.


Don’t just collect business cards

There is no need to keep a collection of business cards – if you’re given one, connect on LinkedIn and put the details straight into your contacts. use the tag and notes function in LinkedIn, and the notes field in contacts. Send an email following the introduction to et up a meeting or just to say thank you.


Connecting on LinkedIn afterwards

To be completely honest, getting a ‘I’d like to add you to professional network on LinkedIn’ message is boring – although I admit I do make allowances for people who hit the ‘connect’ button o mobile devices and the message goes automatically because I have done it myself. Always go to the person’s LinkedIn profile and connect from there as it allows you to add a personal message, for example – “It was lovely to meet you last night at xx event, and I’d like to add you to my professional network etc’


Remember – networking is not just about what you can get

Networking is also about what value you can provide to others and developing relationships. One of my favourite stories is of a young graduate lawyer offering a lift to someone at the airport in a long taxi queue. They exchanged cards as the man wanted to end him a note. Turns out he was the CEO of a large listed company and they stayed in touch, mostly by email but occasionally saw each other at events. Ten years after the initial taxi ride that large company listed and the young graduate was by that stage a senior associate at a mid tier firm. Guess who won the tender for the IPO over the big nationals? And guess who became a partner on the back of winning that work? That initial act of kindness developed into a lifelong client relationship – but it started 10 years after the initial contact.


Networking really is all about people – remember to use your soft skills not necessarily your selling skills for success.

How well do you know your client?

I ran into a candidate we had placed with a large firm a while ago and we stopped to have a coffee and a chat. It is always lovely to catch up with our candidates and find out what they have been up to. This young woman had been recently promoted and was very happy with her career choice. I asked what she thought was the one thing that made sure her promotion got through what sounded like quite a gruelling process, and she replied, without hesitation, ‘I made it my business to get to know the clients’ businesses’. This is something we at empire careers understand completely!client

More and more, professional service providers need to find ways to differentiate themselves from the pack. In order to advance your career, it is vital that you not only are technically excellent, but seen as a “trusted advisor” to your clients and have a deep understanding of your client’s business. In doing this, you will develop a good relationship and attract more work from that client as well as obtain referrals from that client to other potential clients.

Clients don’t just need a legal problem solved. They are coming to you as a professional person with knowledge of the law but they need a degree of commerciality as well as an understanding of their business and industry. Sometimes the pure legal solution is not the best solution. Here are a number of questions you can ask yourself to determine how well you know your client in this very competitive market.

  1. What is the client’s business? This is not just as simple as saying, for example, logistics. Be as specific as you can. Is the client involved in this business at the local, state, national and international level?
  2. What are the major legal issues facing the client? In the case of the example of a logistics company, they may have workplace health and safety issues, commercial agreements, supply agreements and so on.
  3. What are the strategic issues facing this client? Is the client looking to expand or contract in the market, competing with other businesses? Are there some competitors on the market?
  4. What is the “legal spend” of the client? This is an important question to which you need to know the answer as it will determine how much legal work is outsourced to firms, including your own.
  5. How much work has the firm done for the client in the past? Analyse the legal spend and the nature of the work the firm has done for the client and where your expertise fits into that. Are there opportunities to cross‑sell or develop deeper relationships in a certain area? Does the client have a particular culture and does your firm fit that culture – for example, is it a young business hooked into social media or a more conservative traditional business?
  6. Does the client have a panel of legal advisors and who are your competitors? You are probably not the only player in the legal market doing work for this client. Find out who else is doing work for them. What are their strengths and weaknesses? If you are currently the only lawyer doing work for the client, then you may not be for long if you remain complacent.
  7. Do you know what the basis of the client’s decisions in choosing legal advisors is? If there is a panel, how do they decide where the work goes? Cost? Expertise? Relationship?
  8. What is your relationship with the principal decision maker? If you don’t have a relationship with the principal decision maker on legal spend, then you need to start making one.
  9. Who are the other people at the firm who have relationships, at all levels, in the client organisation? Who gets the work and in what areas? Can you be introduced? Can you introduce the client to others in the firm, in areas where the client does not use the firm?
  10. Can you articulate why the client should choose you/your firm over other competitors? This is perhaps the most important question and the most difficult to answer, but worth thinking about. It involves self reflection and honesty, and brand awareness.

