Open thread: What is it like to work at a US firm in London?

Are the megabucks worth the crazy hours? Or have these firms fallen foul to unfounded stereotypes?

lead12

For money-chasing Suits types, landing a job at a US firm used to be akin to finding one of Willy Wonka’s golden tickets.

But with the Yankees upping their London training contract numbers of late, this is becoming an increasingly mainstream route. The likes of Shearman & Sterling, Latham & Watkins and Weil Gotshal are now major players in the UK graduate recruitment scene. And White & Case — which offers a whopping 50 training contracts a year on the back of rapid recent growth — outdoes many large UK firms these days. All pay considerably more than British rivals.

The most generous remunerators are the MoneyLaw crowd, which pay $180,000 to newly qualified lawyers across all their offices globally. Thanks to the weak Brexit pound, that means London rookie solicitors at firms including Kirkland & Ellis and Akin Gump are earning over £140,000. That’s over £50,000 more than the nearest magic circle rival.

For that level of pay, it’s unsurprising these firms expect you to work hard. The hours are notoriously long — a scan of our survey of over 1,500 trainees and junior lawyers confirms this — and the work particularly challenging.

But just how much tougher is life at a US firm in London than an elite UK-headquartered player? Is there a danger that the reality has become detached from the stereotypes? Head below the line and share your experiences of working at a US firm with us.

Previously:

Open thread: What is it like to work in the magic circle? [Legal Cheek]

111 Comments

Anonymous

The money is great obviously but there is hardly any formal training. It’s mostly learning on the job which is probably better experience in the long-term, but in the short-term can you leave you feeling overwhelmed/un-prepared.

(19)(2)
Anonymous

Blarney, Crump, Wheezer & Gooch (UK) LLP.

You should check them out dude, top-end NYC NQ rates and I get my own office!

(9)(1)
Anonymous

Think this will largely depend on the US firm you are at. Shearman will differ to Kirkland.

(11)(1)
Anonymous

Yes, you’ll be much less well compensated for the besting at the latter …

(4)(0)
Anonymous

As I mentioned in a previous thread, the money is terrible, £28,000/year for on average, 60 hour weeks, and unpaid overtime as a paralegal. This kind of exploitation should be illegal.

(8)(7)
Anonymous

Perhaps terrible pay for a paralegal – but you can’t argue that the majority pay Associates well.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Stop being a mug and leave? Complaining about it on LC will do f-all.

(12)(1)
Alpha king

What’s it like??

It’s getting swole for breakfast and eating stacks for dinner.
It’s the ultimate dick-swinging experience this side of the Atlantic.

(3)(4)
Herman

You have to forswear the right to free healthcare before you enter.

(1)(0)
Not a sucker

US firms are the magic circle for people who aren’t suckers.

(35)(7)
Anonymous

Basically yeah. If you bought into the notion that MC/SC lawyers work more civilised hours (and thus make ‘slightly less’ money), you are an idiot.

(18)(3)
Anonymous

Except for the fact it’s largely true, and therefore believing it is rational?

(6)(29)
Anonymous

There are things in life you just grow out of. This applies to believing in santa clause as much as it does to believing in what the grad recruitment tells you.

(16)(0)
s.32, Salmon Act 1986

Having worked at a MC firm and 3 US firms in 11 years, here’s some of what I have learned:
– The MC firms invest more in trainees. London is the head office and the resources are therefore top notch.
– work/life balance depends more on the firm and the team than whether it’s MC or US. Both can be brutal.
– Pay is definitely better at US firms, but you have to be more self-sufficient (fewer resources and support staff).
– The London offices of US firms have fewer procedures strictly applied. If you’re more entrepreneurial in your approach (developing marketing materials, writing articles, setting up industry events, etc.) US firms basically just let you get on with it and see what works. MC firms have a lot more rules about this sort of thing.
– MC associates are less visible to clients. E.g. Compare the profile of any associate on the Links or CCs websites (photo if you’re lucky) to any equivalent on the White & Case or Latham websites (profile shot and full bio for everyone from NQ up).

(45)(0)
Anonymous

I haven’t worked at a US firm but I am friends with six former MC lawyers who have, four of whom left within a year of joining. Their reviews (in comparison with MC):

* Not enough secretaries
* Not enough paralegals
* Not enough of any support staff TBH
* Not enough precedents
* Not enough people who aren’t thundercunts
* Not enough professional development
* Non existant training for traînées and associates
* Not enough decent IT systems
* Too much being bossed about and condescended to by horrible Americans

These might be outliers, I’ll fully accept that. I don’t have personal knowledge. but literally the only people who can comment accurately are those who qualified into one, worked there for a few years, then transferred to the other. And even then they will only be able to comment on two departments at two firms.

