In order to ensure you make the right career choices you must seek to gain an understanding of the different types of firms that exist.
Types Of Firms
Set out below are the main types of firms that offer training contracts:
The magic circle of firms includes Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, Allen & Overy and Slaughter & May.
The work carried out by these firms is predominantly in the corporate and finance areas, often with an international aspect. These firms often get to do the biggest deals for the biggest fees and therefore top the revenue charts consistently.
They offer trainees excellent training on high salaries, with formal training programmes laid on, great office facilities to take advantage of, and various other perks.
However, there is usually some form of trade off in terms of the amount of hours expected from their trainees. It’s not uncommon for trainees to work through the night on deals and to have to work at the weekend.
Work/life balance is a very real issue to be considered by those contemplating training with a magic circle firm.
Silver Circle (Large Commercial in London)
These firms are similar to the magic circle firms in terms of the work undertaken, the salaries paid, the hours, etc. Firms in this group include Herbert Smith, Hogan Lovells and CMS Cameron McKenna.
An advantage of training with a large firm is the brand status it adds to a CV. Many trainees train with a large firm to gain a good legal training and to bolster their CV for when they seek positions with smaller firms or in-house after qualification.
There is now a good choice of American firms to work for in London. Many of the big American firms started opening offices in London during the 1990’s and now offer trainees the option of working in a smaller office on predominantly international corporate and finance work.
The American culture usually involves high billable hour targets meaning very long hours but in return they often pay considerably more than any of the UK London firms.
Medium Sized Commercial in London
Whilst smaller in size many of these firms are able to compete very well with the biggest firms in terms of profitability. Whilst they might not get the biggest corporate clients they will still have an impressive list of clients for whom they will generally do business related corporate and commercial work.
The culture of these firms is often what distinguishes them from the large firms in that they are usually more collegiate, with colleagues of all levels mixing more and trainees getting more regular access to partners.
Trainees will often get slightly more hands-on and, some might say, interesting work to do and be able to play a bigger part in deals than just photocopying and bundling documents. This sort of additional responsibility is what often swings it for trainees applying to these firms.
Smaller Commercial Firms in London
These firms either offer a comprehensive service to their clients or have one or two specialist areas they predominantly service. Whilst these firms will not often not pay as well as the firms above, trainees are not usually required to work such long hours.
The cultures usually differ to larger firms and it will be more common for colleagues to mix across the whole of the firm rather than just in specific practice areas.
These firms offer mostly commercial work and often have good sized property departments. They may also provide private client services to high net worth individuals.
Trainees will often get a good amount of responsibility at an early stage.
Firms have developed around all sorts of niches and, whilst they might do other work, they have become known as specialist law firms.
Firms popular with prospective trainee solicitors specialise in areas such as media, shipping, sports, aviation, insurance litigation, medial negligence and intellectual property.
Whilst specialising at an early stage of a legal career might not be advisable for everybody, these firms are perfect for those who already have a background in the sector or who know exactly what they want to specialise in. That said, even specialist firms are required to give a trainee a broad experience across several practice areas during their training contract.
Whilst many may have historically seen the regional practices as playing second fiddle to the big London firms there are now some big players in the regions who are able to attract some heavyweight clients and work.
Trainees who are not drawn to the capital will find competition for places at the big regional firms nearly as fierce as at the London firms. There are also plenty of smaller players that can give good local work for the clients in the region.
Work/life balance is often cited as a reason to work for a regional firm over a London firm. Whilst this may be true in many cases and be a trade off for lower salaries, trainees will still be expected to put in long hours on the bigger deals at the bigger regional firms.
There are some well established firms that have offices in several regions around the country. Again, many of these firms attract high quality work on a par with all but the largest London City transactions.
Trainees can find themselves benefiting from both good quality work and the work/life balance of the regions although long hours are still required from time to time. The work is generally of a commercial nature with property often being a well established practice area.
General Practice/High Street
These may be well established local firms with several partners or sole practioners operating on the high street of small towns up and down the country. Their clients vary from legally aided clients to paying individuals and small businesses.
The sort of work a trainee could expect at these firms would be conveyancing, landlord and tenant, personal injury, family, criminal, employment and wills and probate.
Whilst long hours will be uncommon, trainees at these sorts of firms will not be paid much above the law society minimum in most cases. Once qualified, the stereotype of solicitors earning good money often doesn’t apply either.
Of course, many high street solicitors do it for reasons other than the money – this is the level where solicitors are really able to help Joe Public with their legal problems.
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