The direction of your entire life is influenced by a few, seemingly insignificant, decisions you make in the your 20s. One of which is the place you choose to work.
For those of you looking to pursue a career in law, the plan would be to find your dream law firm. That could be a swanky, inner city law firm specialising in commercial law. Or, perhaps, a smaller, boutique law firm specialising in family law. Either way, you need to find what works well for you.
So, in this article I will lay out the 4 key consideration that you need to think about as a wannabe solicitor.
Your first choice is to decide whether you want to work in the city or at a regional law firm.
Large city law firms (such as Linklaters, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, etc.) are often seen as the glamorous choice for law students. As a trainee at these law firms you will not only receive an impressive salary, but you'll have the opportunity to immerse yourself in the exciting lifestyle that the city offers.
From a work perspective, working in a city law firm is a challenge. Often you will have to work well beyond the 9 to 5 to wrap your head around tricky issues and finalise cases. But, such work is often diverse and rewarding. In particular, dealing with multi-million pound mergers and assisting blue-chip clients with stuff that will be on the front-page of tomorrow's newspaper is always exciting.
Regional law firms, on the other hand, are perfect for those individuals who don't thrive on the pressure of tight deadlines or become energised by helping huge companies with their legal problems. Solicitor in these firms will typically be given greater responsibility and offer a more relaxed work-life balance, which is ideal if you want to get involved in other non-legal interests.
However, the major downside is that you are going to be working on significantly lower value work. If your interest is in family law, for example, where the work is more personal, this shouldn't be too much of a problem. But, if you're looking to make lots of money advising clients in cutting-edge deals, you're most likely to going find that as a solicitor on your local high street.
All law firms specialise in different areas. And you should seek to work in a law firm whose interests are closely matched with your own. This is really all about understanding what you want from your career and what you would be happy spending the rest of your life doing.
If you've never really been interested in business, don't feel pressured to pursue a commercial law. Sit down and actually think about what works for you. Perhaps it would be better to settle for a slightly lower salary doing something you love, rather than pursuing an extremely well-paid legal career in something that you're going to ultimately regret. Find what makes you tick.
As a side note, be wary of those firms that they are ‘full service’ but actually heavily specialise in a particular area, as this could be an important differentiating factor in your application. For example, Slaughter and May market themselves as ‘full service’ but they are, in fact, specialists in banking and finance law.
In other words, you don't want to apply to a law firm in the misguided belief that your work is going to be incredibly diverse, when the truth is quite the opposite. So spend time peeling back the marketing gloss to reveal what each law firm really does.
This is something that most people who are applying for a career in law don't think about nearly enough. At the end of the day, you're applying to become a trainee solicitor (note the emphasis), so you're going to want to work for a law firm where the training is high quality.
The 'wrong' law firms will likely see you as their resident photocopier, and you will spend the majority of your life doing mindless tasks. The 'best' law firms are those that are comfortable with giving you early responsibility running your own work-streams within different transaction, allow you to be a first point of contact for a client, and ask you to review agreements.
In addition, law firms with high quality training will have a formalised approach to the way that they help you learn and grow as a lawyer. Hogan Lovells, for example, have a dedicated Trainee Development Team helping you to build your legal expertise with a wealth of resources and courses throughout your training contract
Finally, try to find information about the firm’s culture.
Some of the questions you need to consider are: What sort of people do you want to work with? Is office life hierarchical or does everyone seem to get along? What's the general atmosphere like? What is the diversity of the legal staff, and does the number of partners that are female or from an ethnic minority background matter to you?
Also take a look at the firm’s ‘core values’ and think about its reputation. Does this all align with your own personal values and is it a firm that you would want to be associated with?
I've found that the best way to answer this question is to speak directly with trainee solicitors (i.e. the people who are doing exactly what you're going to be doing). Not legal partners or HR. The reason is that trainees are far less likely to be bias and will talk openly about their experiences. If there is something about the company that they don't like, they won't be afraid to say it. And it is these conversations that helps you to discover the true company culture.
Identifying the right law firm for you shouldn't be rushed. Ultimately, they are the ones that are going to train you and define who you are as a lawyer. Poor training and a toxic culture in your formative years a solicitor could do significant lasting damage. By simply spending a little time looking into these 4 key areas you're presenting yourself with the best chance of finding the law firm of your dreams.