Choosing a training contract with a law firm outside London
Do you want to find a training contract in London – or at a regional or national law firm? This is likely to be one of the first questions you ask yourself as an aspiring trainee solicitor. Here are some good reasons to apply for training contracts outside the capital.
Six good reasons to want to work at a national or regional firm
There are plenty of reasons why you may want to work for a regional firm:
1. You want a decent work-life balance
Trainees at many national, regional and high street firms enjoy a good work/life balance thanks to shorter and less stressful commutes. Lower housing costs outside London mean that it’s also likely you’ll be able to live nearer to your place of work and entertainment and leisure venues. ‘It is usually easier to live close to the office cutting out a long, expensive commute, which can lengthen the day, and living costs are more affordable,’ points out Fiona Medlock, graduate recruitment manager at Mills & Reeve LLP – a regional firm with a Cambridge headquarters. ‘Our trainees often socialise after work because they live within walking distance to the office. Although our lawyers work hard and sometimes long hours, all-nighters and weekend working are not the norm; people have time to socialise and enjoy their weekends.’
2. You have links to the region
Quality of life is a big consideration for many employees but what this means differs from person to person. Many people love the buzz of working in London, but you may make a conscious decision to give London a miss in favour of more predictable working hours, proximity to friends and family, and a shorter commute. A current trainee at Eversheds LLP told TARGETjobs Inside Buzz: 'I am an ambitious person, but I have a very strong link to South Wales. Eversheds is the only international law firm based in Cardiff and therefore I felt that it would be the best place for me to train.'
Craig Muir, a former trainee at Shoosmiths LLP and now at DWF LLP, had similar reasons for choosing to train in Edinburgh. He told TARGETjobs Law: 'Scotland is home for me – my main motivation for training in a Scottish office is that most of my family live here.' Bear in mind that if you want to practise in Scotland you’ll need to have taken an undergraduate degree there as it has a separate legal system: see our article on training as a solicitor in Scotland for useful information on the Scottish qualification process, and the differences between a traineeship and a training contract.
Make sure you are clear on why you want a training contract at a regional or national firm, as you are likely to be asked about your motivation in applications and interviews. As one current trainee at Bristol firm Burges Salmon told TARGETjobs Inside Buzz: ‘I was asked “Why Bristol?” in my interview. Make sure you have an answer to this one!’.
3. You want the early responsibility that being a trainee at a regional law firm can bring
You may find that you can take on responsibility at an earlier stage if you’re working in a smaller team or where there are fewer trainees, as is common outside London.‘Often the trainee intake is smaller than at the large City firms, which means you get to know your peer group as well as other colleagues in the office,’ continues Fiona ‘The variety of legal practice areas can be greater than at a City firm which concentrates on corporate and commercial work.’
4. You still want top-quality legal work
Regional and national firms are conscious of the pull towards London felt by graduates wanting to go into law. Don’t assume that working as a solicitor outside London means being cut off from top-quality training and interesting clients. Commercial law firms, whether in London, Birmingham or Leeds, advise large companies and investment banks on high-profile deals, commercial litigation matters or tax and employment issues. DLA's clients, for instance, include Warner Bros, HSBC and Liverpool Football Club. Burges Salmon's clients include John Lewis, the Discovery Channel, the Premier League and The Crown Estate. Various teams of lawyers handled the acquisition of Somerfield by the Co-operative, many of whom were from regional firms.
5. You want to be part of a smaller intake of trainee solicitors
Junior lawyers in regional firms often cite being in a smaller team as one of the advantages to training outside the capital – partners know their name. The big magic circle firms tend to take on between 90 and 100 trainee solicitors each year; a smaller regional firm is more likely to employ 20 or 30 trainees. 'One of the biggest advantages of training at a regional law firm is that you are generally the only trainee solicitor in the department,’ advises Sam Lee, graduate recruitment manager at Womble Bond Dickinson. 'This allows you to gain much broader experience within a practice area, working with a number of different lawyers – many of whom are experts in their field.’ One of the former trainees at Womble Bond Dickinson (now at IKEA), Ailsa May, told TARGETjobs Law: 'I think what has surprised me most about working life is the amount of responsibility I have been entrusted with and the amount of client contact involved in my day-today role. Our clients are incredibly varied. We deal with land agents, wealthy landowners, trustees and farmers. I also deal with solicitors on the other side of transactions,negotiating sale contracts and other agreements. The most exciting thing so far was when my supervisor and I represented a large high street bank, advising them, preparing reports and completing a legal charge worth £5m.'
6. Your preferred area of practice is found in smaller law firms
If you're interested in the more people-centred areas of law, such as family or crime, you’ll be better off targeting training contracts outside London, particularly in smaller, high street firms that tend to advise individuals on ‘everyday’ legal matters such as conveyancing, family and wills & probate. ‘In a high street firm, you are given plenty of individual attention during your training, your commitment is noticed and you are rewarded by progressing up the ladder more quickly. When considering becoming a high street solicitor, however, make sure you feel able to communicate and empathise with clients,’ advises Emma Peart, a solicitor at The Legal Practice Solicitors.
7. Earning the highest salary possible isn't your main motivation for a career in law
Salaries are lower outside London, in line with the local cost of living. For instance, Mills & Reeve pays £26,000 to its trainees; candidates applying to CMS can expect to start on £24,000 (in Scotland), £37,000 (in Bristol) and £40,000 (in London). Find out what regional firms pay in our special TARGETjobs Law annual salary survey and weigh up how important a hefty salary is to you.
What’s the difference between a regional law firm and a national law firm?
The growing trend for law firms to brand themselves as full-service firms with both national and international clients makes the distinction between international, national and regional firms harder to define. Generally speaking, national law firms have offices around the country, often including a London office, such as DLA, DWF or CMS. Regional firms may also have several offices but will typically base their headquarters in a major city or region outside London, eg Burges Salmon in Bristol or Mills & Reeve in Cambridge.
Firms may describe themselves as global or international even if they are, on the face of it, a regional organisation but have offices or alliances overseas – making them even more difficult to pigeonhole. For instance, Hill Dickinson has a strong presence in the north west of England with offices in Chester, Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield, but also has lawyers based in London, Piraeus (a clue to their strong shipping law practice) and Singapore.
This blurring of the boundaries is another good reason (if you needed one) to make your applications specific to the firm you’re targeting, rather than the category of firms it may or may not belong to. Graduate recruiters will fail to be impressed with a general desire to work for a certain type of firm. ‘Nothing beats an applicant who can demonstrate that they have gone above and beyond to find out about the firm, speak to the people at the firm and really pick up on its culture and values,’ says the recruitment manager at Shoosmiths.
Excellent training contract applications, wherever you apply
Whether you are applying to a regional, national, City or high street firm, the advice for making strong training contract applications is the same: be well researched, targeted and accurate. ‘Always research the firm you are applying to thoroughly and understand what is being asked of you in the questions,’ emphasises Sam Lee. Make sure you speak to trainees, secure work experience and attend open days – recruiters want to know why you’re applying to their individual firm, not their type of firm.