According to a 2023 study, London has been revealed as the ‘top city for lawyers’, with the average salary of £70,000 and over 3,000 job opportunities. However, London did not have the highest ratings for work-life balance and happiness. Of course, studies, surveys and personal stories are a good indication of what working at a law firm can be like, but it is also important to determine for yourself what would be a good career move.
There are many things to consider when pursuing a career, and in a certain location, and I will be breaking down how London and regional offices perform in these areas.
As we all know, trainees in London earn more than regional lawyers. In London, trainees can make up to £60,000 in their first year, whilst regional law firms’ salaries can range from £20,000 to £40,000. After qualifying, London solicitors can earn up to £170,000, and £61,000 in regional firms.
One thing to consider is that the cost of living in London is much higher, henceforth the higher London wage. The cost of living and rent is considerably lower outside of London, with many people being able to buy property much earlier than their peers in London.
Some regional lawyers say that their locations pay very well without having to do crazy hours, with many experiencing better living conditions than their London peers. Other regional lawyers, however, have complained about the considerably lower pay as ‘demoralising’, especially as some have noted doing ‘City work’ with ‘City expectations’.
When evaluating this factor, it is important to assess it based on what you can afford and if the job can adequately support you in your financial choices and goals. It is best not to be driven solely by money or extreme aspirations when it comes to a pursuing a legal career.
It is important to note that legal services are not confined by location, so even if you work outside of London you will still be dealing with international work. Cities like Birmingham and Manchester have economies the size of Copenhagen, Berlin, Johannesburg, etc., and also rely on international trade.
It is important to note, however, as Chambers Students explains, work in London is “more likely to involve multiple jurisdictions and higher transactional sums”. London firms are more likely to have a larger and more diverse clientele, including large financial institutions, corporations, governments, etc. But that does not mean that you will not work on high profile cases outside of London.
For example, Burges Salmon’s regional offices have worked for Twitter, Starbucks and Victoria’s Secret. A good way to gauge what type of work regional offices do is by looking on their website and following their LinkedIn. Moreover, regional firms also tend to specialise in more niche areas of law. This includes areas like maritime law, sports law, agriculture, etc.
Working in a regional firm may also mean that you have opportunities to take on responsibility at an earlier stage, especially if you working in a smaller team with fewer trainees. There are also more opportunities to work and interact with lawyers in the most senior positions, as well as opportunities to progress up the career ladder quicker.
Big magic circle firms tend to take on 90-100 trainee solicitors each year, whilst a smaller region could take on 20-30. As a result, you may find in London law firms that people may be more concerned with advancing themselves as opposed to building relationships, as progression is more competitive.
Junior lawyers have cited being in smaller teams as advantageous as it provides opportunities to gain much broader experience within a practice area. On the other hand, City lawyers claim that having a (more) diverse clientele also has the same effect.
Working and living in regional areas provides potential opportunities for a shorter commute, leaving more time for after-work socialising and personal time. Moreover, working long hours is a notorious culture trait widely associated with London firms. As a result, there is a greater pressure to perform and make sacrifices.
Regional firms tend to have greater flexibility with working hours and more opportunities to create a strong work-life balance. For some people, shorter hours may be a non-negotiable for you, but for others, the high salary that accompanies longer work hours makes it worth it.
Some lawyers decide to do the long-hour job for the first few years of their post-grad life to gain expertise and financial security, and then get a job elsewhere once they are settled. Moreover, some lawyers enjoy the high-stake dynamic of lawyer life and thrive in high-pressure situations.
Another opportunity smaller teams in regional offices provides is the opportunity to spend a lot of time working closely with all of your colleagues, thus creating stronger working relationships and better communication. On the other hand, this can also be achieved in London law firms. As a trainee, you will be paired with many buddies and have networking opportunities catered to you. Moreover, in general there is a strong after-work socialising culture in London.
In terms of diversity in the workplace, workforces typically reflect the demographic in wider society. Subsequently, you can expect smaller, regional firms to have a less diverse team. This is also because, with a larger intake, London firms have more opportunities to hire more people from diverse backgrounds than regional firms.
It should be noted that this does not always reflect a firm’s drive for diversity – this should be assessed by the diversity strategy, goals and progress. On the whole, London firms have more lawyers from diverse backgrounds and diversity schemes and opportunities tend to be more London-centric.
However, there is a global issue with the lack of diversity in the legal industry and is a big problem in London, as well as in regional firms. Thankfully, more and more law firms are expanding their diversity schemes to all of their offices across the UK, with students from diverse backgrounds having the opportunity to work outside of London.
Assessing this factor is a matter of looking at evidence to determine what place you would be most comfortable in.
There is a misconception that it is easier to apply for a regional office job. Whilst competition is greater for a job in London offices, a smaller intake for regional offices means that it can be just as competitive. For example, 1,000 people could be applying for 20 spots in a regional office – similar to 10,000 people applying for 100 spots in a London office. Therefore, this should not (significantly) influence your choice of where you should pursue your career.
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