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The best law firms to train with in Britain 2017-18

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Over 2,000 trainees and junior solicitors rated their training

The results of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2017-18 are in — and over the next few weeks we will be bringing you news of the law firms which scored A*s in each of the categories.

First up is training. We asked more than 2,000 trainees and junior lawyers at over 60 leading corporate law firms operating in the UK to rate the training they have received out of ten on the following scale: ‘I still can’t work the photocopier’ to ‘I’m ready to negotiate Brexit’.

Firms were graded A* to D. The following ten scooped an A*. In no particular order, they are…

Clifford Chance

“Whilst negotiating Brexit should be left to the self-selected experts, the training at Clifford Chance has left me about as prepared as I could be at my level,” one Clifford Chance (CC) trainee tells us, summing up the prevailing high satisfaction levels about the firm’s training.

Others describe the instruction glowingly as “world class” and “exceptional”, with a “perfect balance between guidance and independence”. A further rookie confidently asserts: “We have the best training programme in the City.”

Those commencing legal careers at the Canary Wharf-based magic circler are immediately inducted into a two-year long whirl of intensive classes in the ‘CC Academy’ and “exceptional” on-the-job learning. Laced into this mix are weekly lectures given by partners and senior associates. Apparently there is “an obvious teaching culture”.

“People really try and explain things to you,” another insider tells Legal Cheek, “there are loads of lectures, and there is a fantastic online database of precedents, templates, lectures, and presentations.”

Read Clifford Chance’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Travers Smith

Travers Smith’s close-knit set-up, which sees it focus on private equity and other high end corporate finance work from its two offices, in London and Paris, lends itself well to good quality training. As one of the firm’s trainees tells us:

“The partners are closely involved in trainee supervision and take a keen interest in our career development. I am in my first seat and was taken along to client meetings from a couple of weeks in and have also been given some responsibility on aspects of a small corporate deal, with associate and partner oversight.”

Organised training sessions take place at the beginning of each seat, with the bulk of the training “on the job” and “generally of good quality”. Associates and partners “make an effort to pass more interesting tasks our way, even if just for experience”. These include tasks such as negotiating leases/licences, doing the first cut of sales and purchase agreements or drafting deeds to amend the rules of a pension scheme.

As with some other boutiquey City firms that put an emphasis on quality of training, Travers likes to keep its rookies close during their TCs — reserving its international secondments largely for associates, who regularly spend time with its ‘best friend’ law firms in other countries and UK and international clients.

Read Travers Smith’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Kirkland & Ellis

While Kirkland & Ellis might not be the firm for those who want highly developed formal instruction, it’s hard to beat for anyone who values practical training that takes place on actual transactions

Working among the alpha dealmakers of the US giant’s London office inevitably rubs off, with trainees who can handle the pace loving this “amazing firm”. Not that it’s for everyone — as Kirkland’s disappointing 56% (five out of nine) trainee retention rate showed this summer.

But for the right type of person this is an undeniably good place to start a legal career, with initially “intimidating” partners turning out to be actually “amazingly approachable” when you get to know them a bit. “They’re also great at letting you sit in on calls with senior people at the client,” we are told. It helps that the office — set across the 19th-25th floors of Sir Norman Foster’s Gherkin building in the City — is relatively small.

One insider tells us that they would have given Kirkland a ten out of ten for its training but for the fact that “I’d never be ready to negotiate Brexit”.

Read Kirkland & Ellis’ full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Check out The Legal Cheek Firms Most List

Mayer Brown

With its longstanding reputation as a leading trainer, it’s no secret that Mayer Brown’s newly qualified associates used to be targeted by magic circle and US firms. But with newly qualified pay now up to £75,000 and profit per equity partner well over £1 million, it’s getting harder to prize away the MB young.

Like last year, the firm scores an A* for its training. The secret to its sustained success in this area seems to be a combination of frequency of training (“there is lots of training at MB,” we are told) and the high standard to which it is delivered (it’s apparently consistently “excellent”). Trainees also seem to like the cohort size, with an annual intake of 15 graduates big enough to ensure there is a decent training infrastructure but small enough to mean that senior members of the firm aren’t too distant. “My supervisors have been great at answering questions and explaining concepts to me,” another insider reports.

It’s also worth noting that a very high proportion — 75% — of Mayer Brown trainees do client secondments, which are said to be great learning experiences.

Read Mayer Brown’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

RPC

“I’ve had an excellent training at RPC. I’ve been given a lot of responsibility and also a good level of support from HR and from the departments I’ve sat in. It has been a very varied two years and I’ve had the opportunity to undertake both an in-house and international secondment. Both secondments have been great opportunities for learning!”

So says one of the insurance and litigation-focused firm’s current cohort. Others praise RPC’s combination of “great level of responsibility” and “supportive” culture, which they suggest is a “great environment to develop in”.

The firm’s open plan set-up, meanwhile, allows “people at all levels willing to take a lot of time out to walk you through things”.

