Foundations of Commercial Law: Practice Areas, Firm Groups and Applications *Monday Article Series*

Jacob Miller

Legendary Member
Future Trainee
Forum Team
  • Feb 15, 2020
    897
    2,361
    Introduction

    Something we’re very proud of at TCLA is the vast breadth and depth of advice that candidates have contributed to the forum. That doesn’t necessarily suit everyone, though – indeed, it can even be somewhat intimidating to those who are new to the world of commercial law. Maybe you’ve heard someone talk about commercial practice at a university society, maybe you’ve heard someone talk about the Magic Circle (but aren’t sure how card tricks and sleight of hand are relevant to a career in law). Maybe you just finished watching Suits and want to be the next Harvey Specter (sorry, it’s not really like that), either way, this resource should hopefully act as a starting point, laying the foundations for you to make better sense of some of the more advanced-level discussion that lies elsewhere in the forum.

    First of all, we’ll consider what commercial law firms actually are, their make-up and what departments and specialisms you’re likely to find in commercial firms’ offices before looking at the different types of lawyers that work within a large corporate firm. Next, we’ll briefly look at groups or classifications of firms and break down some of the jargon associated with them. After that, we will discuss actually getting into a firm, with a look at Training Contracts (TCs) and Vacation Schemes (VSs), what they are, and a broad-brush discussion of application processes.

    What is a commercial law firm?

    Generally, commercial law firms specialise in areas of law relating to companies, as opposed to natural persons (for example a criminal lawyer or family lawyer). Typically, the firms TCLA members are targeting are much larger commercial firms who deal with the biggest companies (for example, household brands such as ASDA, investment banks, or the largest investors). Some of the biggest commercial law firms are known as full-service firms. This means that the single firm aims to serve all the legal needs of the client. Not every firm is full service, though, nor is it necessarily a marker of a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ firm, either. Instead, some firms choose to focus on certain specialist areas and not to offer legal advice on others: the most specialist of these are often known as boutique firms.

    Services offered by commercial firms can generally (and simplistically) be broken into three categories:
    • Transactional: this often involves advising on the sale and purchase of companies or company assets but may also include insolvency and restructuring (note, though, that this type of work can straddle all three categories)
    • Advisory: this could be on an ongoing or issue-by-issue basis where a company seeks general advice on a particular area of law, for example, how a change in law might affect their business. One of the ‘sub-categories’ of advisory law is regulatory advice. Although this is sometimes recognised as its own category of advice by certain firms, we will consider it under advisory law.
    • Contentious: this is where the firm represents their client in a legal dispute with another party.
    Each category of legal advice contains different sub-categories or departments. For a firm to be considered full service, it is highly likely to offer legal advice in many of the following areas (some departments will be listed under more than one category, this is because many departments will carry out work across multiple categories depending on what is required):

    Note: this is a simplistic breakdown and will vary firm to firm in terms of how they classify work within departments.

    Transactional

    Mergers and Acquisitions
    (private companies)
    When private companies seek to buy or sell other private companies, or where two or more private companies seek to merge together to become one

    Mergers and Acquisitions (public companies)
    As above, but involving companies who are listed on a stock exchange

    Finance (for example, project finance, debt facilities or fundraising
    The legal elements of finance arrangements, for example, securing an overdraft facility with a bank, arranging finance for a specific expansion project, or using a share issue to raise money

    Real Estate
    Any issues involving land, buildings, offices, rental agreements etc either as a standalone concern or as part of a larger transaction

    Private Equity
    A Private Equity firm is a firm that invests money into business ventures with the hope of growing that business and then selling their interest to realise a profit

    Insolvency and Restructuring
    Where a company becomes insolvent, it must take certain steps to ensure its creditors (other people and companies to whom it owes money) are paid. Restructuring may include selling parts of an unprofitable business in the hope of raising enough money to support other parts

    Intellectual Property and Technology
    This may include transactional issues concerning intellectual property or technological subject matter (for example, a vaccine or computer software)

    Equity capital markets
    The process of a private company becoming listed on a stock exchange or a public company raising a secondary offering

    Advisory

    Asset and Investment Management
    The legal obligations of people and companies who manage and invest money or assets on behalf of others

    Corporate (general advisory)
    General corporate legal issues. This might include matters of company law, listing rules, shareholder agreements, director’s duties etc.

