Return of the big bad bank

Up and down the country unsuspecting law students are becoming the targeted victims of an almighty force. 

Chris Beaven

Chris Beaven

A force so determined and sly in its methods, that it is entering our law faculties in an attempt to lure us away from the safety of our current comfy career plans. This is the return of the ‘Big, Bad Bank’.

As a law student at a London university, we receive a lot of attention from the City law firms.  However, I never thought I’d see the day when investment banks were directly pursuing Law students on campus.  With posters in the faculty from RBS advertising Summer Analyst positions, as well as an ‘Information Evening with Morgan Stanley,’ law faculty administrators are even promoting such events.  It seems we are under siege.

Despite topical student protests and budget cuts left, right and centre, the crippling financial times for the City appear to be a thing of the past.  We only need to turn to the front cover of The Daily Mail to know that the overzealous bonuses are being paid once more, and again it’s a good time to be a banker.  Consequently, they’re hiring aggressively and no one, not even law firms, can stand in their way.

And yet, it seems that this is a welcomed development.  When I spoke to the president of one of the UK’s largest student law societies, he informed me that he has secured a job with a top investment bank and is looking forward to starting there next year.  Is this individual betraying all that he should stand for?  After the thousands of pounds of sponsorship the law society receives from City law firms each year, doesn’t he feel any sense of loyalty?  No he does not.  Instead it becomes apparent the more important question is how can law firms be failing so badly that they are no longer able to attract this talent?

Speaking to graduate recruiters at a London university law Fair, it seems they were on the most part unaware of such developments, and certainly unfazed.  But why should they be? After all, last year, according to research by Sweet & Maxwell, law firms were receiving an average of 130 applications per trainee position, compared to only 58 per place the year before.  Quantitatively, this means that Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, for example, which offers 90 trainee positions annually, should according to the research receive more than 11,700 applications in total (incidentally, this is not the case proving all research has its exceptions).  As we all know thanks to their marketing department this year, Freshfields (apparently) has ‘2,461 lawyers’ – meaning that they receive more than four times the entire work force they employ each year in applications.

But are times changing?  Speaking to friends from London’s top universities including London School of Economics, University College London and King’s College London, more than 50 per cent said they hadn’t considered a career in finance before and, more interestingly, over 80 per cent felt the large salaries the banks paid were a significant attraction.

Furthermore, it seems it’s not only the students who are longing for the perks of working in City finance.  “If I could do it all again, I’d have gone into Private Equity.  Far more money!”  These are the words of an associate at one of the UK’s Top 100 Law Firms.

I myself am keeping an open mind – applying to both vacation shemes and banking internships.  Speaking to a graduate recruiter at Herbert Smith I was assured that such a strategy could only be beneficial – “we want candidates who know not only why they want a career in law, but also have an understanding of the world of business.  An internship at an investment bank would certainly be great evidence of commercial awareness.”

So is the return of the ‘Big Bad Bank’ really such a terrible thing?  Well certainly not for us as law students.  The active recruitment by these organisations shows a number of worthwhile points.  Firstly, it demonstrates that as law students we have a very unique and desireable set of skills that employers look for.  Secondly, it truly is the case that we are no longer limited to just becoming either a solicitor or a barrister – to quote Natwest “there is another way.”

My recommendation?  Do your research into banking and understand what aspects attract you.  With banks such as Goldman Sachs reportedly employing more than 35,000 people globally, each earning an average of £308,000 in salary, bonuses and other benefits in 2009, it’s certainly not something to be scoffed at.