What to expect when relocating to a different type of law firm
According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority, there are nearly 10,500 law firms located in the UK as of August 2018, and all offer a unique and varied experience. The following outlines what you can expect working as a solicitor in various types of firms.
For solicitors who believe that bigger is better, London’s magic circle is the place to be. If you’re relocating to do corporate, finance, banking and international work, Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May top the lists for revenue and partner profits. Training or working at a posh magic-circle firm is highly desirable to many, but working extremely long hours is a must.
There’s not a huge difference between the firms in London’s magic circle and the city’s large commercial firms (the silver circle), a band of firms that fall just below the magic circle in terms of turnover, but post significantly higher profit per equity partner and revenue per lawyer than the rest of the UK’s legal market. Silver-circle-member firms include Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Herbert Smith Freehills, Macfarlanes and Travers Smith, each with their own set of specialisms.
Since the 1970s, US and UK firms have increasingly been merging with one another. These firms are characterised by the amount of international work (corporate and finance) that’s performed. Many of them pay relatively high salaries, and lawyers at American firms often work opposite magic-circle solicitors on deals. American firms in London include Akin Gump, Baker McKenzie, Cooley, Davis Polk, Jones Da, and others.
These firms work primarily in business law with a lesser emphasis on international work. Some of the most successful mid-sized firms, such as Macfarlanes and Travers Smith, enjoy profitability that’s comparable to the bigger London firms. With an atmosphere that’s much more intimate than the big London firms, mid-sized commercial firms present a greater opportunity for trainees and young associates to work with partners directly.
If you’re looking to relocate for better hours, are interested in practicing real estate law and don’t mind a cut in pay, London’s smaller commercial firms could be a good choice for you. There are dozens of smaller commercial firms throughout London, including Wedlake Bell, Memery Crystal, and Russell-Cooke. Most are considered full-service law firms, although some focus on one or two particularly strong practice areas thanks to a reputation within certain industries.
Many firms throughout the UK specialise in areas such as media, insurance, energy, shipping, family law, and intellectual property. If you're relocating to specialise in a particular area of law or have experience in a certain industry, a niche firm could be an excellent option for you. Some of the top niche firms in the UK include Arnold & Porter, Farrer & Co., Hodge Jones & Allen and Vinson & Elkins, among others.
There are some excellent regional firms throughout the UK that represent top-notch clients. Regional firms tend to focus on the needs of regional clients, so if you want to relocate to become an integral part of the local business community, a regional firm could be a good fit for you. Salaries are generally lower at regional firms than at those in London, but the cost of living is lower as well. Some excellent regional firms include Burges Salmon, Brabners and Ashfords.
National and multi-site firms have massive operations and perform larger-ticket work outside of London. For example, Eversheds Sutherland has nine branch offices throughout England and Wales and many others overseas. If you relocate to work for a national firm, you’ll be doing mostly commercial work with some private client experience also available, and you could face a long commute or be asked to move to a new location for a few months.
For those who wish to relocate to see how the law actually affects individuals and the community in which they practise, a small (high-street) firm might be for them. Although the work can be extremely rewarding and involves daily client contact and a wide variety of cases involving wills, probate, personal injury, employment, crime and immigration, the pay at small firms is typically the lowest of any type of law firm in the UK. Solicitors choose to relocate for many reasons, but no matter the motivation, relocating can be extremely daunting and will require a considerable amount of research into the types of positions available, as well as the legal market within a desired area.