The purpose of this paper is to learn about professional employees in the early stage of their careers, particularly, their understanding of competence development and career advancement. Law firms have a relatively low rate of turnover of professional staff when compared with employee flow rates that are standard in other organisations and industries. In law firms, the collective stock of embodied knowledge changes gradually influenced by recruitment cohort phases and employee departures. This paper aims to analyse lawyers employed in a reasonably munificent internal labour market context, seeking to understand their accounts of how their competencies can be developed and how their careers may be advanced.
This paper considers the competences and careers of a group of junior professional knowledge workers employed full‐time in a large law firm and conceptualises their competence development and professional career advancement through an existential ontological conceptualisation using a qualitative interpretive research methodology.
The findings from interviews with lawyers in the Planning and Environment area of specialisation are reported concentrating on employees' perspectives. Lawyers' self‐understanding is strongly influenced by career stage and position in the organisation. Their understanding of work in contrast reveals more individual and idiosyncratic clusters of work activities and distinctive ways of acknowledging and developing technical and professional expertise. They express a preference for a focal group of other people at work selecting from primary orientations to either clients or peers or self.
It is concluded that policy makers, practitioners, and academic researchers all have roles to play in assisting people at an early stage in their career to reflect on their existing expertise, assess current work practices, and develop and pursue strategies for competency development and career advancement.
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