Ex-Herbert Smith lawyer moves to New York
Andy Calder trained at Herbert Smith, before moving to New York on qualification three years ago. We talked to him about taking the NY Bar exam and about life as a corporate attorney at a leading Wall Street firm.
mtl: Hi Andy, please can you tell us about your legal career in the UK?
Andy: I studied law at Edinburgh University and for a year at the University of Texas in Austin, where I met my American wife. We came back to the UK so that I could do the CPE and LPC in England, with a view to me training, and us then living, in London. However, even at that stage we thought that we may go back to the States and I therefore sat the New York Bar exam while I was doing the CPE.
To be able to be admitted to the New York (or California) Bar, you have to have studied law in a common law country for three years. If you took the CPE rather than doing a law degree, then you would need to do an LLM in order to be eligible. You can just sign up for the Bar exam, but it is best to do an official Bar Review course first to prepare yourself. I took one at Holborn College, which consisted at the time of eight weeks of classes on Saturdays and Sundays. It cost about £3000, plus the cost of sitting the exams in Albany, New York and returning there to do an ethics test and to be sworn in. It is a time-consuming process studying for the Bar exam and although the material is not particularly difficult, there is a huge volume of work to memorise.
I did my training contract at Herbert Smith and really enjoyed it. I would have stayed on qualification, but after a few years in London, my wife wanted to return to the US. I didn’t want to give up the type of work I had been exposed to, so it seemed obvious to move to Manhattan. Herbert Smith has ties to Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, where I now work and contacts within the firm were able to set me up with an interview there, which involved meeting three partners and two associates. I was offered a job and moved across in September 2004.
mtl: How can your life in New York be compared to working in London?
Law, University of Edinburgh
Exchange student, The University of Texas at Austin Law School
CPE, BPP and took the NY Bar
LPC, Oxford Institute of Legal Practice
Training contract, Herbert Smith
Admitted to the NY Bar
Moved to Simpson, Thacher, Bartlett LLP, New York
Andy: We are paid a lot more here but we generally work longer hours than the top UK firms. When the market is very busy, a usual day for me would be 9:30am – 12am, with work at the weekends. Jobs here are less secure than in London as when bad times hit, many of the firms are more willing to reduce numbers to meet market requirements. US firms are more leanly staffed than UK firms, with fewer fee-earners on a deal and this can mean higher levels of responsibility earlier on, particularly as attorneys are qualified from Day 1 of starting work here.
I do mainly private equity work and some public M&A. If you do M&A I think that there is a wider range of deals available here than you would be able to do in London. There is also perhaps a perception over here that a lot of the biggest M&A deals are still being done in New York rather than in London.
Living expenses are lower here, apart from rent which is higher. Manhattan is a lot more compact than London and it is awesome living here as there is so much to do. The weather is also better…and I think New York is generally a nicer city than London. However there are parts of the lifestyle in London that I miss, for example going out for drinks with colleagues is more usual in London. In NY there can be a tendency to show up for work, do it and go home, with less of a social scene. The other things I miss most are of course UK sports – I’ll be hard pressed to find a bar in New York to watch the Rugby World Cup.
mtl: Do you have any advice for Brits thinking of moving to a New York firm?
Andy: Although there are opportunities for UK lawyers to work in New York, most US firms are looking for New York qualified attorneys, so if you are serious then take the Bar exam. Also, make sure you are clear about your potential employer’s policy on Green Card sponsorship as you could find that after your initial six-year visa runs out, your firm may decide not to renew it. It is an expensive process and definitely worth checking in advance where you will stand, should you wish to stay.
I think if you are going to move then do it as soon as possible i.e. when you are fairly junior. If you are more senior then you will have missed out on the sink or swim training that junior associates receive here. There is definitely an “American way” of doing things, which you will need to learn. From my own experience I would say that the NQ level is the ideal time to move and that it would start getting harder after that.
Provided you have a work permit and are US qualified, once you start work your nationality is irrelevant and the focus is on whether or not you are a good lawyer. Manhattan is a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds and whereas magic circle firms are full of huge Oxbridge intakes, attorneys here are never just from Harvard and Yale. There is very little old school attitude and I find the working environment diverse.
I wasn’t initially given any credit for my training at Herbert Smith but after my first year in NY I was bumped up to the level of a third year attorney. However at the top Wall Street firms you won’t usually get credit for experience in a foreign jurisdiction, unless it was with a “peer firm” i.e. a magic circle firm in London. The difference between being a first year and a third year is not a huge jump financially, so it is better to come in at the bottom and learn US practice from scratch. You will have an advantage because you’re already used to being a lawyer, so you shouldn’t worry about the qualification label that you are given.
I think most people trying to get a job here just send out letters to top firms in New York, but obviously it would be preferable to use a contact or go through a good agency. Two months ago the market was as good as it could get as there was so much work in M&A and the attrition rates were at very high or record levels. Obviously now the market may be slowing down somewhat due to a perceived slow down in M&A.
I have no regrets about leaving London and am very happy here. Simpson is an excellent firm with great opportunities to progress your career if you are willing to work hard and learn. If you are interested in coming to work in New York then do it. You will work really hard but you will get paid very well in return. Although they work you hard, the big firms do look after their attorneys. For example I get four weeks of holiday a year, which is good for the US, and just had four weeks of paternity leave, amongst other good perks.
Andy: Thank you for your time Andy.
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP is a leading global law firm with offices in New York, Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Washington, D.C., Beijing, Hong Kong, London, and Tokyo. Established in 1884, the firm currently has more than 750 lawyers.
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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