The decisions you make in the lead up to completing your training contract to qualify as a lawyer and the steps you take in the run-up to qualification will determine your future career path. So, what options are available to you as a newly qualified lawyer?
Many newly qualified lawyers (NQs) will decide to stay with and progress within their current firm, but the internal process may take a long time to complete and may not have roles open in the area you wish to qualify in to. In the meantime, it’s important to keep your options open and make decisions that reflect your desired long-term career path.
Our specialist legal recruiters have put together advice to help you make an informed decision!
When deciding where to accept a role for when you qualify, you can choose between different-sized law firms, an in-house role, overseas or perhaps a position within a government body. When it comes to law firms, there are many options for you to choose from. In terms of the UK legal market, your main decision will be choosing between joining a US law firm, a Magic Circle or Silver Circle firm, a leading international firm or a smaller West End firm, and timing can mean everything when it comes to applying for roles for a newly qualified lawyer.
In regards to salary, US firms sit at the top of the legal market but they are newer to the London market so typically, these firms tend to have smaller trainee pools. This means that when it comes to hiring NQs, they often need to look externally. US firms will typically begin to hire first in the London legal market, with most US firms currently interviewing and some have already offered jobs to their next pool of NQs - their search start date gets earlier every year, so it’s important to get advice from recruiters as soon as possible if you are looking to work for a US firm!
On the other hand, large UK firms like those in the Magic Circle, Silver Circle and leading international firms have bigger internal trainee pools and they tend to prioritise retaining their own trainees once they qualify, understandably as they have already invested time into training and developing them as rounded legal professionals.
It is around June that the internal recruitment processes come to an end within large UK and international law firms and it is often at this point that these firms begin to look externally for NQs. There is a similar timeline for smaller West End firms, who generally start their hiring process and seek out NQs around June and July. The better the market conditions, the earlier you can look, but as a general rule, it is always best to start looking earlier rather than later to ensure you don’t miss the boat. We would suggest that September-qualified candidates should start looking for roles around May, and March-qualified candidates from November.
There are benefits to each of these types of firm. If you are looking for a smaller team feel with a higher level of client contact, a US firm might be a good fit for you, whilst firms in the Magic Circle have great training and development programmes in place. Ultimately, it comes down to what you are looking for from your career.
When deciding on a practice area to pursue, it’s important to choose what you enjoy most! Always consider the long-term and your career goals, and have a back-up practice area that you would also be interested in working in.
There are particularly busy practice areas, usually transactional areas, so if this is well-suited to you, consider looking for roles in areas such as Corporate, Banking, Funds or Tax. Some areas have very few external roles for NQs to move into. These are generally the most popular areas for people to qualify into, including Disputes and Intellectual Property, and these are typically filled by the firm’s internal trainees meaning that practices within these areas very rarely need to look externally for NQs.
Carry out research to find out which firms have the best reputation in your preferred practice area and take advantage of the expert market knowledge from recruiters here at Pro-Legal! Ideally, you will land yourself a position at a market-leading firm within your chosen practice area, however, don’t be disheartened if you don’t right away - it may be that you need to gain skills and experience and work towards the firm you want to end up in.
It's not impossible to change specialisms down the line, but most lawyers will develop and progress within the practice area they qualify into. There a number of factors to consider when deciding on a practice area to specialise in, but the most important thing is to make sure you enjoy the work and can see yourself progressing within this practice area.
There are so many options available to NQs, and the decision you make running up to qualification will shape your future as a lawyer. We work with many leading US, Magic Circle, international and West End firms, and have placed many NQs into roles in a variety of firms and practice areas. Speak to one of our specialist legal consultants for a confidential discussion to help you make an informed decision that’s right for you at this critical stage of your career.