Life in a law firm

Life in a law firmYou should by now be a lot more familiar with the UK legal market and the fact that law firms come in all different shapes and sizes. And you should know that working as a commercial lawyer does not mean you have to be based in London the likes of Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle also have their own legal communities.

There are many different types of lawyer, specialising in work ranging from advising clients on multimillion-pound mergers to acting for a newspaper that is being sued for libel.

Nevertheless, choosing between magic circle, national and US firms is no easy task. For instance, training at a magic circle firm will give you kudos, but you will probably find yourself working longer hours than your mates working down the road at a midsize City firm. You are also likely to get more responsibility at an earlier stage in your career if you train with a smaller firm. Smaller firms also take on fewer trainees this may prove advantageous because you will not feel like a small fish in a big pond. Conversely, you might find it more appealing to be part of a bigger graduate intake as it can be more sociable.

Equally, to know how life as, say, an employment lawyer will compare with that in another field whether it be private client, banking or even family is also very difficult. Therefore, we asked a merry band of trainee solicitors from across the legal world to give us the inside track on what life is really like in a law firm.

So, although you might be sure about becoming a solicitor, you will need to find out is which practice area is best suited to you. Will it be hardcore corporate, crime, litigation or family? The choice is yours.

However, you should be aware that, once you specialise in a practice area, it is incredibly difficult to change. But do not worry, you will have plenty of time to decide which practice area is the one for you.

Name: Anuj Prabhu-Desai
University: University of Bristol
Degree: Economics & Economic History
A-levels: Chemistry, Maths, Economics
Hobbies: Breakdancing, rambling, billiards
Law firm: Olswang

I decided to study for the GDL after working in advertising for a couple of years. My reasons were greatly influenced by the commercial experience I had gained and the advice I had received from my contemporaries, family and friends. Having graduated with a 2:2 due to family illness, I was fully aware of how difficult it would be to secure a good training contract, but this in fact helped me to focus more on exactly what type of firm I wanted to train at.

I knew that I was fully capable of being a successful lawyer and so I was looking for a firm that would appreciate what else I had achieved, rather than using my 2:2 as an excuse to throw my application in the bin. Olswang is that very firm.

At interview I was able to talk about how well I had done at A-level, the GDL and LPC, as well as the vast in-house experience that I had accumulated, while being able to acknowledge where I had gone wrong. This more human approach has been very evident during my time at the firm, dispelling the myth that all City institutions are impersonal and cold.
Although Olswang is described as midsize, it is still very large and daunting for a newcomer (500-plus staff), but it genuinely feels that you are working for colleagues rather than bosses. After speaking to various people I knew that I never wanted to work for one of the giants because of the lack of focus on you as an individual. However, I also knew that I did not want to work for a small firm because of the lack of resources and quality of work.

For me Olswang has been the perfect balance, where you get to work closely with extremely talented lawyers, from paralegals to partners, and enjoy the resources that an ambitious City firm can offer.

I am currently coming to the end of my second seat on secondment at the BBC. My first seat was in banking and finance and my next seat will be in film and television. I worked as a paralegal in the film and television group at the firm before starting my training contract. I know that, returning to the department with all that I have learnt, I will have a lot more to offer.

Name: Donny Surtani
University: London School of Economics
Degree: Law
A-levels: Maths, Further Maths, Physics
Hobbies: Writing, theatre, amateur politics
Law firm: Herbert Smith

I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer just as I was finishing my A-levels in Sri Lanka. A career in law promised to pose intellectual challenges with a human element and required responsibility and reliability. I also realised I rather liked making arguments.

In September 2004 I joined Herbert Smith, a firm offering excellent prospects in both litigation and transactional practice areas. Having sat in real estate, corporate and litigation, I found it was litigation that suited me best.

So when an opportunity arose for a trainee to spend three months as a judicial assistant in the High Court, I grabbed it gratefully. While at court I worked for two judges and saw two trials from start to finish. The chance to witness top-quality barristers in action and then to sit with the judge in his chambers and hear his views on the days events was an invaluable insight into how things look from the other side of the bench.