    Employment
    Advising on employment issues, for example, the rights and protections a company must afford to its employees

    Pensions and Incentives
    Advising on issues surrounding a company’s obligations to protect the pensions of its employees

    Intellectual Property and Technology
    Non-transactional advice on matters relating to intellectual property and technology

    Tax
    Advice on tax issues for companies, often advising on how a company may structure itself to remain tax efficient without breaching the law

    Competition/Antitrust Law
    Advising on matters relating to competition law and antitrust (such as preventing abuse by monopolies), for example, where two companies might be prohibited from merging due to the newly formed company becoming anti-competitive

    Data Protection
    Advising companies on their obligations under data protection laws
    Environmental Law
    Advising on companies’ obligations on environmental protection in the course of carrying on business (for example, oil companies’ obligations to prevent pollution of the ocean in off-shore oil rigs)

    Financial Services and Markets
    Advice concerning the provision of services which are regulated financial services (for example banking, offering credit, or investment management)

    Corporate Governance
    Legal obligations on companies to ensure their proper management and direction

    Trade Risk
    Advising on the legal elements of general risks (e.g., risk of incurring loss or liability) in the course of trading

    Banking
    Generally, focussing on the contractual relationships between creditors and debtors outside of transactional issues

    Contentious

    Disputes
    A catch-all for disputes which may not fall under any other department. This may include claims made by a client against a third party and vice versa

    Employment Disputes
    Disputes raised by current or ex-employees of a company relating to their employment

    Financial Services/Markets Disputes
    Disputes concerning regulated financial services or obligations of people and firms who are regulated to carry out specific financial services (for example, if an investment management company is accused of breaching their duties to investors)

    Intellectual Property Disputes
    Disputes concerning intellectual property (for example, a disgruntled ex-employee alleging they actually have intellectual property ownership over something that a company has developed)

    Competition Disputes
    Disputes relating to competition law. This could be, for example, after a competition authority has attempted to block or challenge a merger or acquisition

    Pensions Disputes
    Disputes relating to pension funds

    Business Crime and Investigations
    When a company has been accused of committing a business crime (for example, corporate fraud) or is being investigated for civil proceedings by an external authority

    Some firms also offer a Private Client service. This is generally geared towards high and ultra-high net worth individuals and serves all of their legal needs (for example, personal business interests, investments, wills and estates, among other areas).

    Although the most common method of categorising is, as above, by the type of work being undertaken, some firms use a ‘sector-based’ approach to break down work industry-by-industry. Some of the most common classifications include:
    • Aviation & Aerospace
    • Sports
    • Energy & Natural Resources
    • TMT (Technology, Media and Telecommunications)
    • Life Sciences
    Generally, firms who choose to use a sector-based approach feel that this allows lawyers to become more expert in the nuances of different industries.

    What types of lawyers work in Commercial Law firms?

    Now we’ve considered the types of work that commercial law firms do, let’s look at the types of lawyers that make up a firm. Law is a hierarchical industry, meaning there is a clear chain of seniority from top to bottom. Furthermore, many of the biggest firms use a partnership model, the most common being the LLP (Limited Liability Partnership), although some firms (for example, Slaughter and May), use a traditional partnership model. Either way, this flow chart shows the hierarchy that makes up most firms (starting from the most senior):

    Note: you may have to click to open the attached JPEG image.

    upload_2021-1-11_14-31-34.png

    Note also that some firms have lawyers called ‘Of Counsel’. This is sometimes used to denote senior and experienced lawyers as a ‘parallel’ position to partnership for those who have chosen not to follow that path. Alternatively, it may be a stepping stone to becoming a partner at a particular law firm.

    Groups of Law Firms

    The ‘trend’ towards grouping law firms originated in the early 1990s with legal journalists of the day using the phrase “Magic Circle” to denote a group of five particularly successful and well-respected British law firms. These firms included Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May). The phrase was used to identify them collectively as a group of particularly prestigious and highly profitable firms with the largest revenues, who typically outperformed the rest of the City firms on profitability (although note that this now is no longer the case).

    Another one of the defining characteristics of the Magic Circle firms is the overwhelmingly multijurisdictional work they undertake. Whether by means of their own international offices or by instructing local firms in other jurisdictions where they don’t have office space, Magic Circle firms are very often instructed on legal issues which have global elements.

