Life at a law firm
Honestly, not really no. There’s generally a greater proportion of Oxbridge/London Uni/private school students but I’ve seen enough students who didn’t go to these uni’s. In terms of extracurriculars they vary a lot; the key is not what experience you have but whether you know how to sell your experience. A lot of students think they need to be captain of X sports team or to have won mooting competitions, but with the right technique you can make working at McDonalds stand out.
I found my vacation scheme at a top firm very intense and I’m worried I can’t cut it. I don’t know whether to apply for a mid-sized firm or just stick with it?
It’s difficult to give you advice on this bit without knowing you (and I think it’s something you’ll know best). What I would say is vacation schemes are great for experiencing what a lawyer is, how the people are and for getting a vibe on what the firm is like, but they don’t give a holistic view of the firm, not least because they’re extremely intense – my firm’s vacation scheme is renown for being extremely assessment heavy and the actual experience as a trainee is very different. You’re still trying to impress but you can have a lot of fun in the process. Stress-wise firms could do a lot more to manage mental health, though I wouldn’t underestimate your ability to manage the work especially if you’ve got this far. It’s a lot less difficult than it sounds and much more about project management/organisation than real technical ability.
I think it’s right that you’re thinking about the long term though, few candidates do. I’d suggest applying to all of them. Normally I recommend against a scatter-gun approach of applying to law firms, but in this case you know your stuff and the best way to learn what works for you is to try get on more schemes (or at least an open day) and eliminate by trial and error. I ended up turning down a few TC’s until I found the my current firm; it was risky but if I didn’t do that I don’t think I’d be enjoying myself as much right now. A final point to remember: it’s easy to move down once you train at a prestigious law firm, however it’s very hard to move up.
I’m not sure whether to go for a US firm (smaller intake) or a magic circle (larger intake) – I fear I can’t handle the intensity of a US firm.
Some lawyers at U.S. law firms tend to reject the notion that it’s any different to the magic circle; I don’t think that’s true at all. I imagine the hours aren’t too different but you’re completely right that there’s often less of us to handle a deal. What that means is very often I’m liaising with a more senior lawyer on the other side. I get a lot of responsibility and that’s scary; it’s less learning by formal training and more let’s throw you in the river and let you swim (though thankfully if you start to drown there’s a lifeguard outside). That said I love it – I think that it’s a terrific way to learn and once you go through that you come out as a formidable lawyer.
Do you ever regret choosing to work at a US firm? Rather than a better work-life balance at a UK firm?
I can’t say I do, however I think that’s because it fits well with my personality and stage in life. I think if I had more responsibilities – a partner or family – my perspective would be very different.
I get a lot of pleasure from working hard if the work is interesting. And usually it is, or I get a scary amount of responsibility which keeps things interesting. There’s never any face time so I’m either very busy or I’m done for the day: that means I rarely clock-watch. I don’t think I’d be comfortable with a job where I was counting the hours down.
Speaking of more general differences: there’s some training but it’s very much you learn by doing. At the start that’s working out what to do first and getting it wrong, sometimes it’s big, sometimes it’s because of a tiny mistake – the expectations are very high. After that, I won’t forget it and I’ll remember the steps I took to work out what to do. I love that style of learning, but it’s not for everyone.
Because there’s a small number of us, I’m usually dealing with a more senior lawyer on the other side. That was scary at first, but it meant learning quickly and adopting the right practices so as to not embarrass the firm. I also generally prefer working in a small team.
If I was doing a mock report to a client, how would I structure it? A summary – main report – then conclusions? What information does a client want?
A client/partner needs to find the information immediately, but they also need the evidence to know how you came to those conclusions – in case you made a mistake. If this was a task I had in practice, I’d, as concisely as possible, detail the key commercial issues and conclude with my opinion. Then, at the end of the email or as an attachment I’d present a more detailed explanation for each of my claims – but this should still be concise, relevant and clear.
A client is busy. They don’t come to lawyers for a detailed explanation of the law (unless they ask for it). They want to know: Is doing X within the law? Or out of X, Y and Z – what’s the best option? – In which case you need to understand both the law, their business and the industry to form a view of what’s the best action to take.
In my experience, yes.
If a partner wanted only research, they’d ask a secretary to compile the information. A junior lawyer should form a view to present to the partner and in my experience, prepare to be questioned on how they came to that decision. It’s a way for partners to quickly form their own opinion and also a way for you to improve. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve pointed things out to a more senior lawyer – that took some courage at first, but, it went down very well. Especially if I was convinced they’d missed out on something important.