People are too quick to say ‘MC is better’ or ‘US is better’. They’re different. The overall impression I’ve got that the difference isn’t really hours but resourcing and training. MC lawyers simply get far far better of both. US lawyers get paid more. That might be untrue though.

(14)(12)
Josh

Stereotypes definitely false – I worked way more hours at the magic circle then I did at a US firm

(15)(3)
Anonymous

Which two firms? I think you’re almost definitely an exception to what seems a reliable rule.

(3)(17)
Anonymous

Just because we are paid more does not mean we always work ‘crazy hours’. Much of the time, US firms salaries are simply reflecting what that particular firms pays its lawyers in the US.

At every City firm, you will be required to work long days. At least at a US firm, because of the (usually) smaller intakes, you are recognised for it and feel somewhat more appreciated than you would at a MC.

(23)(4)
Anonymous

Smaller intakes don’t mean more recognition, they mean less support, more all-nighters, and still no recognition.

(16)(10)
Anonymous

I worked in a US firm for 7 and a half years, the managing partner kept getting me to do dirty things, I think he was gay…

(16)(6)
Anonymous

But on the plus side of the US firm I worked at, once a month a few of the lads in the commercial department I was in would go into the resources room and we would have a game of soggy biscuit. Boy that was fun.

(4)(1)
Anonymous

After what happened to me in there, none of the other partners wanted to engage in coitus with me. So all I did was give them blowies.

(2)(4)
Anonymous

Where one might expect a lawyer to expect a hefty Christmas bonus, Jones Day partners buck the trend. They want massive Christmas boners.

(21)(4)
Lord Harley

Working for JAFLAS is like Suits too. Well, the bit where I lied about having gone to certain universities, anyway.

(26)(0)
swansie uni Llb

Our grads regularly get TCs at Latham and Kirklund, we’re the best uni in Wales.

(2)(12)
Keele Llb

Oh wow same for us. We are the best uni in the midlands, we regularly get recruited by DLA Piper and such

(3)(11)
Col. Nathan Jessep

Aww look, the [insert crap uni name] LLB guy is back trying to troll again! Bless!

(5)(2)
I wish I took that graduate scheme at Aldi

Why would ANYONE want to work in such factories.

Give me Irwin Mitchell, DWF etc anyday. Enough money to live at the basic level (20 square foot flat in Peckham and food handouts) and a real sense of being humble and helping people directly.

And if you’re lucky, you get to wash Andrew Leatherpants’ Bentley with his underpants as a treat on Saturdays.

(14)(8)
Anonymous

Can anyone tell me what it’s like to work in an advisory department at a US firm?

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Depends what you mean by ‘US firms’ really, but if you are talking the likes of Latham and others mentioned in the OP, then the truth is that they don’t really tend to have traditional advisory departments. Sure, they will have a Tax/Competition/Pensions (maybe) department, but the work will really be Corporate support work and subsequently much longer hours than at a MC/international shop where advisory work usually allows for a 7-7.30 pm finish (with the occasional bit of transactional work).

(6)(2)
Anonymous

What about Covington? Doesn’t it traditionally have a focus on advisory/regulatory work?

(7)(0)
Anonymous

Have Covington matched the other US firms though for pay?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I think they’re offering less than a number of US firms – 85,000 NQ at present.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

boo hoo. Still more than the highest of the MC though isn’t it?

(1)(1)
Anonymous

More than most their NQs will be taking home… although the best performers at CC will take home the same amount.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

What are the differences between some of the best “white shoe” firms. And is there a difference between the NY and DC headquarter firms?

(1)(0)
Anonymous

A lot in the US, not a lot in London. All are likely to pay better than any UK shop. Plenty of friends over at doomed KWM are now over at Arnold & Porter (D.C. firm) and they’re loving the top dolla.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

If you had indeed done your own research you’d know that Arnold don’t publish this information.

(13)(0)
Anonymous

Hi, I think the NQ salary is around the £70k mark having spoken to HR there. It’s not level with the other American firms as its so much smaller.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

70k sounds wrong seeing as their website says they pay market with similar firms in London…

(2)(0)
Anonymous

Get decent training under your belt at a good City firm (until 2-3 years PQE) then head across to a US firm. There will be a bit of a culture shock and slightly longer hours, but you’ll be far more prepared than just joining as an NQ and with far better remuneration.