    In addition to the Magic Circle, there are three other ‘groups’ of firms that we’ll now consider. Note, the firms mentioned below are only a fraction of the number of City firms who take applications for TCs.

    Firstly, the ‘Silver Circle’ is a term coined by The Lawyer. It refers to a less tightly defined group of firms who don’t quite fit into the Magic Circle. But nonetheless, they fit the model of a successful, well-established, prestigious British-based commercial firm with a strong international reach. This is achieved either by establishing overseas offices or by other means, for example, close relationships with international law firms to refer international work.

    Typically, the Silver Circle was considered to be comprised of Travers Smith, Ashurst, BCLP, Macfarlanes, and Herbert Smith Freehills. Note that, although BCLP and Herbert Smith Freehills are still classed as Silver Circle firms, they have both recently completed mergers: Herbert Smith (British) with Freehills (Australian) and Bryan Cave (American) with Berwin Leighton Paisner (British). More recently, in 2017, The Lawyer considered Mishcon de Reya to be a Silver Circle firm.

    Secondly, there are ‘international’ (occasionally ‘international elite’) firms. This phrase is used very informally by legal publications as opposed to the more specific Magic and Silver circles. These are firms which don’t necessary fit the Silver Circle or Magic Circle model but remain substantial international firms with excellent reputations for providing expert legal advice. This bracket is much less clear than even the Silver Circle, but firms might include, for example, Norton Rose Fulbright, Baker McKenzie, Hogan Lovells, Dentons, Simmons & Simmons, DLA Piper, among other firms.

    Finally, American firms are frequently grouped together. Generally, if a publication is talking about an American firm in London, it means a firm headquartered in the USA with a London office. Some of the most well-known American firms in the City include Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, White & Case, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, among other firms.

    On the point of ‘grouping’ firms, there has, in recent years, been an increasing discussion of the continued relevancy of the current ‘classification system’ that has been used to group firms. Indeed, several Magic Circle firms have actually tried to shirk the moniker in the past, arguably with limited success. The main reason for this is that the current ‘system’ is seen as increasingly outmoded, from an era when the London commercial law market was a starkly different place. To that end, in the last few years, we’ve seen a new phrase being used by some legal journalists to describe some of the biggest and most profitable firms in the world - irrespective of their current classification - as the ‘Global Elite’. In practice, this may be seen as a hybrid grouping of the Magic Circle with some of the most profitable American firms.

    How to Join a Commercial Law Firm

    The final part of this article will consider the different means of actually getting a TC, most notably, direct Training Contract Applications and obtaining a Training Contract via a Vacation Scheme.

    Vacation Schemes are typically one to four week work experience programmes, held in the firm’s office building. However, at the time of writing, these Vacation Schemes have turned virtual, due to the consequences of COVID-19. Vacation Schemes are typically open to penultimate and final year students, and graduates. Some firms will have different eligibility criteria, for example, operating some Vacation Schemes for law students and some for those with non-law degree backgrounds. Sometimes, firms will offer a Training Contract or a Training Contract interview after taking part in a Vacation Scheme with them.

    Direct Training Contract applications are, as the title may suggest, applications for a Training Contract without first completing a Vacation Scheme. They are also typically open to penultimate year law undergraduates, as well as students, as well as graduates from all degree disciplines.

    While most firms take on trainees from both Vacation Schemes and direct applications, an increasing number are primarily focussing on Vacation Schemes as the primary means of recruitment – indeed, some firms have even stopped accepting direct Training Contract applications in favour of taking on trainees only via Vacation Schemes (for example, Clyde & Co, Dechert, Herbert Smith Freehills, Jones Day, and Shearman & Sterling, among other firms). The reason for this is fairly simple: firms benefit from an extended assessment as this will be a much, much better indicator of your overall strength as a candidate than a half (or even full)-day Assessment Centre.

    Vacation Schemes also have the benefit of allowing the candidate much more time to get a better feel for how the firm fits them. Speaking from personal experience of Vacation Schemes, this was a massive help to me in deciding where I wanted to train. I felt that the Vacation Schemes I attended let me find out more about nuances to each firm’s training model and also gave me more of an insight as to what life would actually be like there.

