How do you know if a firm is right for you?

Congratulations – you’re on your way to becoming a qualified lawyer!

Your next step? A two-year training contract with a firm who can show you the ropes and nurture your potential. However, with so many training contracts on offer from a vast range of firms, it’s not always easy to see which is best for you.

As eager as you may be to secure a training contract, taking the time to determine what you really want from your first law firm will ensure your professional journey gets off to a good start. With this in mind, you’ll want to consider certain key factors in order to make the right decision:

1.   Choosing a practice area

First and foremost, you should consider which area of law you would prefer to specialise in. If it seems like a daunting decision, don’t panic – you need not set any definitive answer in stone just yet, as training contracts are designed to give you a taste of three or four different practice areas.

At this stage, it’s important to bear in mind that as a law student, your experience of a specific discipline will be very different to that of a practising solicitor. For example, you may not find lectures in land and property law particularly thrilling but might enjoy finding solutions to property related legal disputes. If you do have a particular specialism in mind already, it goes without saying that you should choose a firm that provides the best career prospects in this field.

2.   Deciding on a size and type of law firm

When choosing a training contract, determining what type of law firm you would like to kickstart your legal career down will help you to narrow down your options. There are five main types of law firm; City, International, National/Regional, US-based and Scottish. Your experience as a trainee will differ greatly depending on the size of the firm and position they hold in the market.

For example, where giant City law firms like Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer will employ as many as 100 trainee solicitors per year, a small high street firm will only take up to five trainees a year and expect each to be self-starters capable of organising their own time and workload. Each type of firm comes with its own unique benefits; the decision you make will depend on your long-term career aspirations, preferred working style and salary.

3.   Finding a firm that suits your lifestyle

Naturally, securing a training contract at a magic circle firm is seen as the dream for many students for the reputation and opportunities it can unlock. However, the autonomy and flexibility that trainees at small to mid-tier firms receive should not be overlooked.

Trainees at a City, International and US-based firm typically tend to work longer hours due to the areas these kinds of firms specialise in such as complex, multi-jurisdictional corporate issues. Of course, trainee solicitors at these firms will be compensated for their time with an attractive salary. Meanwhile, trainee lawyers at national/regional practices may benefit from quicker career progression due to a smaller team as well as a better work/life balance.

4.   Researching the earning potential

Salary may not be the only deciding factor in which training contract you choose, but it’s certainly an important matter to consider. Evidence from a recent study illustrates the fierce competition that currently exists in the legal jobs market, with most City firms offering between £40,000 and £45,000 to first-year trainees. Upon qualification, solicitors at City firms can range between £70,000 and £115,000.

Outside of London, trainee solicitor salaries are still nothing to be scoffed at for example, graduates applying to Cambridge firm Mills & Reeve can expect to start on £26,500 while trainees at Bristol-based firm Burges Salmon tend to receive around £35,000. Ultimately, the salary you seek will hinge somewhat on the location of the firm and the working hours you take on.

Remember, undertaking research is critical prior to accepting any training contract – the last thing you want is for your career to stray off in the wrong direction. Taking into account the entire package – salary, location, size, type and practice area will allow you to make a well-informed decision when the time comes.