(7)(2)
Anonymous

Hear hear. Although you might struggle if you trained at DWF or Irwin Mitchell…

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Nearly impossible to go from DWF/IM to a US firm. That is not to say these aren’t good firms with a better work/life balance.

(2)(3)
Anonymous

I heard Kirklands recently hired a DWF NQ, to operate the deep frier in the canteen. Apparently he’s a swell chap.

(31)(0)
Anonymous

My experience is that the additional salary does make the extra hours worth it. I essentially work MC hours, if not a little more, every week. However, I guess the big difference is that you have no downtime and no time to recover.

So, whilst I may have worked a solid 65 hour week when I was still at a MC firm, potentially for weeks on end, I would have spent about 50% of my weeks working just 50 hours. If I compare that to working for a US firm, every week is at least 65 hours. Does this really bother me? No, not really, but I’m sure for some people this may be a game changer.

I also think at trainee level stay away from US firms. The training trainees receive at my current form is essentially non-existent, and that really does show. There’s a reason why MC trained lawyers are perceived as the best, even if the firms themselves aren’t what they once were.

(26)(2)
Anonymous

But surely if one wants to work at a US firm from NQ level onwards the only sensible thing to do is to train at one? It cannot be that easy for a MC Trainee/Associste to lateral over, considering the amount of MC lawyers there are and the few lateral spots. So what is the point of being more trained if in reality you can’t do anything with it but stay in the MC… perhaps better training, and therefore a better lawyer with more chance of partnership at a smaller firm later on?

(5)(8)
Anonymous

Too true – only have to look at most US firms retention rates to see it will be very hard to move post-qualification.

(3)(3)
Anonymous

You’ll also find a lot of US firms (UK firms too) will keep NQ’s on contracts to make their retention rates better…

(4)(0)
Anonymous

I found the process of transferring as a lateral hire extremely easy, with recruiters constantly reaching out to me opposed to me having to look for a new role. However, this was admittedly a few years back, so maybe this trend won’t continue now the US firms are more established in London. Even then though, my team is constantly taking on new lawyers from MC firms, so I think if you want to move over to a US shop you’ll find it easy enough if you’ve trained at a top firm in your practice area.

Obviously, not all MC lawyers would ever be able to transfer over, there simply isn’t the demand amongst US firms. What you have to realise however is that the majority of MC lawyers don’t want to. When you take out the people who are holding on to the dream of partnership, those who are happy with their current salary and work/life balance, those who want less hours so go in-house, those who are sick of the City and those who are sick of law altogether you’ll find there isn’t a huge number of people who are still up for more of a beasting at 2/3/4 PQE. If you are up for it, as I was, you should find obtaining a move relatively simple.

(12)(1)
Anonymous

So I left a major SC firm on qualification and eventually moved offshore. But all the big US firms are hungry for NQs from MC/SC firms.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Most US firms with a couple of exceptions – W&C and Latham especially – hire far fewer trainees than they require in new lawyers each year. Only a handful of MC trainees actually choose to jump ship on qualification – the exodus happens at about 2-3 years PQE. MC trainees get bombarded with recruiters in the run up to qualification with all sorts of offers, a huge proportion of which are US firms.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Do trainees and NQs at the United States firms get paid so much because they are working for Corporations which are terrors to creation, such as Halliburton ? I assume so, because they will need the money to help themselves self medicate.

Please can someone illuminate my guess work with fact 🙂

(2)(14)
Anonymous

Of course it is, you just have to work hard. With a SC on your cv you could most definitely get a job as a cleaner at a US firm, but remember you will have to work extremely hard at the SC firm.

(20)(6)
Anonymous

Very possible. Seen enough NQs and PQE lawyers make that move. It is becoming less common where the US firms are generally upping their trainee intakes and not growing as fast as they have done it the past, but it is still possible.

(1)(0)
Anonymous

My scientific survey of Legal Cheek posters and where they say they work leads me to calculate that the Arsehole-Tosser Coefficient (0 – 1; 1 being certainty of arsehole-tosserness) for sols at US firms in in this country is 0.99976.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

Do trainees and newly qualified US solicitors get paid so much because they work for organisations such as those which specialize in high profit fracking. They are intelligent enough to know that the opposition to it is scientifically correct, and the counter testimony is just propaganda, but they can self medicate so much, with their high salary, that they pretend not to care ?