Is there usually a dominant practice area at a firm? Does it overlap with other practice areas? Do firms want that?
If you’re asking what’s the most common practice area, then at my firm that’s corporate, as will be the case at many of these firms. That’s very noticeable in some departments including intellectual property, real estate and employment, where they might serve as support teams for corporate. They’re huge revenue drivers and an acquisition requires input from many different departments.
But that’s not exclusive to corporate: departments cross over all the time, that might be a simple case of asking the litigation team a question about the possible consequences of a particular course of action, or it may be having the tax partner join in on a call with a client, providing his or her thoughts on a potential structure.
That’s why law firms pitch their full-service offering. A client would rather have one firm which can service the various needs of their project rather than constantly shopping every time a new question comes up. Although note, they probably have a few (rather than one) which work with them on different activities i.e. some firms will be better for litigation or restructuring.
This is where the international capability also comes in. You don’t want to tell a client you don’t have the capability or worse, give incorrect advice. So if an international question comes up, which it does all the time, you’ll call the Spanish office or your relationship-firm about the consequences of incorporating a shell company there or to get a legal opinion in a financing transaction.
Do non-Oxbridge applicants have a chance at getting to the top firms? I’ve been lucky to secure a Jones Day vacation scheme, but I’m worried that partners and associates will look down on me. I’m the first from my university to interview at a firm in the City (It’s in the bottom 10).
Yes of course. Firms are much more diverse in their recruitment now and they care about it more.
I certainly found the law firm environment to be quite a different world when I first started. But the more you immerse yourself and by extension, the less you see yourself as a barrier, the easier it’ll be. I haven’t seen attitudes like that at my firm at all, perhaps the occasional comment in jest on a vacation scheme, but it is very rare. More importantly, it’s about whether you display the right attitudes and show potential.
How important are GDL/LPC grades in the long-term? I’m not sure whether to pursue other activities instead.
How important are GDL/LPC grades in the long-term? I’m not sure whether to pursue other activities instead.
I would imagine a little more weighting might be placed on the GDL but I’ll reserve giving any opinions on that, I didn’t do the GDL and I don’t want to advise you incorrectly. I would suggest putting the work in for the GDL, it’ll make the LPC easier because the content will be new, and set you with a good foundation of the law, which I do think is useful for practice (in a broad sense).
If we’re talking about law firm recruiters, they may care more about certain GDL grades such as contract law because that’s more important for commercial law firms. That said, if you don’t get a distinction in your GDL, it’s not the end of the world by any means!
With regard to the LPC, just make sure you pass and that the law firm doesn’t have any grade requirements. Post-training contract, I don’t think it’s important at all. Your undergrad matters and you’re all set with that. I’d actually strongly recommend using the time at law school to pursue any extra-curriculars you’re interested in. Free time will be relatively scarce once you start working. If you’re at the University of Law, feel free to drop a message on the board and I’ll send you some LPC notes.
I’m not sure whether to practice law, I don’t really see myself at a desk all day, do you travel much?
Travelling isn’t really a thing we do at my firm as trainees, unless you count my many coffee and loo breaks. A couple of times a month I get to meet a client in person, but so much is done virtually now that I can only see that getting shorter. Associates and partners travel a lot more though, two guys went to the Paris office last week and one of our partners is always flying back and forth from New York.If it’s more secondments you want, there are certainly firms like White & Case, Norton Rose and Linklaters which are very big on that, but again, that’s not so much the case at my firm.But yes, if you don’t want long hours or to sit in an office all day, I wouldn’t apply to commercial law firms. If you just want less hours, there’s certainly firms you can apply to which will offer that.
The hours were a shock to the system at first. I missed the freedom of doing what I wanted to do during the day. Or at the very least, being able to have a few hours after work to relax. For a good while my schedule was to wake up, get to work, come home and drop straight to bed. I’ve clocked some of the highest hours in my intake, but that’s quite exceptional: I just so happened to get a department where we were short staffed and very busy. It’s different between departments though and between firms. All that said, you get used to it really quick, and learn to value the free time you do have, especially the weekends. I also stopped minding it, sure some days I was pretty sleep-deprived, but I really like the work, get tons of responsibility and I feel like I’m really contributing to my team. I’m never there for the sake of it, and my colleagues constantly make it known how much they appreciate it. I never have to count the hours down because it goes so quickly.