What is it really like to work at a US firm? An NQ’s perspective

The hours, the responsibility, the holidays, the money

law

Legal Cheek recently ran the open thread ‘What is it like to work at a US firm in London?’, handing over to our commenters to share anecdotes, experiences and advice. With over 110 comments, this came aplenty, but there was one particular comment that caught our eye. Written by an anonymous user who describes him or herself as “a junior”, here is the — often difficult — reality of life in a US corporate law firm.

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 six 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 given 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 three 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 programme 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.”

You can access the full Legal Cheek open thread here.

51 Comments

Dane Bowers

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(5)(2)
Dane Bowers

Surprise surprise, the fascist moderators are at it again, censoring a very reasonable comment about the difference between the sexes in the workplace.

At the same time as allowing bullying on articles like yesterday’s.

(22)(7)
Anonymous

It’s a private website. They are not obliged to provide a platform to whatever sexist bullshit you decide to bash out. If you don’t like their policies, don’t read the site or don’t comment. Better yet, set up your own website where you and your chums can circle jerk about women/liberals/whatever else it is you despise, to your heart’s content.

(31)(14)
Dane Bowers

So if I told you I’m a female 2pqe who trained at a US firm but moved to a West End boutique would it make any difference?

(5)(8)
Anonymous

Any difference to what? My contention that it’s up to legal cheek what comments it allows on its site? No. None at all.

(5)(5)
Dane Bowers

Nice shift in position from *you made sexist comments + LC can moderate what they want = you’re wrong* to *LC can moderate what they want = you’re wrong* (thanks for mansplaining btw)

You’re confusing the right to do something with whether it’s morally right to do that thing.

(4)(5)
Anonymous

My position is just “legal cheek can moderate what they want.” You described that as “fascist”. Clearly it isn’t. I also don’t think there is any moral obligation on a private media outlet to provide a platform for any comment whatsoever. It’s entirely a matter for those running that particular outlet. You have a right to say whatever you want, but no one has any moral obligation to listen, to help you say what you want to say or help convey what you say to others. You described the moderators as “fascist” for having refused to publish your comment. That’s clearly nonsense.

(7)(1)
Dane Bowers

Ok, you believe that private media outlets have no moral obligation to publish comments with which they disagree. Fair enough.

By extension though you wouldn’t be bothered if Facebook, Twitter, the Guardian, Mail Onlince etc censored every left-wing or right-wing comment that appeared on their sites. You would be ok with that?

Do you not think popular platforms have a moral duty to allow people to consider different points of view? Or are you purely legalistic i.e. they’re not breaking the law so that’s fine…?

(4)(6)
Anonymous

Dane Bowers + not happy with response + claim sexism = idiot

(7)(4)
Dane Bowers

Ha, maybe Dane Bowers wasn’t the best choice of name. Freak Me is hardly a feminist anthem.

(1)(5)
🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 Trumpendozer 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

Hush now cuckie.

(3)(3)
Anonymous

I could not finish reading it, as it feels and sounds like an inmate wrote it….

(35)(1)
Quo Vadis

“My colleagues are, like most workplaces, a very mixed bunch. Some are psychopaths who shout and scream”

(25)(0)
Anonymous

I’d love to see video footage of one of his psychopath colleagues going mental. It would likely be very entertaining.

(3)(0)
Arachnae

Great for the writer, but however excellent she/he is, this gives the impression that the US firm in question is not providing clients with a very professional service for what is no doubt a very high price. Also, what is the thinking behind paying someone £100k plus to do their own filing, copying and typing? UK firms are presumably spending this money on proper support not stupid NQ salaries. It’s a shame clients aren’t reading this.

(26)(3)
Anonymous

“Also, what is the thinking behind paying someone £100k plus to do their own filing, copying and typing?”
Isn’t that the whole point, you’re paid more because you’re actually doing more range of work. From the mundane to the complex….

(4)(7)
Anonymous

The point is that the firm would be better off paying a secretary £35k to do all of the extra menial work for three associates and chopping £20k off each of their salaries. It makes no sense.

(17)(0)
Random

Too logical mate. These jokers would have beast the hell out of trainees, even if it means they spend ages doing non-chargeable work. They then complain that said trainees have recorded X amount of time against a matter doing rubbish, and cut your time in half so your utilisation figures are rubbish at year end. Its not uncommon at 2-4 years pqe to still be doing your own copying etc. English firms are better in terms of support staff, gradual training and development, but cash is king so peeps will always jump ship.

(4)(0)
Anonymous

This is so true. On a lot of deals I’ve worked on the US teams have been absolutely shocking compared to their MC/SC counterparts. They don’t have the support nor a more manageable workload so make so many more mistakes. Simply, to the clients they come across as worse lawyers.

(20)(7)
Anonymous

The paragraphs about responsibility is what every firm should strive for! That’s how you learn! Yes it is daunting and difficult but if you want to be a corporate lawyer you need to be immersed from day one. US firms arent for everyone but from what this person has listed it does set you up to be a better lawyer in the long run.
UK firms should adopt some of these areas

(3)(5)
Anonymous

Let’s be frank, only in MC or big corporate firms is this not your life. Having worked in niche firms for the past 4 years this sounds the same as my practise accept I get a lot lot less money.

