Four firms (& two secondments) in seven years for this City lawyer
Not many people have worked for a Magic Circle firm, a boutique firm, a US firm, in-house and at a national firm - in the space of just 7 years. G has though, and not because she is a whimsical job-flitter, but because things have just panned out that way for good reasons. She has enjoyed all her roles, so we asked her to “compare and contrast” her different experiences…
mtl: Very briefly, can you run us through your different moves and why you made them…
G: I trained at a Magic Circle firm but didn’t get the job I wanted on qualification. Most of the jobs were in corporate and banking and I wanted to join a specialist team, so I left and went to a boutique firm outside London. It was the area that I wanted and NQ jobs were hard to come by. I hadn’t planned to go to a small firm but the team was really nice and I enjoyed my time there.
However, after 18 months I was worried that at such a junior level I wasn’t getting the same grounding that I’d get in a full service firm and I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed so early in my career. I think it’s better to go to a boutique firm later in your career, having obtained broader experience elsewhere. I therefore looked around for other jobs and was open-minded about where to move.
I wasn’t targeting US firms but I ended up joining one. I took the role because it was a start-up in London, working for a senior assistant who had come from a top City firm (so I knew I would get good training). I was very excited about the opportunity of starting a new department as part of a small team. The firm was well established in the USA, but not here and it was an attractive opportunity.
Training contract, Magic Circle firm
Assistant, boutique firm out of London (including a regional in-house secondment)
Assistant, US firm
Assistant, national firm (including a City in-house secondment)
After another 18 months though, I moved to a national firm. This was because my boss at the US firm had left to become a partner elsewhere. I was no longer part of the team that I’d joined the firm for and I would have been the only lawyer in my specialty as the firm had decided not to replace my boss. It had also been harder to build up a practice than we had expected and our practice area hadn’t been given as much support by the rest of the firm as we’d been promised at the beginning.
I chose the national firm where I now work because given my experience so far at a small boutique firm and then in a small team, I wanted to be part of a bigger team with proper resources e.g. a PSL and structured training. I also wanted an established client base, a guaranteed work stream and a wide variety of work, yet I didn’t want the long hours of a Magic Circle firm.
As an aside, along the way, I’ve also done two in-house secondments – one in the City and one in the Thames Valley.
mtl: Do you think you’ve benefited as a lawyer from moving around or would you rather have stayed e.g. at the Magic Circle firm where you trained?
G: Yes and no. I’ve certainly benefited from a variety of work and seeing the different approaches of several firms. I am not the product of just one firm and its precedents, which I think is a good thing. However, moving jobs can be disruptive in terms of the settling in time. At 5yrs PQE, I don’t think I have five years of solid continuous experience behind me. That doesn’t mean that I think I am a worse lawyer though and perhaps I have a more well-rounded experience. I am certainly not fearful of working in of a range of environments or in different ways.
Also I think that even at one firm the experience you get can be random and people at the same firm can have very different work depending on the team they are in and the transactions they get. In this day and age lots of people move around and teams are frequently made up of lawyers from different firms, all contributing the best way of doing things from their own experience and backgrounds.
mtl: Please can you tell us about the highs and the lows of the different environments you’ve worked in?
Highs: Quality of the training, large trainee intakes, good experience;
Lows: Being “one of many”, harder to qualify into a specialism other than corporate and banking.
Highs: More responsibility than in a larger firm, friendly and relaxed environment;
Lows: Not the structure or training you’d get in a bigger firm and junior lawyers have to play it by ear a bit more.
Highs: The pay(!), an exciting entrepreneurial approach, the feeling that the firm was going somewhere;
Lows: Being told what to do from America, with the decisions being made about the direction of the firm seeming very alien, some frustrating blanket policies around the world that didn’t seem to apply to London, out of hours calls to the US because of the time zone differences, dealing with US clients who are not familiar with the UK legal system.
Highs: A more commercial environment, having to think on your feet more, no time sheets, more client facing, being very busy during the day but working regular hours, being more in control of deadlines as clients are internal, getting to know the business really well and therefore giving better advice because you can see how the business works as well as the politics and personalities behind it;
Lows: Not getting the training and support from colleagues around you if you are in a small team.
Highs: Really good training and work, lots of really nice and talented colleagues who have done the Magic Circle thing and want more of a work/life balance, a friendly and down to earth environment, with work the same quality as at a Magic Circle firm;
Lows: The pay is not as good as at a Magic Circle firm, but then the theory is that the hours are shorter!
mtl: Overall, which role have you felt most comfortable in and enjoyed the most?
G: My current role at a national firm because of the combination of good quality work and training, being part of a big team and having nice colleagues. It is the happy medium of all the other roles I’ve had.
mtl: Do you have any tips or advice given your own experience?
G: Most firms expect you to take a while to settle in so starting somewhere new is not as daunting as you might think and I’ve found all my employers have been really friendly. It is no longer a big deal to move roles and it happens all the time. Get a good recruitment agent who really listens to where you want to go. Having moved around isn’t a problem if you can explain why you have. Some firms thought I’d moved too much and didn’t invite me for interviews. However I wouldn’t want to work for a firm so narrow-minded as to write me off for that reason. Once I was in an interview, my having moved jobs was not a problem as I was able to give good reasons why I had moved on each occasion. I’ve been lucky to always really like where I’ve worked. And of course moving often has given me plenty of chances to travel in between roles!
mtl: Thanks for your time G.
G recommends a recruitment consultant called Alison Wright, who works for herself. G says that she listens to what you really want. Email email@example.com for her phone number.
If you know any other lawyers who have gone and done something interesting or unusual with their lives or who have a great work/life balance then please get in touch.
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