For a trainee lawyer, the allure of working for an American law firm is undeniably appealing. A challenging work environment, a higher starting salary and the opportunity to work out of a London office with global colleagues are just some of the perks. As the number of American firms in London are on the rise and are busier than ever, there is conversely increased competition amongst trainee lawyers to secure one of these revered spots. If you see yourself working for an international firm which has planted roots in the UK, read on to understand what to expect as a trainee lawyer at a US law firm.
The one distinct advantage that most American law firms in the UK can offer is exposure. American firms who have established practice here tend to recruit trainees in smaller numbers and this, coupled with a smaller headcount goes hand-in-hand with the opportunities available, plus the contact and exposure with senior lawyers from the get-go. The US firms who are successful at what they do offer trainees great access to senior in-house counsel and partners, something which the firms with larger intakes generally cannot boast about.
Specialist and Generalist Opportunities
While some US firms have a high focus on finance, not all of them do. Many US firms offer placements in corporate, technology and employment. It is this diverse mix of specialisation and practice which appeals to many trainees. In addition, while some of these practices may only occur as a support function at UK firms, these are key components of the business with US firms. This is particularly important if, as a trainee lawyer you have an interest in developing your own career. Typically, US firms do not lay out a specific career path for you, instead they offer opportunities and challenges and it’s your decision whether to accept them or not. The training contracts are not as highly structured as the UK firms, thus allowing for flexibility and involvement in other projects.
Then there is the generalist aspect – being encouraged to work on several legal matters including capital markets and mergers & acquisitions, plus administrative work including legal research and drafting contracts. By getting involved in a variety of substantive work at an early stage, a trainee lawyer will become an extremely competent lawyer by the time they qualify.
As US firms are generally smaller in size and due to their corporate nature, they tend not to offer the most extensive formal trainee-specific training programmes, unlike their UK counterparts. Instead, trainees get excellent on the job training and support, which provides for a challenging and quick learning environment.
Pay & Payback
With larger salaries on the table, there is often a need to work harder and longer to fulfil client needs. However, when you compare the US firms who compete with the top of the UK market, including City and Magic Circle firms, the hours are not really that different.
Pro bono work is heavily embraced by US firms and formalised policies exist where both lawyers and trainees are to achieve fifty pro bono hours per year. US firms are also aware of the need for diversity in the workplace, promotion of women to senior levels and the understanding of cognitive bias and how to alter people’s attitudes towards it.
As one would expect, working with a US firm offers an international network of opportunity and cross-border collaboration with global colleagues. Although there is a large amount of prestige placed on securing a training contract with a US firm, it’s not a cakewalk. The American firms come with a reputation for being tougher than their UK counterparts, but as we all can agree, if you are focused, determined and disciplined, then it’s the best career decision you could ever make.