Without the high salary, you would get whistleblowers…and the partners need to know that the young recruits are greedy examples of the educated species.

(3)(15)
Anonymous

If I once came across a religious figure who observed that “It is harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” would I find myself, upon working in a US law firm, thinking that my colleagues, my firm’s partners and their clients were all damned ?

Would there be any sort of vetting procedure to ensure that I did not get through the door , with such an anti capitalist religious disposition, so that I would bore off or leave the thread – to the sound of self medicated cackles of laughter…?

(0)(12)
Anonymous

Yawn at this thread…how many times do we have to go over this?

“US firm” doesn’t mean anything. Like any employee, your experience will depend on the particular place you work. Long hours are consistent across the board.

Whether the salary is ‘worth it’ is a personal assessment. For some yes, for many no. End of thread.

(6)(2)
Anonymous

Excellent global reputation, far greater responsibility than my mates have at UK MC/SC firms, actually know 90% of the people in the office, fantastic exit prospects for those who leave and earn almost double (if you include bonus!) what my peers at UK firms are earning. Hours are just as you would find in the corporate dep at somewhere like Freshfields/CC/etc.

People always go on about the lack of ‘teaching’ during training at US firms. The reality is simple, to be a great M&A lawyer you need to be doing M&A deals and working on significant aspects of these and being challenged constantly. You don’t become a great M&A lawyer from being taught in a classroom for a few hours a week about M&A, you need to be learning from working on transactions constantly. That is what my US firm does and the difference in quality between the trainees at NQ level here at at UK firms is stark. (this isn’t limited to M&A, just an example)

Yes you will be pushed, challenged and put under pressure, but you will be a far better. lawyer because of it. If you want somewhere to hide away during your TC and slowly learn to become a good lawyer and be eased into it – go to a UK firm.

The likes of Latham, Skadden, Kirkland, Sidley, Weil, Sull Crom, Davis Polk are all excellent.

(21)(1)
Anonymous

You make a lot of good points. But I don’t think it’s fair to say that all trainees at UK firms are “hiding”. The quality of work in many cases is equal to that which is landing on the desk of a US trainee. Maybe you do it from a comfier chair, after eating a subsidised lunch on the firm’s rooftop terrace, but an SPA is an SPA wherever in the country you send your emails from.

(7)(4)
Anonymous

When a US NQ has time to post comments on a legal cheek comment thread, £140k is not a justifiable salary.

(9)(4)
boomboomboom

Pay is 60% + higher than the MC, the hours are the same. That’s really the end of the conversation.

Re “training”, you learn on the job, you don’t learn much sitting in fluff lectures and powerpoints. Although US firms are doing more and more of this type of thing. The training is probably better in the US since you can take higher level work and an earlier stage, plus have greater partner exposure.

Lateral transfer. Not as easy as it was. US trainee intakes expand every year. In 5 years, it will be even more difficult.

(11)(2)
Former KWM Associate, Current Dole Monkey

Why do you all take the piss out of Jones Day? I would happily work there

(3)(1)
Trainee

It’s an average shop with a self-aggrandising ethos. Pays a bit more $ than most to trainees, and thus attracts a lot of jordan belfort wannabes. You can spot them a mile off at law school. Associate pay is no better than MC (apart from Slaughters lol).

Reputation in the gutter mainly due to its notorious internal culture (London office). Horrendously unprofessional partners and senior management. High quantity of second rate ‘rugby lads’ posing as associates in the ranks. ZERO respect for women and an alarming number of anecdotal reports of sexual assault/propositioning. “Non-rotational” training system which engenders favouritism, sycophancy, unequal distribution of work and chaos.

Feel free to apply to them – far be it for me to judge. But this is why people talk about the firm as they do.

(24)(1)
Charlie Sheen

Noyce. Sounds like my kinda firm, where do I sign up?

(2)(1)
Former KWM Associate, Current Dole Monkey

Well in that case, which City firm is known for having the best looking birds around? Huge decision making factor

(0)(2)
Anonymous

Bird & Bird?
Birdwin Leighton Paisner?
Nabsparrow?
Allen & Owlery?
Cliffinch Chance?
Addleshaw Gooseard?

(14)(1)
Art

”a lot of jordan belfort wannabes. You can spot them a mile off at law school.”