    Generally speaking, the assessment processes for Vacation Schemes and Training Contract applications follow a similar pathway. Different firms obviously have nuances; but common features for many firms will include (chronologically):

    Written application
    This might include a CV and cover letter and/or extended written responses to prescribed questions

    Verbal reasoning/ critical thinking and/ or situational judgement test/ gamification assessment
    The most common type of test at this stage is the Watson Glaser test. This is an online timed test which has different categories of questions to test your critical thinking, analytical and evaluative skills. Some firms use a situational judgement test in place of the traditional Watson Glaser test; these usually give the applicant a situation (such as one they might experience as a trainee) and multiple different responses to that situation for them to choose between. A small number of firms have replaced the standard written application with an extended situational judgement test in recent years.

    Telephone or video interview
    As the title suggests, this is an interview which takes place over the phone, or video conference. Some firms use a recorded video instead, where the candidate is given a question and a set time to respond to it, and the recording is then assessed by the firm.

    Assessment centre/ in-person interview
    Before COVID-19 (remember those days?) in-person assessment centres and interviews were generally the next step in the recruitment process – note, however, that these have almost exclusively gone online in the wake of the pandemic. The assessment centre is usually a half or full day at a firm’s offices attending various assessments. Often, there will be three or four exercises, broken up by some form of networking lunch. A typical assessment centre might include, for example:
    • Competency interview
    • Written exercise
    • Case study interview
    • Teamwork task, for example, pitching the firm to a fictitious client or a mock negotiation exercise
    • Usually, some form of welcome/ introductory talk delivered by lawyers and some form of networking lunch, often with trainees
    Some firms have stuck to a more traditional single-interview model rather than a multi-assessment day - often, they will require a second interview before an offer is made – especially for a TC application.​

    That’s all for this week’s Monday Article! Hopefully, this will have helped you gain enough of a foundational knowledge of what commercial firms are, key practice areas, and the application cycle that you will now be able to spread your digital wings and take even more from the vast array of information available elsewhere in the forum!
     

    Daniel Boden

    Legendary Member
    Future Trainee
    Premium Member
    Highest Rated Member
  • Sep 6, 2018
    1,527
    3,799
    Introduction

    Something we’re very proud of at TCLA is the vast breadth and depth of advice that candidates have contributed to the forum. That doesn’t necessarily suit everyone, though – indeed, it can even be somewhat intimidating to those who are new to the world of commercial law. Maybe you’ve heard someone talk about commercial practice at a university society, maybe you’ve heard someone talk about the Magic Circle (but aren’t sure how card tricks and sleight of hand are relevant to a career in law). Maybe you just finished watching Suits and want to be the next Harvey Specter (sorry, it’s not really like that), either way, this resource should hopefully act as a starting point, laying the foundations for you to make better sense of some of the more advanced-level discussion that lies elsewhere in the forum.


    First of all, we’ll consider what commercial law firms actually are, their make-up and what departments and specialisms you’re likely to find in commercial firms’ offices before looking at the different types of lawyers that work within a large corporate firm. Next, we’ll briefly look at groups or classifications of firms and break down some of the jargon associated with them. After that, we will discuss actually getting into a firm, with a look at Training Contracts (TCs) and Vacation Schemes (VSs), what they are, and a broad-brush discussion of application processes.


    What is a commercial law firm?

    Generally, commercial law firms specialise in areas of law relating to companies, as opposed to natural persons (for example a criminal lawyer or family lawyer). Typically, the firms TCLA members are targeting are much larger commercial firms who deal with the biggest companies (for example, household brands such as ASDA, investment banks, or the largest investors). Some of the biggest commercial law firms are known as full-service firms. This means that the single firm aims to serve all the legal needs of the client. Not every firm is full service, though, nor is it necessarily a marker of a ‘better’ or ‘worse’ firm, either. Instead, some firms choose to focus on certain specialist areas and not to offer legal advice on others: the most specialist of these are often known as boutique firms.


    Services offered by commercial firms can generally (and simplistically) be broken into three categories:
    • Transactional: this often involves advising on the sale and purchase of companies or company assets but may also include insolvency and restructuring (note, though, that this type of work can straddle all three categories)
    • Advisory: this could be on an ongoing or issue-by-issue basis where a company seeks general advice on a particular area of law, for example, how a change in law might affect their business. One of the ‘sub-categories’ of advisory law is regulatory advice. Although this is sometimes recognised as its own category of advice by certain firms, we will consider it under advisory law.
    • Contentious: this is where the firm represents their client in a legal dispute with another party.

