How do you know which law firm is right for you?
The internet is full of information on training contract applications and interviews. But before you start to diligently write down your attributes and practice your interview questions in front of a mirror (trying to project an aura of yourself as serious and ambitious yet friendly and approachable) you need to make sure that your efforts are being focussed at the right firm.
So, what are your options?
The first thing to consider is what type of firm you want to join. Taking a broad brush approach, there are three main 'types' of law firm to consider:
Local high street firms
Working in a high street firm you may be likely to practise in a number of areas, across one broad specialism. For example, you may practise in both commercial and residential conveyancing, or civil litigation that spans family, employment and property litigation. This exposes you to a range of practice areas, but may inhibit you from becoming highly specialised in any one area. That said, the number of practice areas in the firm as a whole are likely to be more limited than other firms.
Your client base is likely to be individuals and smaller businesses that are based in the local area.
Working in a regional firm will give you the choice of a wide variety of practice areas and enable you to specialise in one of these. What I enjoy about working at Michelmores is that these specialisms encourage different departments to work together on projects, sharing their in-depth knowledge.
Regional firms will vary in their approach to the market. Some may focus on the regional work in their area, whilst others will focus on the London and international markets. Michelmores have taken the latter approach and this has exposed me to London quality work whilst maintaining the lifestyle benefits of working in a South West firm.
City firms tend to have a very glamorous image. The quality of work is likely to be very high, with both national and international clients. How much exposure a trainee will have to this work will depend upon the firm and the number of trainees that are taken on. City firms do not only do business-related work, but their focus is often on commercial law and a number of their clients will be well known businesses.
There are also a number of US and international firms based in London. If you have an interest in global business then this might be a route for you to explore. The possibilities of international placements are common in these firms and their clients will be from all over the world.
What matters to you?
Once you have an understanding of the types of firm, you need to consider what you want from your career. If I had to pick my top 3 priorities, they would be:
I want to have a successful career that exposes me to challenging and interesting work.
Michelmores have an impressive client base and high quality work that is often won in London. As a trainee, I was exposed to this from my first day.
Because Michelmores have a smaller trainee intake than city firms, I am given high levels of responsibility and exposure to interesting and complex work. I have been able to handle the progress of matters where appropriate, undertake interesting research tasks and I am often out of the office meeting clients.
I want to enjoy going to work (after all, this is where I spend a lot of my time!).
Michelmores have an active social committee, rarely a week goes by without an event happening. Last week, we had a firm sports day that was great fun, if not a little competitive! I find that this is a great way to get to know people from all over the firm even if you don’t work with them regularly.
The open-door policy and open-plan working environment facilitate team work, making it easy to approach supervising solicitors. The combination of this makes Michelmores a very productive and enjoyable learning environment.
I want to have a healthy work-life balance.
Being able to keep my horses and my social life as well as having a good job wasn't something that I ever thought would be possible – however, when I found Michelmores, I realised that it was.
My working day is flexible and there is no stigma about leaving the office at 5.30pm.Of course, sometimes there will be an urgent task that needs to be completed, but if this does happen then the whole team will pull together to complete it.
Michelmores also offer good annual leave which ensures that everyone is able to take the time off that they need to get some R & R and take part in events going on away from the firm.
Naturally, other considerations are salary and location.
It is important to reflect upon and remember your priorities. If a firm isn't in line with these then it is unlikely that you will be able to forge a successful and happy career with them.
How do you know which firm can meet your needs?
Once you have an idea of what you want from a firm you can look at your options in a productive way.
My first port of call would be the website and social media pages of the firm. This will give you an idea of their clients and type of work. It will also give you a sense of the extra-curricular activities they offer and the general ethos of the firm.
It is important to remember that this will be a firm's 'best side'. When I was applying for training contracts I found it helpful to look past the marketing. I spoke to current employees (from trainees to partners), asking them why they chose the firm, what they particularly enjoy about working there, and if there was anything that they didn't like about the firm. You can do this by attending open days, law fairs, or approaching employees by email or social media – if you pitch the approaches professionally and carefully. People will remember you for this and it is the best way to get a 'full picture' of the firm.
I know a lot of graduates apply to as many firms as possible in the quest to secure a training contract. However, if you take the time to consider whether a firm is right for you and the reasons why, this will shine through in your application and the assessment process. It will also mean that you have a better chance of enjoying your training contract, having chosen a firm that is the right fit for your own happiness and success. Good luck!
If you have any questions, please tweet us @MMTrainees.