“It’s hard to convince the client that you care about his or her business when it is evident that you do not know what’s going on in it.” – David Maister

Managing Work Life Balance

Workplace flexibility has become an essential component of any attraction and retention strategy. In fact, flexibility in the workplace is one of the key factors in maintaining an employee’s motivation, loyalty and commitment to their employer.Managing your balance

Certain employees have the right to request flexible working arrangements. Employers can only refuse these requests on reasonable business grounds. An example of a flexible working arrangement can include a change in location (e.g. working from home) or a change in hours of work (e.g. changes to start and finish times).

Under current law, employees who have worked with the same employer for at least 12 months can request flexible working arrangements if they:

  • are the parent, or have responsibility for the care, of a child who is school aged or younger;
  • are a carer (under the Carer Recognition Act 2010);
  • have a disability;
  • are 55 or older;
  • are experiencing family or domestic violence; or
  • provide care or support to a member of their household or immediate family who requires care and support because of family or domestic violence.

An employer can only refuse a request for flexible working arrangements on reasonable business grounds. An example of a reasonable business ground is the requested arrangements are too costly or other employees’ working arrangements can’t be changed to accommodate the request.

Outside of the categories regulated by law, “Employers of Choice” are allowing other employees to alter their working arrangements either on an ad hoc basis or on a more permanent basis. Today is the age of the “digital worker” and half of Australia’s working population use the internet to work from home or on the go. Many employers recognise that there can be many benefits in an employee working from home e.g. more often than not workers who work from home don’t work a standard 9am to 5pm day but end up working longer hours and thus there is increased opportunities to get the work done.

Additionally, there are financial benefits to employers having employees work from home. Employers with a home workforce (or part home workforce) save money on overheads, desk space and absenteeism at work becomes a non-issue.

Given the law surrounding flexible working arrangements, it is therefore necessary for employers to implement an ongoing communication strategy to ensure employees are aware of workplace flexibility, and managers and staff know what is available and how a flexible work arrangement can be established.

The development of a flexible work strategy will contribute to an organisation’s “Employer Brand” and will greatly assist in the attraction and retention of staff.

Slow recovery but steady improvement

Thankfully, with an improved outlook, business confidence has increased over the last 4 consecutive quarters.    M&A work has more than doubled, and employment for junior lawyers is also forecast to improve.

Here are the figures to give you renewed faith in the legal market.

Quarterly legal confidence

The quarterly legal confidence survey compiled by the Commonwealth Bank and Beaton Research & Consulting shows that business confidence among law firm leaders is still in negative territory but is now at its highest point since July of last year and has been improving for 4 consecutive quarters.    Those surveyed included the leaders of 30 law firms – 8 top-tier practices and 22 mid-tier practices.

% of firms who believe that business conditions are negative is as follows:-

  • 17% October 2014;
  • 23% in July 2014;
  • 28% in April 2014;
  • 43% in November 2013;
  • 70% in July of 2013.

While it is a slow recovery, there is a steady improvement.


Australia has become the second biggest/most active market for Corporate/M&A deals in the Asia-Pacific region, after China.  The Australian market accounted for almost a quarter of the M&A deals completed in the Asia-Pacific.  The recovery in M&A work has contributed to a big improvement in business confidence at the most senior levels of the nation’s lead law firms.  The M&A work has more than doubled in value compared to last year, and the value of completed mergers and acquisitions within Australia in the 9 months to October more than doubled to the same period last year.

Many of the recent transactions have a cross-border element and another noteable aspect was the return of private equity.

A Partner from HerbertSmith Freehills has said it is the strongest start to the year since records began in the Asia-Pacific – a return of the “bold/strategic type M&A” rather than deals that were triggered by corporate distress.

Many positive deals are now part of people’s forward-thinking and strategic planning.     For the first time, activity is being seen in M&A across a range of sectors and from different buyers.