    Each category of legal advice contains different sub-categories or departments. For a firm to be considered full service, it is highly likely to offer legal advice in many of the following areas (some departments will be listed under more than one category, this is because many departments will carry out work across multiple categories depending on what is required):

    Note: this is a simplistic breakdown and will vary firm to firm in terms of how they classify work within departments.

    Transactional

    o Mergers and Acquisitions (private companies)
    When private companies seek to buy or sell other private companies, or where two or more private companies seek to merge together to become one​

    o Mergers and Acquisitions (public companies)
    As above, but involving companies who are listed on a stock exchange​

    o Finance (for example, project finance, debt facilities or fundraising)
    The legal elements of finance arrangements, for example, securing an overdraft facility with a bank, arranging finance for a specific expansion project, or using a share issue to raise money​

    o Real Estate
    Any issues involving land, buildings, offices, rental agreements etc either as a standalone concern or as part of a larger transaction​

    o Private Equity
    A Private Equity firm is a firm that invests money into business ventures with the hope of growing that business and then selling their interest to realise a profit​

    o Insolvency and Restructuring
    Where a company becomes insolvent, it must take certain steps to ensure its creditors (other people and companies to whom it owes money) are paid. Restructuring may include selling parts of an unprofitable business in the hope of raising enough money to support other parts​

    o Intellectual Property and Technology
    This may include transactional issues concerning intellectual property or technological subject matter (for example, a vaccine or computer software)​

    o Equity capital markets
    The process of a private company becoming listed on a stock exchange or a public company raising a secondary offering​

    Advisory

    o Asset and Investment Management
    The legal obligations of people and companies who manage and invest money or assets on behalf of others​

    o Corporate (general advisory)
    General corporate legal issues. This might include matters of company law, listing rules, shareholder agreements, director’s duties etc.​

    o Employment
    Advising on employment issues, for example, the rights and protections a company must afford to its employees​

    o Pensions and Incentives
    Advising on issues surrounding a company’s obligations to protect the pensions of its employees​

    o Intellectual Property and Technology
    Non-transactional advice on matters relating to intellectual property and technology​

    o Tax
    Advice on tax issues for companies, often advising on how a company may structure itself to remain tax efficient without breaching the law​

    o Competition/Antitrust Law
    Advising on matters relating to competition law and antitrust (such as preventing abuse by monopolies), for example, where two companies might be prohibited from merging due to the newly formed company becoming anti-competitive​

    o Data Protection
    Advising companies on their obligations under data protection laws
    o Environmental Law
    Advising on companies’ obligations on environmental protection in the course of carrying on business (for example, oil companies’ obligations to prevent pollution of the ocean in off-shore oil rigs)​

    o Financial Services and Markets
    Advice concerning the provision of services which are regulated financial services (for example banking, offering credit, or investment management)​

    o Corporate Governance
    Legal obligations on companies to ensure their proper management and direction​

    o Trade Risk
    Advising on the legal elements of general risks (e.g., risk of incurring loss or liability) in the course of trading​

    o Banking
    Generally, focussing on the contractual relationships between creditors and debtors outside of transactional issues​

    Contentious

    o Disputes
    A catch-all for disputes which may not fall under any other department. This may include claims made by a client against a third party and vice versa​

    o Employment Disputes
    Disputes raised by current or ex-employees of a company relating to their employment​

    o Financial Services/Markets Disputes
    Disputes concerning regulated financial services or obligations of people and firms who are regulated to carry out specific financial services (for example, if an investment management company is accused of breaching their duties to investors)​

    o Intellectual Property Disputes
    Disputes concerning intellectual property (for example, a disgruntled ex-employee alleging they actually have intellectual property ownership over something that a company has developed)​

    o Competition Disputes
    Disputes relating to competition law. This could be, for example, after a competition authority has attempted to block or challenge a merger or acquisition​

    o Pensions Disputes
    Disputes relating to pension funds​

    o Business Crime and Investigations
    When a company has been accused of committing a business crime (for example, corporate fraud) or is being investigated for civil proceedings by an external authority
    Some firms also offer a Private Client service. This is generally geared towards high and ultra-high net worth individuals and serves all of their legal needs (for example, personal business interests, investments, wills and estates, among other areas).