(1)(13)
LL and P

Hi mate. Which firm do you work at where the difference between ‘except’ and ‘accept’ is a challenge? I just want to make sure I never work there nor instruct you guys for anything. Thanks.

(21)(2)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(2)
Anonymous

Sounds like the writer has a bit of a chip on his shoulder about not being MC.

(5)(13)
Anonymous

Yup. The world of solicitors sounds pretty shit. And most of the younger ones seem to be semi-literate.

(4)(2)
Anonymous

the MC is overrated anyway, you’re doing the same workload as those at US firms for a comparatively much lower salary

(15)(6)
Anonymous

At the end of the day you’ve got a choice. You don’t have to work at an MC, US, SC, Boutique, high street or regional.

You make your mind up as to what you wish to do with the majority of your career.

If you enjoy the work and the money compliments that then you should be fine.

Just remember almost every damn shop in London is pretty much the same at its bare bones, just you come at different prices.

(11)(0)
Anonymous

I work for an MC firm and am working opposite a relatively NQ in an American firm on a deal.

Let’s just the lack of formal training shows…

All the client contact and “being thrown into the deep end” in the world are useless unless you actually learn how to do the job properly. Otherwise, all you do is spend your career repeating the same mistakes.

(13)(9)
Anonymous

If you’re going to attempt to mug someone off for typos, its best to make sure your own post doesn’t have any.

You’re welcome.

(14)(6)
Weary

“US firm” (still unconvinced they are all as uniformly the same as this stock phrase suggests) obsession is getting boring now.

The attention paid to “US firms” by LC is not commensurate with their actual relevance to the overwhelming majority of law students who comprise the majority of this website’s readership/target market.

Most US firms, certainly the ones whose names are bandied about on here most frequently, offer between 10-15 TCs per annum, and a some notable examples offer fewer still than this (yeah, ok, White & Case exception noted). What’s more, these firms, in the main, do not market themselves widely throughout the student population, preferring instead to cherry pick from a privileged elite at a minimal number of select universities. Any casual browser on Linkedin can see that Oxbridge easily accounts for over half, perhaps more, (reputable) US firm trainees/futures. The logic behind this is simple and understood by all. Why traipse up and down UK uni law fairs when you know that the ten or so people you need can more than likely be found in one or two places? Davis Polk/Sull Crom/AkinGump/Skadden (and others) don’t bother because they don’t need to.

This isn’t a whine-about-the-system post. My point is that LC is putting out a disproportionate amount of material focused on US firms relative to the opportunities they afford to its readers. Some coverage is warranted, of course, but not this level of hysteria which seems transparently driven by a preoccupation with the higher salaries. This point of difference is already highlighted elsewhere on the website (“Most” lists). What more is there to say? You ran this story a couple of weeks back, and have now needlessly published an unverifiable comment, in a ham-fisted attempt to reinvigorate debate. It’s been done to death. Please, let’s restore some balance and think of material to publish which may be relevant to a greater number of people.

(25)(1)
Weary

For the avoidance of doubt, reference to reputable US firms is not inclusive of Jones Day.

(28)(3)
Scep Tick

A rational client would surely be worried about reading such comments. Paying top dollar for a trainee to negotiate things when the other side has fully-qualified lawyers. Plus lengthy hours – someone is plainly not going to be as sharp at 2am as they are at 10am.

But then again that might reflect that much of the law is actually fairly easy. E.g. in corporate or conveyancing just take what’s been done before and change the names. Essentially clients are buying insurance rather than expertise.

(8)(0)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)
Adam Deen

Ha, don’t listen to this pathetic beta, Jones Day is the best, most outrageous shop in the City.

Jones Day, it’s a total dream.

This post has been moderated because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(9)(3)
Random

Stop pretending mate, you’ve already been roasted by the others but you’re still here trying to front like you work for Jones Day. Get a life, a real one not online.

(3)(2)
Adam Deen

Haha stay jelly tumor.

I earn more per week than you per year. Get laid more too. Jones Day are such awesome LADS.

(0)(4)
Anonymous

If any of you unqualified bores knew anything you’d realise that most US law offices in London are really shit, small and grubby.

(3)(1)
Anonymous

Eh? What’s your point? The business model is to spend more on salaries, less on frills. we understand this as well as you do, stop being a sanctimonius c***.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

Just y’all here like unqualified law students with a chip on your shoulder slating people left right and centre; when the fact of the matter is your all the same shops with different price tags, albeit with different colours of ego.

Kirkland salaries ftw btw so get out pls.

(0)(0)
US Trainee

Sorry have you even been inside offices of a US firm in London?

Kirkland & Latham’s offices are probably the nicest in London, wouldn’t think twice about it when compared to the likes of Slaughters and Linklaters’ dumps in Moorgate.

(3)(0)
Also a US Trainee

His/her point stands that most US firm offices in London tend to be pretty basic. It’s an irrelevant point, but not one which is disproved by the two outliers you name.

(0)(0)

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