Company Culture | US Firms
At a US firm, you’ll be working in the UK or European office of a firm that had its origins in—you guessed it—the USA.
If you’re drawn to a higher salary, it will please you to learn that US firms pay some of the best trainee wages among other law firms. Also, as an NQ lawyer you could start on over £100k at some US firms—not too shabby at all.
If you’re taken on as a trainee in a US firm, you’ll likely be one of just a few trainees—these firms are very exclusive, and places are likely to be few. The smaller number of trainees is reflective of a slightly smaller workforce - it’s likely you’ll be working in an office with less than 100 people, so you’ll have plenty of contact with people from all walks of professional life. When it comes to figuring out your path as a trainee, you’ll likely be able to forge strong bonds with the small group of other trainees, and have more of a say in where you complete your seats than at a firm with a larger intake.
One of the most talked-about aspects of the US law firm is the workload. It’s true that at many US law firms, you’ll be expected to put in long hours, especially if your firm is in its early days in London. However, when compared to the hours expected at a lot of top firms in the UK, US firms don’t expect much more. Yes, you’ll be expected to be committed and hardworking—but the myth that US firm trainees are working 24/7 while their UK firm counterparts leave the office at 5 every day is hugely exaggerated.
Company culture at a US firm will differ based on how the firm came to be in the UK. Some firms based in London have gained US influence and backing via a merger with a US firm, while others are opened specifically by a US firm looking for a transatlantic expansion. It’s worth investigating if the firm you’re interested in has been established in the UK for a while, or if it is in the process of being set up. A firm in its early days may be smaller and more intimate, whereas a US firm that has been in the UK for a long time is likely to be more established, with a larger workforce.
Sometimes it also works the other way. Womble Bond Dickinson, for example, are a transatlantic firm, but its headquarters are in the UK.
So, you could be working at a firm with many years of history in the UK, which has a large number of staff, or you could be part of a very small team in a firm that is taking its first steps on UK soil. Either way, and for any type of firm in-between these two examples, the company culture is going to vary.
Type of Work | US Firms
In general, US firms tend to do high-end corporate and commercial work. There’s a large focus on finance law, too, with many US firms in London being located close to the financial centre of the UK. As a trainee or NQ lawyer, you could find yourself getting a broad experience within a department such as finance, chalking up experience in areas from private equity to regulation.
However, life in a US firm isn’t all about finance and big business. While smaller, newer US offices focus on these areas, the larger, older firms are more likely to operate on a full-service basis. You may choose a firm with a strong corporate department or a finance-focused firm, to align with your interests. But if you’d rather rotate through a variety of different seats, you can still do so at a larger US firm.
For US firms across the pond, pro bono work is extremely important, with legal aid for those who need it being hard to obtain in the US. This ethos is reflected within their UK-based offices. Working at a US firm, you can expect to have specific pro bono targets on a yearly basis. If you’re keen to balance out the corporate workload with a much more philanthropic practice, this model could suit you well.
Overall, you’ll find that your firm will trust you with making decisions, and you’ll be granted a lot of responsibility - US firms are often smaller, so in turn, trainee cohorts are smaller, giving each trainee a greater exposure to law early on in their careers.
Where will I be working? | US Firms
London is the general home away from home for these US firms. However, with your firm’s headquarters most likely being in Washington or New York, the likelihood is that your work will have a strong transatlantic focus, and you’ll be liaising with global jurisdictions quite a lot. In some cases, this will mean a trip to the USA to visit your far-flung colleagues!
Living and working in London is an opportunity like no other; it is a hub for the legal sector in this country. London-based firms’ clients include huge banks and financial services firms just down the road, an ever-expanding real estate market, and businesses of every conceivable size and venture. When you’re not advising clients within the city, you can enjoy the many benefits of living in the UK’s biggest and most diverse city.
Working for a US firm in the UK puts a twist on all of this; you’ll be able to experience London with an international perspective, garnered from working at a firm with headquarters in the US and clients all over the world. Experiencing these two cultures will shape you as an international citizen. It’s likely that your workload will follow suit - expect international clients and cases that unfold on the world’s stage.
Is this the right type of firm for me?
A US firm could be for you if…
- You’re interested in working with international clients.
- You’d find transatlantic colleagues and a US culture thrilling.
- You want to work in London, but with a twist on a traditional firm.
You may want to reconsider if…
- You’re averse to working long hours with a heavy workload.
- You want to work at your firm’s global headquarters.
- You’re not drawn to high-end corporate or financial law.
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