Choosing the law firm that’s right for you can be a daunting task. There are positives to every type of law firm and your decision will ultimately come down to what you are looking for in your future career as a lawyer. According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, as of last year there were nearly 10,500 law firms in the UK, all offering a unique and varied experience in terms of what to expect from your legal career.
Here at Pro-Legal, we have outlined the main points to consider when choosing which type of law firm is best suited to you as an individual, from top Magic Circle and US firms right down to smaller boutique law firms.
Magic Circle firms
If you are looking to relocate to do banking, finance, corporate and international work, London’s Magic Circle is the place to be! For the past 15 years the ‘Magic Circle’ has consisted of a distinct group of five - Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May - and all are top of the list for revenue and partner profits, offer a broad scope of work (both national and international) and excellent training and development programmes in a fast-paced environment. Of course, there are pros and cons, but training and working at one of these top UK firms is highly desirable to many solicitors.
Silver Circle firms
London’s large commercial firms - otherwise known as those in the ‘Silver Circle’ - are not hugely different from the Magic Circle in terms of specialisms, work, hours and progression, but they fall just below them in terms of turnover. Silver Circle firms include Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Herbert Smith Freehills and Macfarlanes, and all of these firms post significantly higher profit per equity partner and revenue per lawyer than the rest of the UK’s legal market.
US firms based in the UK can offer excellent salaries, hands-on experience early on in your career, and access to the US market. American firms based in London include Kirkland & Ellis, Skadden and Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and these firms are generally characterised by the finance and corporate international work that is involved. However, US firms also come with their own unique culture, which often means longer working hours and the added pressures that come with fewer associates, billable targets and a higher salary.
Mid-sized commercial firms
These firms often enjoy similar profitability to those bigger London firms. You will find these mid-sized firms work primarily in business law and focus less on international work than, say, Magic Circle firms. These mid-sized commercial firms, including Addleshaw Goddard, Simmons & Simmons and Mishcon de Reya, offer a high degree of client contact and a much more intimate atmosphere than large law firms, and present fantastic opportunities for newly-qualified and trainee associates to gain exposure and work directly with well-established Partners.
Smaller commercial firms
London’s smaller commercial firms could be the right place for you if you are looking to relocate for better hours or are interested in real estate law. There are many of these firms throughout London, including Wedlake Bell, Memery Crystal and Russell-Cooke, but you may need to be willing to take a pay cut if you are moving from a larger London firm. Most of these smaller commercial firms are full-service law firms focusing on a broad range of practices, although some have built up a reputation within certain industries to specialise in one or two practice areas.
If you are looking to specialise in once niche practice area, there are also many law firms throughout the UK that can offer this. There are firms which specialise in areas including media, energy, insurance and intellectual property, and if you have experience in a certain industry a firm like this could be the best place for you. Some of the best niche firms in the UK include Vinson & Elkins (US), Clyde & Co and Bristows.
If you are looking for opportunities outside of London or have ties to a specific region within the UK and want to develop your legal career in that area, there are some fantastic regional firms including Burges Salmon, DAC Beachcroft and Ashfords, that could be right for you. Ranging from small offices to vast operations within their own right, regional firms don’t all fit the same mould, but they all offer a fantastic chance to venture beyond the capital. Although salaries across the board tend to be lower at regional firms in comparison to large London firms, living costs outside of London are also significantly cheaper. These firms are based around the UK and tend to focus on the needs of top regional clients, offering you the chance to become an important part of your local business community.
Whether you want to work in London or outside the capital, you may choose to join a firm which has a strong UK-wide market recognition and presence in several major UK cities. National and multi-site firms perform large-ticket work and have massive operations based outside of London - for example, Eversheds Sutherland has nine branch offices across the UK and many more overseas. In this kind of firm, you will focus on more Commercial, Real Estate, Private Client and General Banking, and these national firms also offer a high degree of mobility and the chance to move across the country with the same firm.
Solicitors choose to relocate to smaller, boutique law firms for various reasons. Although the work at these firms can be incredibly rewarding and involve daily client contact and a wide variety of cases, the salary at these small firms is typically the lowest. But, if your motivation behind practising law is to see how your work is affecting and helping individuals and the community in which you are practising in, and if you are looking for a very good work-life balance, relocating to a small law firm may be the right choice for you.