Hmm, reading this, a certain short chap known as ‘Charles’ at BPP Holborn comes to mind…

(2)(1)
Anonymous

I have an offer to train with the Dublin office of a Cayman Islands shop, would I be better served applying to MC and US firms? A trainee level the money is comparable at trainee level

(0)(1)
Anonymous

As unbiased a view as I can give from the perspective of a junior:

My average day is probably around 10am – 9.30pm. This will frequently be far later, with up until 2am relatively normal. Beyond 2am is abnormal and only in dire circumstances. I occasionally have nothing to do, in which case I will try to leave at 6, though am aware that if I am seen doing this too often everyone will clock I’m quiet and consequently dump disproportionate amounts of work on me. I tend to work a couple of hours on a weekend, whilst I work substantially more than this on around 1 in 3 weekends. I rarely make evening plans as I will often have to cancel them at short notice, though usually can work around work should it be needed on weekends. I have never worked an all nighter.

My holidays are usually respected, though those of colleagues are frequently disturbed. I am aware that the firm views this as acceptable on the basis of what we are paid and the nature of the clients we have. If I have to work more than a couple of hours on a day off I am given a day off in lieu.

I am paid a lot of money (easily in 6 figures) and get a bonus which is far more than my contemporaries at Magic Circle firms. I estimate I probably in total earn at least £50k more than they do when salary, bonus and tangible perks are considered. Financially, I would struggle to do much better. My pension is terrible as US firms frequently offer the statutory minimum, but that is taken into account in the £50k figure above.

I have far less access to meaningful support than I would get at a UK firm I suspect. Secretarial support out of 9-5 is limited, we have far fewer paralegals and often they have no capacity to help. At times (especially as a trainee) I am in the office late doing menial tasks simply because there was nobody else to do them. We have little in the way of precedents and a skeleton library provision in London. Most of the support functions are based in the US, meaning that London is usually not a priority and this reflects in responsiveness/helpfulness.

I am giving an insane level of responsibility, and have been since the day I turned up. As a trainee I was doing the sort of work friends at the Magic Circle weren’t touching until they were a year qualified, and was expected to do it well. As a trainee I was negotiating with Magic Circle lawyers who were 3 years qualified- I was hurled in the deep end with nowhere to hide and all the pressure that entails. In terms of experience I doubt I could be in a better position had I gone elsewhere; the type of deals are the cream of the crop, the role I play in the much smaller team is always integral despite my grade. Even as a trainee, I was actually an important part of the team. I have little doubt I would be well placed to pursue roles elsewhere or in house thanks to this experience.

Client contact has been almost constant from the day I turned up as a trainee. On my second week I was told to call a client with my supervisor sat next to me and explain a fairly complex point to them with 10 minutes warning and told the message I should take from the experience was that I needed to be able to keep things moving if the partner or associate running the deal were to die or become ill. It was good advice and reflects the general ethos of totally immersing yourself in deals or cases. I doubt if I would have this level of client contact/involvement if I worked at a non-US firms.

I have access to a limited program of in-house seminars, though most of my training as an associate and previously as a trainee has been on the job. I am rarely shown how to do something, rather left to figure it out myself. This independence has undoubtedly made me a better lawyer, but is not for everyone.

My colleagues are, like most workplaces, a very mixed bunch. Some are psychopaths who shout and scream, most are normal functioning human beings who are perhaps slightly intense or simply want money. I have more access to partners than I think I would get elsewhere, which is a mixed blessing. There is little focus on political correctness or strong HR procedures regarding the treatment of employees, meaning some outrageous behaviour does occur and get tolerated. Most of us are there for the money, for differing reasons. I want to pay most of my mortgage off.

(55)(0)
Anonymous

Thank you, this is very interesting and detailed. One question: do you work in a transactional or advisory department?

(2)(0)
Anonymous

Read above. Advisory departments essentially do not exist at US firms in London. They are not profitable.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

Moved from a MC firm to US firm this year. Work no harder at the US firm, smaller team, double the pay. So far, no regrets.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

4 PQE at elite US firm – £230,000 total comp. Likely 2100-2400 hours. Wouldn’t change it. If you’re good, you’ll thrive at a US shop. Far more partner contact (and obviously more pressure). Hours longer for sure, but not massively so. Less bureaucracy and hierarchy from my experience. Do it, but don’t do it too early on in your career. Give yourself a few years of Magic Circle chilling (1700-1800 hours/year) and then move.

(1)(0)

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