Identifying areas of law that interest you and combining that with your checklist of potential firms is a crucial decision. While over 60% of lawyers move firms after four years, it becomes increasingly harder to switch specialities after qualifying. This stands to reason: the more PQE you have under your belt, gaining subject matter expertise, then the chances of changing your practice area are greatly reduced.
Although one of the critical purposes of training seats is to obtain practical exposure, and your suitability, to different practice areas, if you are attracted by a certain industry sector – technology, finance, retail – it makes sense to focus on areas that excite you early on.
Perhaps think about which areas are likely to be in demand upon qualification and tailor your search accordingly – we regularly speak to NQs who are intentionally trying to build experience to stay ahead of the curve – for example technology remains on a growth trajectory, and there may be an increase in insolvency work and less demand for corporate M&A lawyers in the event of an economic downturn.
What type of law firm?
There are more than 10,500 law firms in England and Wales – so where do I start?
City law firms: If you are looking for kudos of training, exposure to international clients, emphasis on complex, quality work with a commercial bias, then you will probably be attracted to a City firm. In reality, the level of exposure that a trainee will have largely depends on the particular firm and size of each intake. You then have sub-categories to consider – from Magic / Silver Circle, global and international law firms, and US firms based in London.
National / Regional firms: These tend to offer the same type of work as City firms, but as they are more provincial on workload, many trainees find greater life balance. National and Regional law firms vary, some focus on certain practice areas, while others concentrate on specific geographical markets.
High street firms: A more generalist approach applies with this type of law firm, and a trainee would tend to qualify into a broader specialism – for example – commercial and residential property, or dispute resolution that spans civil and employment litigation. These firms are usually smaller, with a more localised client base.
What matters to you?
Broadly speaking, where do you feel you will be most suited? Do you lean towards commercial work where you represent corporates and organisations, or do you think that your calling is to help individuals with crises or legal issues in family or private client work?
Research, research, research!
For practical research purposes, Legal 500 and Chambers are solid starting points, with legal press providing detailed insight including The Lawyer, Legal Week and the Law Society Gazette. Scrutinise individual firm websites. Check your academics and background stack up with their minimum requirements.
When you have narrowed down your search, start following firm strategies, notable deals and case highlights. In addition to acquiring a broader knowledge of the firm’s work, your research will also provide valuable information on its culture and work practices – and essentially whether you would fit in!
Diligent firm research helps later down the line at interview stage – but do make sure to extend your research beyond the remits of the firm’s site itself – and speaking from personal experience, there is nothing worse than listening to regurgitated content that has been written by your interviewer!
Build your commercial awareness about a firm – track their presence within the national and international press, the business community and social media platforms. Make a note of firm deadlines for open days, vac schemes and training contracts and plan (and remember, application forms always take much longer than you think!) And finally, get as much work experience as you can.
If you would like to talk through options and some career coaching on the best sectors and firms for you, please give City CV a call regarding our specialist legal career coaching and legal graduate programmes. We have extensive knowledge across the graduate legal job market.