The curse of the client-facing job

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You might think you want to be a 'front office revenue producer' in an investment bank. You'll certainly get paid more if you are. But do you really want the associated hassle?

A new report from Hilary Sommerlad. Professor of Law and Social Justice at the UK's University of Leeds, underscores the extent to which client-facing roles can be a nightmare, especially if you're a woman.

Sommerlad's report focuses on the law profession, but there are clear parallels with investment banking. Sommerlad spoke to 11 senior female lawyers and in-house legal recruiters between October 2014 and May 2015. She reached the conclusion that not only have clients become more demanding, but that women are expected to be particularly solicitous when it comes to keeping them happy.

1. When a client says jump, you somersault 

Firstly, Sommerlad found that people in client-facing positions were expected to do whatever it takes to keep clients happy.

"If a client rings you Friday evening with something that needs doing – you do it, even if it means cancelling your Friday evening,” said one lawyer. “We were under constant pressure to do whatever the client wanted, when they wanted, but the more you worked, the more clients tended to expect, so you became a victim of your own hard work,” said another.

2. Clients are shifting more of their tedious admin onto their advisors  

As clients themselves try to cut costs, Sommerlad found they were asking lawyers to do more of their boring admin. "Rather than us just sending the client the lease at the end of a transaction over renewals, they were requiring us to set it all up on their systems, in accordance with their own internal processes," complained one commercial property lawyer. "At the end of every transaction you have to complete accounting forms to set up the systems, showing rent coming in and out and so on, and this has to be in a particular format to fit in their system, which means a different programme."

This all takes time. And it's something that senior staff, who never had to do it, don't understand or know how to charge for. In law, at least, working hours have risen as a result.

3. If you're a client-facing mother, you need support at all times to make it work

Sommerlad gives the example of one partner at a law firm in London: she has daytime and nighttime nannies and asked her employer for a weekend secretary to help deal with client requests on Saturdays and Sundays.

4. Clients today expect more of "you" 

If you want to win and to keep clients now, you can't park your innermost self at home. Sommerlad found that firms need you to make a connection with clients - nothing is out of bounds. Days are spent working and evenings are spent on client-entertainment.  Attractive young women are paired with male clients who'll appreciate their looks and women with families at home fall by the wayside.

Sommerlad was told about one female lawyer who'd recently had a baby. She would reportedly, "go home after a long day’s work, breast-feed the baby and then have to go out to drinks dos." Another female lawyer, who'd been harassed by a big client at a previous employer, had her new employer inquire whether that client (who'd tracked her down) might "bring the work" if she agreed to meet with him again.

Unfortunately, there's no easy solution to the need to keep clients happy. In investment banking, where advisory revenues are expected to fall 10% this year, pandering to clients' requirements has long been the norm and has the potential to get worse. Sommerlad found that the women who stepped away from client-facing roles in the hope of an easier life ended up with a new sort of horror. -  They were handed "very boring routinized work" which was also "very complicated." The client-facing staff (mostly men) who allocated this work "made it sounds like an opportunity but really it was a pit," - the women who'd stepped back from the clients ended up doing, "high-volume, low-value work which no one else could be bothered to do."

Photo credit: ojogabonitoo/thinkstock

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