Choosing a law firm

  • Last updated 27-Jul-2016 15:53:05
  • By Paul Harris, Co-founder & Director, AllAboutLaw

The legal market is big, tough and very competitive. There are many levels and varieties of law firms running in the market today and with detailed research and a clear idea of one’s own preferences, it’s possible to secure a good position at any of the law firms, subject, of course, to their requirements and your talent and qualifications. 

The aim of this article is to provide you with a bird’s eye view of the different kinds of firms that are available. The various categories into which law firms can be classified today are listed below. This is by no means an exhaustive description, but should provide you with sufficient information from which to make a start:

City firms

These firms are the most attractive and in-demand places to begin your career. Your career with a city firm is likely to involve long working hours, good pay-scales and full funding and living expenses while you’re doing your Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and Legal Practice Course (LPC). The competition is extremely fierce; therefore, you need to show outstanding potential and capabilities to get a foot in the door.

Medium-sized law firms

Medium-sized firms will have a good collection of clients and will provide you with an excellent range of commercial practice experience. Significant portions of the client list will be made up of private clients and some regional companies. There isn’t much scope for international work with these firms though!

National law firms

These firms have a very well-developed network of offices in various regions in the UK and preferred-partner tie-ups overseas. The work available is a mix of commercial and general practice. The advantages of working for a national firm are reasonably good salary packages and a good work-life balance.

Regional firms

A regional firm’s expertise and business is confined to one or two regional hubs. The work is a mixture of domestic general practice and commercial work for locally-based companies and individual clients. This could be a good option if you’re content to stay on in the UK and insist on a good quality of life.

Magic Circle firms

Comprising the biggest and brightest firms on the UK legal scene, the Magic Circle is made up of: Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter & May. Only the best can aspire to get in to these firms, but don’t expect to do significant work until you’ve paid your dues in the initial few years, where you’ll most likely be working on general administration and ‘gopher’ jobs. 

At Magic Circle law firms, the salary packages provided are extremely generous and tend to top any ‘best starting salary’ lists. The work mainly focuses on corporate and commercial law, hours can be very long and the work can be extremely hectic, but there is no better place than the Magic Circle firms if you want to make your mark quickly.

US-origin firms

As the name suggests, these are firms primarily based in the US with offshoots opening in the UK and other EU countries. The highest remuneration packages make these a very attractive destination for trainee solicitors, though the annual intake of new candidates is very small and exclusive. The kind of work available is mostly high-end corporate and commercial practice.

International firms

These are firms with multiple offices across all jurisdictions. There is a lot of transnational work available if you work for one of these firms, with frequent travel being a significant highlight. Knowledge of languages other than English is a definite advantage. You will also get the opportunity to familiarise yourself with legal systems across the world.

Niche Boutique Firms

These are firms which specialise in a few selected areas of practice, such as sports and media or I.T. and telecommunications law. Only people interested in the particular work areas in which these firms specialise should apply. Candidates with other-industry experience will usually find it easier here.

In-house Legal Departments

Not many training contracts will be available in the in-house legal departments of large companies; it’s more likely that you can find a work placement here as part of your training contract with the City law firms.

This is more of an avenue for solicitors who’ve gathered some experience at law firms and now wish to concentrate on areas specific to the companies’ interests. The quality of work-life balance and good income prospects are the two major factors in deciding to work as an in-house lawyer.

High Street Firms

These are local firms, usually operating out of a single office and the practice is normally a mix of family, criminal, private client and taxation law. The salaries are less generous than other kinds of firms, but trainees will be able to gather expertise and contacts much quicker. The working hours are normally much shorter than would be expected at one of the bigger firms.


A few training contracts are available each year in this sector, typically with local legal councils, the Government Legal Service and other public bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service.

If you're currently on the hunt for a Training Contract or Vacation Scheme, head over to our Law Jobs section.

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