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City firms explained

City firms are based in London, often with offices elsewhere in the UK or the world. They are becoming more difficult to recognise because many traditional City firms now brand themselves as national or international firms. However, the term is still used within the profession and law press and some distinguishing features remain.

City firms are characterised by their large and renowned commercial, corporate and finance departments and they will often practise in related areas such as employment, intellectual property and real estate too. A few niche firms may also specialise in areas of law such as media or shipping. Trainees can expect to sit in commercial areas for the majority of their training contract.

Clients include large companies and financial institutions, such as investment banks. Much of the work involves high-level transactions and disputes. In most City firms, these will often be UK-centred as many of the clients will be operating in the domestic market. The larger City firms with international offices will do more cross-border transactional work and have more of an international presence.

Every City firm will be structured differently, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that training contracts are all the same. Cultures will also vary between firms, but commercial awareness is central to a career as a City lawyer across the board, so it is likely that trainees will develop this skill alongside their legal expertise and see some of the deals they’ve been involved with make the front pages of the financial press. City firms have a reputation for paying higher salaries but requiring longer hours than the likes of high street firms. While the long-hours culture may have been exaggerated in the media, there will be occasions when longer hours will be necessary because of the nature of the work.

Essential skills for lawyers

  • good interpersonal skills and the ability to interact with people from all walk of life
  • high intellectual ability
  • stamina and willingness to work hard, with some antisocial or unpredictable hours
  • initiative
  • good judgment
  • enthusiasm and commitment
  • attention to detail
  • good written and oral communication skills
  • an interest in learning about new areas and providing clients with practical advice
  • common sense
  • commercial awareness
  • teamwork
  • the ability to develop good client relationships, as you can expect a large amount of client contact
  • willingness to travel abroad when necessary

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