    Although the most common method of categorising is, as above, by the type of work being undertaken, some firms use a ‘sector-based’ approach to break down work industry-by-industry. Some of the most common classifications include:

    - Aviation & Aerospace

    - Sports

    - Energy & Natural Resources

    - TMT (Technology, Media and Telecommunications)

    - Life Sciences


    Generally, firms who choose to use a sector-based approach feel that this allows lawyers to become more expert in the nuances of different industries.


    What types of lawyers work in Commercial Law firms?

    Now we’ve considered the types of work that commercial law firms do, let’s look at the types of lawyers that make up a firm. Law is a hierarchical industry, meaning there is a clear chain of seniority from top to bottom. Furthermore, many of the biggest firms use a partnership model, the most common being the LLP (Limited Liability Partnership), although some firms (for example, Slaughter and May), use a traditional partnership model. Either way, this flow chart shows the hierarchy that makes up most firms (starting from the most senior):

    Note: you may have to click to open the attached JPEG image.

    View attachment 2519

    Note also that some firms have lawyers called ‘Of Counsel’. This is sometimes used to denote senior and experienced lawyers as a ‘parallel’ position to partnership for those who have chosen not to follow that path. Alternatively, it may be a stepping stone to becoming a partner at a particular law firm.


    Groups of Law Firms

    The ‘trend’ towards grouping law firms originated in the early 1990s with legal journalists of the day using the phrase “Magic Circle” to denote a group of five particularly successful and well-respected British law firms. These firms included Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May). The phrase was used to identify them collectively as a group of particularly prestigious and highly profitable firms with the largest revenues, who typically outperformed the rest of the City firms on profitability (although note that this now is no longer the case).

    Another one of the defining characteristics of the Magic Circle firms is the overwhelmingly multijurisdictional work they undertake. Whether by means of their own international offices or by instructing local firms in other jurisdictions where they don’t have office space, Magic Circle firms are very often instructed on legal issues which have global elements.

    In addition to the Magic Circle, there are three other ‘groups’ of firms that we’ll now consider. Note, the firms mentioned below are only a fraction of the number of City firms who take applications for TCs.

    Firstly, the ‘Silver Circle’ is a term coined by The Lawyer. It refers to a less tightly defined group of firms who don’t quite fit into the Magic Circle. But nonetheless, they fit the model of a successful, well-established, prestigious British-based commercial firm with a strong international reach. This is achieved either by establishing overseas offices or by other means, for example, close relationships with international law firms to refer international work.

    Typically, the Silver Circle was considered to be comprised of Travers Smith, Ashurst, BCLP, Macfarlanes, and Herbert Smith Freehills. Note that, although BCLP and Herbert Smith Freehills are still classed as Silver Circle firms, they have both recently completed mergers: Herbert Smith (British) with Freehills (Australian) and Bryan Cave (American) with Berwin Leighton Paisner (British). More recently, in 2017, The Lawyer considered Mishcon de Reya to be a Silver Circle firm.

    Secondly, there are ‘international’ (occasionally ‘international elite’) firms. This phrase is used very informally by legal publications as opposed to the more specific Magic and Silver circles. These are firms which don’t necessary fit the Silver Circle or Magic Circle model but remain substantial international firms with excellent reputations for providing expert legal advice. This bracket is much less clear than even the Silver Circle, but firms might include, for example, Norton Rose Fulbright, Baker McKenzie, Hogan Lovells, Dentons, Simmons & Simmons, DLA Piper, among other firms.

    Finally, American firms are frequently grouped together. Generally, if a publication is talking about an American firm in London, it means a firm headquartered in the USA with a London office. Some of the most well-known American firms in the City include Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, White & Case, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, and Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, among other firms.

    On the point of ‘grouping’ firms, there has, in recent years, been an increasing discussion of the continued relevancy of the current ‘classification system’ that has been used to group firms. Indeed, several Magic Circle firms have actually tried to shirk the moniker in the past, arguably with limited success. The main reason for this is that the current ‘system’ is seen as increasingly outmoded, from an era when the London commercial law market was a starkly different place. To that end, in the last few years, we’ve seen a new phrase being used by some legal journalists to describe some of the biggest and most profitable firms in the world - irrespective of their current classification - as the ‘Global Elite’. In practice, this may be seen as a hybrid grouping of the Magic Circle with some of the most profitable American firms.


    How to Join a Commercial Law Firm

    The final part of this article will consider the different means of actually getting a TC, most notably, direct Training Contract Applications and obtaining a Training Contract via a Vacation Scheme.