I am spending my final six months as a trainee in the advocacy unit and have got to do some of the sharp end of litigation the preparation for trial. I hope that my skills in analysing the law and presenting arguments (both written and oral) have improved while I have been here, by osmosis if nothing else.

Working in the City means that you are surrounded by top professionals in various fields, but also that you are next door to some of the most underprivileged neighbourhoods in London. The firm recognises this and runs a broad range of community programmes, and all staff are encouraged to participate. I have been involved in a legal advice centre, volunteered at the local primary school and represented dismissed employees in bringing tribunal claims against their former employers. It has been very satisfying and I look forward to carrying on after I qualify.

Name: Kimberleigh Scott
University: University of Leeds
Degree: BA Economics and Management
A-levels: Economics, Chemistry, Maths, AS Further Maths
Hobbies: Music, gym, travel
Law firm: Weil Gotshal & Manges

I always knew I wanted to be involved in business and work in the City and, after doing work experience with banks, accountancy firms and law firms, I knew that a career in law was right for me. After graduating from Leeds University in 2003 I began my legal career by moving down to London and spending two years at BPP Law School.

When I was applying for training contracts I looked at all kinds of firms and chose Weil Gotshal & Manges because it is a leading New York-based law firm with top-quality work. In the London office a trainee has exposure to high-quality work and receives a level of responsibility at an earlier stage that you are likely to get at other City firms. The fact that the firm only recruits a maximum of 12 trainees a year also makes you feel like more than just a number, and the opportunity to spend six months in the New York or Silicon Valley office was another appealing factor.

One of the best things about the firm is the people. Everyone is friendly and interesting, but most importantly they are more than willing to take the time to explain the importance and relevance of the work you are doing and really make you feel like a valuable part of the team.

Many US firms have a reputation for making you work long hours and, although I have had to work some very long days, my hours have definitely been no worse than those of friends of mine working at other City firms. As well as this, Weil encourages you to make the most of quiet periods and does not expect you to create work and stay in the office if you are not needed.

Since joining the firm in March 2006 I have been given a broad range of challenging and interesting work, and I have learnt an incredible amount in only six months. I am coming to the end of my first seat in the securitisation department and am looking forward to the challenges that the corporate department will present. Working at Weil is not for everyone. It can be a challenge, but if you have the right attitude then there is a great opportunity to make a real impact.

Name: Ellie Griffin
University: University of Exeter
Degree: BA Economics and Management
A-levels: English, Psychology, Sociology
Hobbies: Travel, theatre, cooking
Law firm: Berwin Leighton Paisner

Law is an integral part of business and being a City lawyer means you are involved in some of the most exciting and important aspects of the business community. I decided to become a City lawyer because I wanted to work on high-profile deals for interesting clients reading about a deal you are working on in the Financial Times definitely makes your day more interesting. Training in a City firm also offers exposure to a breadth of practice and a wide range of career opportunities.

I chose Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) because of its ambition and focus for the future. When I applied the firm had recently completed a hugely successful merger and expanded in all practice areas. Most importantly, I was impressed by how friendly and approachable everyone was. Having now spent a year at the firm I can honestly say there is a real open-door policy and people are genuinely down-to-earth.

My first seat was in the commercial property department, where I had a high level of responsibility and ran my own files. I had daily contact with other professionals and a good deal of client contact. While in the department I also had the opportunity to work on larger commercial projects such as the new Wood Wharf site, which is tipped to be the next Canary Wharf.

I chose corporate finance for my second seat. The work has been both interesting and challenging and I have had the opportunity to draft many of the key documents on the deals I have been involved in. I have also had a great deal of client contact, from attending meetings by myself to participating in a client croquet tournament. And although my croquet needs a bit of work, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the seat.

My first year at BLP has proved to be challenging, rewarding and exciting and I am looking forward to all the opportunities of the next year.