The top-tier firms are the main beneficiaries from the increase in M&A.

Other areas of law/improvement

Despite the boom in M&A, revenue is expected to only improve over the next 6 months in just 6 of the 15 surveyed practice areas.   The biggest decline in revenue is expected in insolvency and restructuring.

The improved outlook for law firms was in line with what was happening in Canada and the US.    Corporates are cashed up again and there are opportunities to gain market share and rationalise industries at that phase in the cycle.  Most firms expect Partner and Senior Associate numbers to grow at a slower rate over the next 6 months (primarily due to a more cautious approach to hiring at top-tier practices).    Top-tier firms expect no change in equity partner numbers in the next 6 months and believe they will continue to reduce the number of salaried partners and Senior Associates.

Junior Lawyers

There is strong improvement in the employment outlook for junior lawyers – 50% of firms expect to increase the number of lawyers with up to 3 years of experience (up from 39% in July of 2014).  Of those 50% of law firms, 55% of mid-tiers and 38% of top-tiers expect to be hiring.

7 Tips to Help You Stay Out of Trouble at your Work Christmas Party!


It is getting close to the season to be jolly, and therefore the office Christmas party.  Here are some tips for not being the subject of an investigation by HR the next working day:

1. The golden rule of course is don’t sexually harass anyone. 

This goes without saying, or at least it should.  That topic is way too big to cover in one small blog post but alcohol, a party atmosphere, and a general feeling of relaxation of socially acceptable rules can lead to people doing extremely inappropriate things.  Don’t. Just don’t.  If you happen to witness someone being harassed, please don’t just stand by watching someone do this.  Step in, and take the person being set upon away.  Then follow up with them the next day to make the perpetrator apologise.

2. Digital photos and people with cameras are not your friends

Baby boomers are very glad they grew up in the age where digital photos didn’t exist and there was also no internet to instantly upload photos.  Social media can be fun –  Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat are easy ways to share photos.  This also means it is easy for everyone else to see you having SUCH a great time (as you down your 14th bevvie, with another in your other hand).  If you upload photos late in the evening it usually means someone is going to be embarrassed, and DON’T, whatever you do, put your firm name to anything that might cause embarrassment.

Related – beware the photo booth and mistletoe.

3. This is not the time for confessions/complaints

The Christmas Party is not the time for teary confessions of attraction/love or indiscretions.  It is also not the time to tell HR Manager about the number of times you called in sick but actually weren’t – that instead you ‘just couldn’t be ‘f***ed coming to work.’  HR Managers remember all of these conversations because they have to stay sober and be ready to hold someone’s hair back while they are sick.  And they are annoyed already because of that.  Please don’t make it worse for them.

This is also not the time to air grievances about work colleagues or, in fact, the boss.  Especially to the boss! Even if he or she is a (insert your preferred offensive name here) there is no need to say so. That is a very career limiting move.

4. So you think you can dance?

Dirty dancing was a terrific movie – not so great when a very drunk, usually sweaty, person attempts it, especially with someone who doesn’t want to participate.  Oh, and if ‘Whip It’ by Devo comes on, or ‘Wild One’ by Flo Rida & Rihanna – it is never a good idea to jump on someone’s back and pretend to whip that person like a racehorse.  Refer to points 1 and 2 above.

5. Leave at a good time

Nothing good ever comes from staying until 2am.  Leave when you can still get a cab and you’re then not tempted to go back to the party.  Also, if someone from HR or your boss politely suggests, through gritted teeth, that it is time to go home and puts you in a cab, keep going until you get home.  Don’t tell the cab driver to drive around the block and go back in.  Seriously, no matter how witty and erudite you think you are, you’re not.  You are like the bad uncle at Christmas lunch no one wants to sit next to.

6. If the boss makes a speech – don’t heckle.

Chances are he or she is sober and will remember the clown who heckled during the rousing and inspirational  ‘thanks for a wonderful year, have a great night’ speech to the troops.

7. Keep your clothes on

Obvious.  Nothing more needs to be said.