As with any training contract, there’s some grunt work too — as documented on RPC’s sometimes disarmingly honest @lifeinalawfirm trainee Twitter account — but there seems to be an appreciation that the firm is open with future joiners about what it expects.

Read RPC’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Mishcon de Reya

Like CC, Mishcon de Reya has jumped from an A to an A* in this year’s Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. What’s the secret of Mishcon’s success?

One rookie tells us that it’s the incremental way higher levels of responsibility are introduced through the two-year training period:

“As your TC progresses, you realise that you are routinely doing tasks that would previously have taken you days — and you are given the leeway to do this.”

The trainee experience at the Holborn-based private client and real estate boutique begins with an “excellent” induction at the ‘Mishcon Academy’ that is followed “by intense training in each department at the start of each seat”. The firm’s glamorous client base, which includes a host of celebrities, means a diet of some “great work” to cut your teeth on. However, note that with so much going on at Mishcon — the firm’s turnover has, incredibly, doubled since 2012 — “some lawyers are too busy to review the work you submit”.

Still, the firm’s smaller size (it offers 14 trainee places each year) means that attention from partners is rarely too hard to find, and the buzz around the place thanks to those growth figures infuses the trainee experience with a healthy “optimism”.

Read Mishcon de Reya’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

TLT

The famously high levels of responsibility that Bristol-based TLT gives to its trainees, allied to diligent supervision, makes for a winning combination, say insiders.

One NQ reports:

“As a trainee I have been given a lot of responsibility e.g. running my own files, or taking the lead on specific parts of larger matters e.g. leading the DD on large corporate transactions. This has prepared me really well for life as an NQ. Also, all the fee earners at the firm from partner legal downwards are really supportive, willing to help and genuinely interested in your development, which helps!”

Another expresses gratitude for the encouragement given by the firm for trainees “to have a go at tasks instead of being micro-managed”.

TLT’s model of undercutting leading City firms on certain aspects of banking transactions, which are then handed to young teams in Bristol, Manchester, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow, facilitates this way of working.

A further rookie reports being “able to request increasing amounts of responsibility — i.e. involvement in client meetings or experience of different types of work with sufficient support”. Continuing they add: “One trainee in a team and small teams allow for lots of involvement and input.”

Read TLT’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Osborne Clarke

“There is department training, sector training and team training,” one Osborne Clarke (OC) rookie tells us, “and also training run by and for junior lawyers and trainees.”

In other words, OC is a training-fest. The firm’s score for this category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey reflects a deep dedication to the thorough rearing of its young.

“We are given a lot of responsibility as trainees and tasks are always put into context so that you can learn about the wider deal as well,” another OC trainee tells us, while further adjectives banded around about the TC experience include “fantastic” and “impressive”.

No wonder OC scooped ‘Best Law Firm for Training’ at the last Legal Cheek Awards. But will the firm hold on to the title this time around? All will be revealed when we announce which A* firms got the highest score in this year’s survey in the spring.

Read Osborne Clarke’s full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Macfarlanes

Macfarlanes’ profit per equity partner this year of £1.38 million is up there with the magic circle, making this M&A-geared single office firm an intense but rewarding place to be.

Trainees work hard here, but they also get some of the most rigorous grounding in City law around. One tells us:

“Training is taken very seriously. Most fee-earners take the time to explain comments to you rather than just handing back mark-ups. There’s a lot of emphasis on becoming a technically excellent lawyer at the start of your career.”

Another adds that there is a “very good mix of formal training and people taking the time to explain when working on a matter”.

Expect lots of responsibility. You may even be “thrown in at the deep end, treated like an associate (for better or worse)”. But that is usually backed up by “excellent training sessions at the beginning of each seat and then throughout”. And apparently “the amount of individual attention that each trainee gets is really impressive”.

Read Macfarlanes’ full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Linklaters

The magic circle firm’s training is so thorough that it’s “even a little overkill” at times. If there is a criticism of the overall “really good” instruction it’s that it is “not always consistent between departments”. One insider tells us:

“My department doesn’t have many formal training sessions but we don’t need them because the associates and managing associates are so helpful!”

While another Linklaters rookie reports: “2 hours of formal banking training every week, in addition to learning from my principal and others I work with.”

There’s also apparently “amazing know-how online” and a pleasingly practical dedication to focusing on “what is important”. Add in some fascinating instructions, and you’re “literally ready to negotiate Brexit; we’re doing a lot of work on it”.

Read Linklaters’ full firm profile, including The Legal Cheek View and Insider Scorecard.

Looking beyond the ten firms which scored A*s, 40 firms scored As for their training, indicating relatively high prevailing levels of satisfaction for this aspect of life among trainees. Nine firms received a B grade, two received a C, while none of the 60 surveyed scored a D in this category of the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey. Peruse all of the firm’s new 2017-18 survey scorecards via the Legal Cheek Firms Most List 2017-18.

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