    Vacation Schemes are typically one to four week work experience programmes, held in the firm’s office building. However, at the time of writing, these Vacation Schemes have turned virtual, due to the consequences of COVID-19. Vacation Schemes are typically open to penultimate and final year students, and graduates. Some firms will have different eligibility criteria, for example, operating some Vacation Schemes for law students and some for those with non-law degree backgrounds. Sometimes, firms will offer a Training Contract or a Training Contract interview after taking part in a Vacation Scheme with them.

    Direct Training Contract applications are, as the title may suggest, applications for a Training Contract without first completing a Vacation Scheme. They are also typically open to penultimate year law undergraduates, as well as students, as well as graduates from all degree disciplines.

    While most firms take on trainees from both Vacation Schemes and direct applications, an increasing number are primarily focussing on Vacation Schemes as the primary means of recruitment – indeed, some firms have even stopped accepting direct Training Contract applications in favour of taking on trainees only via Vacation Schemes (for example, Clyde & Co, Dechert, Herbert Smith Freehills, Jones Day, and Shearman & Sterling, among other firms). The reason for this is fairly simple: firms benefit from an extended assessment as this will be a much, much better indicator of your overall strength as a candidate than a half (or even full)-day Assessment Centre.

    Vacation Schemes also have the benefit of allowing the candidate much more time to get a better feel for how the firm fits them. Speaking from personal experience of Vacation Schemes, this was a massive help to me in deciding where I wanted to train. I felt that the Vacation Schemes I attended let me find out more about nuances to each firm’s training model and also gave me more of an insight as to what life would actually be like there.

    Generally speaking, the assessment processes for Vacation Schemes and Training Contract applications follow a similar pathway. Different firms obviously have nuances; but common features for many firms will include (chronologically):

    - Written application
    This might include a CV and cover letter and/or extended written responses to prescribed questions​

    - Verbal reasoning/ critical thinking and/ or situational judgement test/ gamification assessment
    The most common type of test at this stage is the Watson Glaser test. This is an online timed test which has different categories of questions to test your critical thinking, analytical and evaluative skills. Some firms use a situational judgement test in place of the traditional Watson Glaser test; these usually give the applicant a situation (such as one they might experience as a trainee) and multiple different responses to that situation for them to choose between. A small number of firms have replaced the standard written application with an extended situational judgement test in recent years.​

    - Telephone or video interview
    As the title suggests, this is an interview which takes place over the phone, or video conference. Some firms use a recorded video instead, where the candidate is given a question and a set time to respond to it, and the recording is then assessed by the firm.​

    - Assessment centre/ in-person interview
    Before COVID-19 (remember those days?) in-person assessment centres and interviews were generally the next step in the recruitment process – note, however, that these have almost exclusively gone online in the wake of the pandemic. The assessment centre is usually a half or full day at a firm’s offices attending various assessments. Often, there will be three or four exercises, broken up by some form of networking lunch. A typical assessment centre might include, for example:
    - Competency interview
    - Written exercise
    - Case study interview
    - Teamwork task, for example, pitching the firm to a fictitious client or a mock negotiation exercise
    - Usually, some form of welcome/ introductory talk delivered by lawyers and some form of networking lunch, often with trainees​
    Some firms have stuck to a more traditional single-interview model rather than a multi-assessment day - often, they will require a second interview before an offer is made – especially for a TC application.​

    That’s all for this week’s Monday Article! Hopefully, this will have helped you gain enough of a foundational knowledge of what commercial firms are, key practice areas, and the application cycle that you will now be able to spread your digital wings and take even more from the vast array of information available elsewhere in the forum!
    This is a brilliant idea guys! No doubt this will help so many people - great work! :D
     

    Jacob Miller

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    Hey, @Jacob Miller I just had a small doubt. I've heard that giving legal opinions is one of the main roles of a commercial lawyer, so would that be only in the "Advisory practise", or is giving legal opinions a task which is common to all the fields be it "Advisory", "Transactional" or "Contentious".

    Thank You.
    Hi @futuretraineesolicitor

    Not quite sure what you mean here by 'small doubt'- in terms of giving legal opinions, though, this is a very wide umbrella term and could be relevant to almost every practice area asked for their opinion on a given issue that they specialise in.

