Offices of the law

When choosing which firms to apply to upon qualification, location and the facilities on offer there will be key to your decision. Gemma Charles goes through the keyhole


At times it must seem like it will never happen. But after years of slogging your way through university and law school you finally get to ply your trade in the legal profession. Say goodbye to student digs, holey jeans and scrimping, and hello to flash pads, sharp suits and well paying off loans.

But there is more to life than work, work, work (although at certain firms this may not be the case), and any wannabe lawyer who can afford to be picky should think hard about where they choose to start their career in the legal profession.

Will it be the bright lights of London, or the relaxed vibe of Bristol? If you like the idea of London, do you fancy a view of the Thames from a tower in Canary Wharf, or do you dream of working for a firm smack bang in the heart of the City itself?

Capital idea

London needs no introduction. It is the financial capital of the UK and arguably Europe. In fact, some even go so far as to argue that London is the trading capital of the world. It is also one of the worlds most cosmopolitan cities, with a wide range of nightlife, restaurants, culture and history. And with the vast majority of top-flight law firms based there, it is where most law students looking to pursue a career in commercial law will end up.

Allen & Overy (A&O) third seat trainee Alan Stewart says he planned to work in London before he had even decided what firms to apply to. Explaining his decision, he says: Being from Northern Ireland, I didnt have any ties to anywhere in England. I thought that if I was going to work anywhere it might as well be London.

Being in the capital has met his expectations and he is even unmoved by the expense of London living. You hear horror stories, but I wasnt really that shocked, he says. Weve got season ticket loans here, so that helps spread the cost. I do really like the fact that theres so much going on, that whatever your tastes are you can find something to suit you, whether its going to concerts, going out for a meal or clubbing.

Even though most sizeable Central London commercial law firms are generally referred to as City firms, they are in the main situated in four areas, defined by property types as the City, Midtown, the West End and Canary Wharf.

The City is home to magic circle firms such as A&O, and Linklaters, as well as a number of medium-sized ones such as Addleshaw Goddard and Clyde & Co. It is an area steeped in history and its status as a trading centre has been in place since Roman times. Old mixes with new, so imposing glass and steel structures such as the Swiss Re Building otherwise known as the Gherkin look down onto winding streets and oddly-named alleyways straight out of the middle ages.

Chris Vydra, the senior director at real estate company CB Richard Ellis, comments: What a lot of the UK law firms have done is locate around the periphery of the City, near the Barbican. Theres a lot of firms around there because they still want to be in striking distance of the City, but they dont want to pay more than anyone else, either now or at future rent reviews.

Bordering the City is Midtown, largely comprised of Holborn. It is the spiritual home of the legal profession and it is where the Inns of Court the home of the bar and the Royal Courts of Justice are situated. Nabarro Nathanson, Olswang (in its ultra-modern curved sail office) and SJ Berwin live there too. It may be the place for legal eagles, but shopaholics take note. As one Midtown law firm employee confides: Its not too good for shopping around here I have to go to Ox-ford Street to buy suits.

But Oxford Street is only down the road in the West End, boasting world-famous shopping areas and the delights of Soho, which are both seedy and bohem-ian in equal measure. This is also the location of the upmarket Mayfair area, and a stroll around here reveals why it is the most expensive place on the Monopoly board.

The West End is the domain of smaller and specialist firms particularly in media such as Fladgate Fielder, Harbottle & Lewis and Schillings.

For years the legal profession has congregated in Central London, but now Canary Wharf in the Dock-lands is muscling in and has lured the biggest firm of them all, Clifford Chance, to its East London shores.

New buildings are springing up quickly, but the area still has an unfinished feeling to it and cranes vie for space on the skyline with the towers.

Vydra predicts an exodus of firms to the east. The traffic from the City to Canary Wharf is one-way. People are moving to Canary Wharf and no one is moving the other way, he says.

Those of you plumping for US firms could find yourself working in Canary Wharf in years to come. Vydra says that the growing number of US firms setting up London offices feel comfortable there.

American law firms look for more prestigious premises and slightly larger partner offices, the reason being that they expect their employees to work longer hours, and are happy to secure an environment to pay for this, says Vydra. Theres also more of a tendency to look for tower space to match the quality and image in London with their offices in the States.

Not one to do things by halves, the Clifford Chance building leaves rival firms premises for dust. As the table shows, about the only thing the office lacks is a bar serving alcohol. Whether there is a need for one is questionable, because although it lacks genuine pubs of the sort typically found in the City and Midtown, Canary Wharf has a vast array of posh chain bars such All Bar One and Pitcher & Piano tucked in between the towers. There is also a shopping centre under 1 Canada Square still the tallest building in the UK and a second around the corner from the impressive Tube station.

Gun for Brum

But there is life outside the

capital, with regional cities such as Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds and Manchester all having thriving legal centres and which all come with their own plus points.

Kelly Chapman, a second year trainee on her third seat at Birmingham-based Wragge & Co, goes so far as to describe the Midlands capital as her favourite place in the world.

Partly, I would have chosen Wragges wherever it was, but for me it was a massive advantage that it wasnt in London, she says. I like the whole city life thing, but I much prefer it somewhere like here, where it doesnt take you hours to get around.

