Solicitor Work Experience: City Firms vs Mid-Sized Firms
What is a “City Firm” and What is a “Mid-Sized Firm”?
If you have decided that you want to pursue a career in law – and even more specifically – that you want to become a solicitor, the next step is choosing a firm.
“City Firms” are generally large scale law firms located in the City of London – the central business district. City firms usually have international offices, and their work is mostly commercial.
“Mid-Sized Firms” are law firms that are smaller in size, and are not typically as internationally spread as city firms. They might seem less vast, but they can handle disputes and business that involve monetary values just as large as city firms.
What Kind of Solicitor Work Experience is Available in These Firms?
Both “city firms” and “mid-sized firms” offer different types of solicitor work experience.
Open days give you a short insight into the feel of the firm, and quite simply, the size of the firm. You might want to attend an open day to see the building and location that you might be working in, and whether that is something you would be likely to enjoy. The vast glass sky-scrapers in the city vary massively from the more traditional buildings that you might find a mid-sized firm in. It really depends on the environment that you will feel most comfortable and motivated in.
Vacation schemes are a more insightful way to experience the different type of firms. You will spend a period of time, from 1 to 3 weeks, at the firm. You will shadow solicitors and effectively have a taste of life as a trainee – and you’ll get to see the areas of law the firm covers, and what type of work you might have to do. Administrative work varies from dispute litigation, and so you’ll be able to see what might be for you, and what you might not want to look for in your applications.
If you have a connection at a firm, it might be worth getting in touch and asking if there is any chance of doing some voluntary work experience at the firm. You might be put in touch with the recruitment team, who will ask you to come in for a meeting before you arrange a week or two to visit the offices. Informal work experience can give you an insight that a vacation scheme does, and again, you’ll get an idea of the firm’s location, environment and work style.
What Should I Look out for When Doing Solicitor Work Experience at “City Firms” and “Mid-sized Firms”?
One of the most important things you can bring away from legal solicitor work experience is being able to say exactly WHY you are applying to that firm to become a trainee. There are a few things you might want to think about when considering both types of firm:
1. Practice Areas
“City Firms” typically cover more corporate and financial commercial work. This might be working on Mergers & Acquisitions, working with banks and international corporations, or global business disputes. If you have an interest or work experience in banking, finance or investment managements then this type of work might be the right fit for you.
“Mid-Sized Firms” often represent and do work for these types of corporate companies and financial institutions – but the type of work is different – for example it might be more administrative. If you have an interest in family law, media law, trusts law, charities or private client work, then a mid-sized firm might be the right environment for you. The assets and values you are working with might rival those at a city firm, but the type of work you will be doing will vary.
It is important to choose a type of work you enjoy and are truly interested in – you’ll have to explain why you like it and why you’ll be successful at it in your applications. And you’ll be dedicating your career to it!
2. Number of trainees
“City Firms” take in a comparatively large number of trainees, which can be from 40 to 80 per year. It depends on the firm. One on hand, there are more trainee places up for offer, on the other hand, there might be thousands more applications. You will be applying to a big firm, and you are going to be working with plenty of successful and experienced lawyers of all levels.
“Mid-Sized Firms” take in far fewer trainees. This be as intimate as a group of 10 trainees. If you want to be part of a small group of trainees, and really have a chance to get to know them on a friendly level, this could be the type of trainee scheme you look for. Fewer trainees might also mean more attention from partners and associates; you might want to consider how much you can learn from your colleagues at both environments. Competition for these limited trainee spots will be high, so you have to be sure that you make it clear why this is the firm for you.
Use your time at the firm during your solicitor work experience to get to know the trainees, and what they are interested in and what motivates them – you might be working with them in the future.
3. Life at the firm
When you complete your solicitor work experience at either a “City Firm” or a “Mid-Sized Firm”, you should get an idea of what life would be like at the firm. What do the trainees get up to after work? Is there a work culture that encourages you to leave on time, and enjoy extra-curricular hobbies after work? Will you be expected to stay late after work, exceeding a typical 8 hour working day?
In a competitive City environment, where a vast number of the firm’s clients may be international and in different time zones, you might find that life at the firm goes beyond your given working hours. At a mid-sized firm, you might find that employees tend to finish their tasks in the working day and leave comparatively earlier.
You should also look for firm organised socials and activities – ask the trainees how the firm welcomed them, and what social activities they have been involved in with the firm. Are there inter-departmental sports competitions? Are there any weekend trainee trips that interest you?
In summary – solicitor work experience is essential for you to be able to:
Decide which type of firm you find most fitting to your preferences
Think about which practice areas you might enjoy the most
Consider the work ethic and culture that you find most motivating
Be able to convince recruiters that you are certain that a particular firm is right for you