    For example, a transactional department could be asked to complete due diligence and give their opinion on the legal risk associated with a potential acquisition target; an advisory department could be asked to give a legal opinion on the impact of a new regulatory change on a client's current business practices; a litigation department could be asked to give a legal opinion on whether they feel a claim made against a client is with or without merit.
     
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    Sim96

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    @Jacob Miller you've helped so many people through this post, thank you!

    We're always asked at ACs - What type of practice areas do you think will be involved in this sort of deal / story. What are good sources to prepare for this question?

    [I read the TLCA newsletters and they mention what practice area will be involved, but they don't always explain why.]
     
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    Jacob Miller

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    @Jacob Miller you've helped so many people through this post, thank you!

    We're always asked at ACs - What type of practice areas do you think will be involved in this sort of deal / story. What are good sources to prepare for this question?

    [I read the TLCA newsletters and they mention what practice area will be involved, but they don't always explain why.]
    Hi, glad you like the post! I think my other article on case studies might help here, have a look specifically at the mind maps and tables: https://www.thecorporatelawacademy....firm-case-studies-monday-article-series.3232/
     

    Sim96

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    Sim96

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    Not particularly, to be honest. All the knowledge I've included in the articles is stuff I've developed through trial and error :)
    Thank you for being so prompt!


    I have read all the relevant posts on this subject, but could I get your broad guidance on the Freshfield's article interview:
    1) Is there a likelihood of articles on specific topics (specific political issues / M&A deals etc.) being asked. Because it could be any article – how to ensure that you’re covering all bases.[I read the FT]
    2) I understand that you’re questioned on key concepts in the article [Franchise, Angel investor etc.] Is there a 1/2 main source to the basic concepts that we must absolutely cover? [I am reading Chris Stoakes'"commerical awareness"]
     

    Jacob Miller

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    Thank you for being so prompt!


    I have read all the relevant posts on this subject, but could I get your broad guidance on the Freshfield's article interview:
    1) Is there a likelihood of articles on specific topics (specific political issues / M&A deals etc.) being asked. Because it could be any article – how to ensure that you’re covering all bases.[I read the FT]
    2) I understand that you’re questioned on key concepts in the article [Franchise, Angel investor etc.] Is there a 1/2 main source to the basic concepts that we must absolutely cover? [I am reading Chris Stoakes'"commerical awareness"]
    I've never applied to/ interviewed with Freshies so I really can't comment in particular. Probably more @Alice G's domain!

    Suffice to say, in your research I would just choose an article which has a lot of wider repercussions/ relevance to a wide variety of practice areas and commercial issues. Choose something sufficiently complex that there is a wide variety of things to discuss and angles to take. In re question 2, I really don't know what you're likely to be asked about but I would 110% advise being completely comfortable with all the core concepts and issues at hand. Hope this helps!
     
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    Jacob Miller

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    Sim96

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    I've never applied to/ interviewed with Freshies so I really can't comment in particular. Probably more @Alice G's domain!

    Suffice to say, in your research I would just choose an article which has a lot of wider repercussions/ relevance to a wide variety of practice areas and commercial issues. Choose something sufficiently complex that there is a wide variety of things to discuss and angles to take. In re question 2, I really don't know what you're likely to be asked about but I would 110% advise being completely comfortable with all the core concepts and issues at hand. Hope this helps!
    Thank you for helping out Jacob. As you suggested, will also wait for Alice.
     
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    futuretraineesolicitor

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    Hi @Jacob Miller . Hope you are doing well. My doubt is regarding the "Disputes" practice area. I wanted to ask you, when firms say that a seat in disputes is compulsory during your TC, does the trainee get to choose the kind of disputes that he would work on, or is the disputes team assigned work randomly? Basically, are there clear sub-divisions in the disputes teams like the way that you have mentioned in the article?

    Thank You.
     

    Jacob Miller

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    Hi @Jacob Miller . Hope you are doing well. My doubt is regarding the "Disputes" practice area. I wanted to ask you, when firms say that a seat in disputes is compulsory during your TC, does the trainee get to choose the kind of disputes that he would work on, or is the disputes team assigned work randomly? Basically, are there clear sub-divisions in the disputes teams like the way that you have mentioned in the article?

    Thank You.
    This well depend a lot on the firm; both in terms of how they divide up disputes sub-teams, how they allocate trainees and also how they permit trainees to qualify :)