Chapman shares a new flat in the city centre, just round the corner from Wragges and within easy reach of the bars, restaurants and clubs.

If I ever have to do a late night at work I can be home in five minutes, she says.

Give Brum a go, is Chapmans message. Its got this bad reputation from the 80s, but theres been huge redevelopment and loads of new restaurants and apartments have been built. Everyone who comes to visit me is surprised at how nice it is here.

Country living

If the idea of having easy access to the countryside appeals, then Bristol could be the city for you.

Lilly Adey, a second year trainee on her fourth seat at Burges Salmon, says choosing between whether to work for a regional firm or a London one is one of the most important decisions a student will make. She recommends vocational placements to test the water. Adey secured placements in London and Bristol and realised that a life in the South West was for her.

I enjoyed my scheme in London but it makes such a difference being able to walk in and not get the Tube. In Bristol it was much more friendly and I just felt a lot more involved in Bristol than I did in London.

So choose wisely and choose well. The world of work is a great place, but it helps no end if you like the part of the world you are working in.

Firms London office facilities

It is somewhere you can eat, sleep, drink, pray and maybe even swim. This might sound like an ad for a posh hotel chain, but it is actually where you might end up working.

Clifford Chances much-hyped move to its 10 Upper Bank Street office in Canary Wharf upped the ante in terms of law firm offices. But the survey shows that if you can secure a training contract at any of the top firms, there will always be quite a few added extras.

Does wearing sandals fill you with dread because of the state of your feet? If so, then think about Allen & Overy (A&O), where the services of a podiatrist are on offer. Or if your pearly whites are lacking lustre, try Lovells, where an onsite dentist is available in its London office. With many firms offering sleeping rooms, is there any reason to ever leave the premises?

Lawyers at medium-sized firms must shock, horror step outside their building for benefits. Richards Butler business development manager Christopher Bane explains that, for firms of this size, it is not possible to offer facilities such as onsite gyms, but like many firms in its position it offers gym membership. People do ask about that, but for the size of firm we are, we could never offer it in the building.

But Richards Butler is experimenting with new ways of working and, as part of the ongoing renovation to its City-based premises, it has moved partially to open-plan offices. Even the managing partner eschewed the traditional status symbol of an office and now sits among the masses. It hasnt been favourably received

by all, but the vast majority of staff are in favour, insists Bane.

Ian Ruperti, marketing director of Ibex Interiors, says it is an exciting time in terms of innovation in offices. Theres a number of law firms who weve fitted out where the design has been less than traditional. Some have moved from being fairly fusty, with little offices and polished wooden desks, to updated modern premises and furniture.

A&O partner Andrew Clark is mulling over the merits of open-plan, the best colour scheme to have in a lift and such. He is one of the partners leading the firms 2006 move from One New Change to its new premises in Bishopsgate. It is a mammoth task that the firm has been planning since the late 1990s. In the beginning, says Clark, the process started with testing assumptions, such as where to locate and whether to have everyone in one office. The committee decided on keeping its headquarters in the City, but establishing a base in Canary Wharf, which is already up and running.

Over the next few months, decisions will be taken on what kind of facilities to have in the Bishopsgate building, which is designed by high-profile architect firm Foster and Partners. Almost uniquely in the City, the new office has spacious outdoor terrace space and staff have suggested weird and wonderful ideas on how to use it, including a driving range and a running track.

Clark says that nothing has been ruled out. We want our people to feel the new building is something they can really share in and belongs to them, he says.


Eversheds

Restaurant/canteen

Travel agent

Private dining

facilities

DLA

Concierge service

Cafe

Sleeping room

Private dining rooms

Herbert Smith

Restaurant/canteen

Travel agent

Dry cleaning service

Shop

Private dining facilities

Shower facilities

Allen & Overy

Restaurant/canteen

Bar serving alcohol

Travel agent

Dry cleaning service

Prayer room

Sleeping room

Shop

Gym

Private dining

facilities

Aerobics studio

Alternative therapies

Doctor

Podiatrist

Clifford Chance

Restaurant/canteen

Travel agent

Dry cleaning service

Prayer room

Shop

Gym

Swimming pool

Private dining facilities

Cashpoint

Deli/takeaway

Coffee/juice bar

Client hospitality lounge

Auditorium

Health club

Squash courts

Wellness centre

Marquee area

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer

Restaurant/canteen

Travel agent

Dry cleaning service

Prayer room

Sleeping room

Gym

Private dining

facilities

Lovells

Restaurant

Travel agent

Dry cleaning service

Sleeping room

Gym

Private dining facilities

Dentist

Local doctor

Family room

Physiotherapy

Reflexology

Norton Rose

Restaurant/canteen

Dry cleaning service

Prayer room

Sleeping room

Private dining

facilities

Showers

Parking facilities

First aid room

Linklaters

Restaurant and sandwich bar

Starbucks coffee shop

Shop

Dry cleaning service

Shoe repair/

cleaning service

Television area

Cashpoint

Fitness centre/gym

In-house dentist

In-house physiotherapist

In-house doctor

In-house manicurist

Prayer room

Travel agent (for business travel only)

Sleeping room

Corporate flat (five bedrooms)

Private dining rooms

Slaughter and May

Restaurant

Private dining room

Sick room