Comment

‘I quit the magic circle to practise in Bristol — and I regret it’

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A Legal Cheek reader shares their story

For many aspiring solicitors, practising in London is the dream: more top firms, more training contracts, more money, the list goes on.

But is life as a City lawyer really all it’s cracked up to be? Or are there more attractive opportunities for budding lawyers beyond the boundaries of the Big Smoke?

Well, last week, Legal Cheek’s features editor Katie King explored just that. Using London as the yard stick, she explored whether solicitors should turn their backs on City life and jump on the nearest Bristol-bound train.

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The article — examining everything from property prices to quality of work — prompted one former magic circle lawyer to share their Bristol switch experience, and it makes for an interesting read.

We’ve reproduced the comment in full below — let us know what you think below the line.

“Having spent my entire life in London I recently decided to give Bristol a go after becoming disillusioned with London’s property market. I lasted less than a year before moving back to London.

I went from a MC firm to one of the firms mentioned in this article. I am somebody who rolls my eyes at phrases like ‘high quality work’ and ‘blue chip clients’. Work/life balance and length of commute matter more to me than the size of my payslip.

I was surprised to find that quality of work was actually important to me. Despite being a large Bristol firm most of the clients were ‘unsophisticated’ (i.e. they didn’t deal with lawyers on a regular basis). Their issues were mostly resolved by printing PLC precedent and filling in the blanks. I spent a disproportionate amount of time on the phone to clients explaining how to obtain a certified copy of their passport. This was fine at first but doing such mundane work soon became very dull.

Most notably, the quality of colleague in Bristol is shockingly low. As there is a smaller pool of candidates compared to London the competition for places is far less fierce. Naturally the quality suffers. Maybe it’s snobbery but I was genuinely amazed to find roughly half of associates and partners attended universities that wouldn’t be found in the top 50 of a university league table. People that simply wouldn’t get an interview at any good London firm. I tried to see past my prejudice but the quality of legal advice was also poor. I was frequently on con-calls hearing partners muddle through basic legal principles and provide outdated (and therefore no longer applicable) legal advice. This ‘lack of ability’ wasn’t unique to legal skills or academic success — conversations about current affairs made me feel like I was sitting in a sixth form common room. Essentially I found myself in an environment where I had little respect for people who I was supposed to be learning from.

Finally, I found this particular Bristol firm to be massively cliquey. There is a culture and it’s mostly ‘rugby and pints’ — it was a bit like a student union. All the associates have dated all the other associates and there is so much office nonsense that you just don’t have to deal with in London.

2/10 — wouldn’t move again.”

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66 Comments

Scep Tick

“All the associates have dated all the other associates ”

Which firm is this perchance? Just for academic interest.

Jones Day Partner

I’m curious too.

Anonymous

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

Ciaran Goggins

Nice photo of Hotwells. Knew a chap who was at Ovary Aviary who did similar, then he found THE LORD and is now a vicar. Hawt wife.

Anonymous

I’m not surprised this person trained at an MC firm, considering how snobbish they come across in this article

Anonymous

Some work is higher quality than other work and I suspect both people at both MC firms and regional firms know the difference. So it isn’t snobbery, it’s the market.

Freshfieldssenioraasociate

I agree. There is little difference between the work you would do on an M&A deal at say Burges Salmon and Freshfields. The only really difference is that the latter deal will have a good few more noughts at the end: both will use a standard form SPA, do essentially the same due diligence exercise, and work to unrealistic deadlines set by some investment banker. Unless you are a regulation, tax, or pensions lawyer, you will do very little law and most of your job will be quite admin driven.

I’ve decided to leave my firm to go to the commercial chancery Bar. I think it’s a good move for me. I’d really advise anyone thinking of going to any corporate law firm – in Bristol or London – to think about whether they would actually enjoy the job before doing so. Very few of my trainee cohort did.

Anonymous

The regions are for people not good enough to be in London. But at least you have worked out that there is no law in transactional work. It is mind-numbing stuff, involving standard form documents. This is partly why many corporate “lawyers” move to banks in non-legal, banking roles. Well done on moving to the Bar. Instead of suffering from the boredom and ignominy of being a corporate solicitor, you will enjoy many years of operating at the senior branch of the profession and actually giving legal advice, not to mention having the thrill and rigour of arguing cases in courts and tribunals – when your former colleagues will either be sitting behind you, taking notes, or stuck in the office, cobbling together pro-former deals.

Anonymous

Not always true. I live in a northern city and decided to have a change in career at 31. I am now 35 and about to begin my TC at a regional firm. It would have been impossible for me to study in a “top” university and apply to a big firm in a big city without breaking up my family. So my situation has absolutely nothing to do with being “not good enough for London”. You may not know this, but not everybody dreams of living and working in London.

Anonymous

suck up

Anonymous

@ Anon 12.30pm

Anonymous

*pro-forma

Anonymous

So legal cheek are now writing articles on what is said in the comment section. How far have they fallen

Anonymous

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

Anonymous

You need help

Anonymous

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

Ciaran Goggins

Due to suppression of free speech we will never know what they need help with.

Anonymous

It was a rather oddly named commenter, which alleged Alex’s mum engaged in a certain profession in order to subsidise this publication.

Anonymous

Probably getting a job in Bristol

Anonymous

Is this really an article? I wouldn’t agree that copying and pasting a comment with no exposition or commentary is an article. I’d call it desperation.

Anonymous

It’s a shame the move didn’t work out. There are some excellent opportunities in the regions and I hope that people reading this don’t take the comments too seriously.

You can move to a regional firm without taking on what the poster calls “unsophisticated” clients, provided that you pick the right firm and practice area. If you go to Simmons or CMS corporate in bristol for example you’ll have a very typical city experience in this regard. That’s actually not for everyone. In major international firms it sometimes feels like you’re always going through in-house counsel rather than being genuinely client facing. Speaking direct to the ultimate client, especially if they’re not used to dealing with lawyers, is a chance to really develop your advisory skills and probably improve your commercial awareness in the process.

Plenty of City firms have the rugby / pints / hooray culture. Maybe you felt more exposed to it in a smaller office, but over the course of a career it’s inevitable that you will work with (sometimes share an office with) people you don’t like. Spend enough time anywhere and you’ll find the people you genuinely like and want to socialise with. I suspect if you moved from the firm you trained at you we’re leaving behind an established friendship group and that can be tough.

Also, Bristol isn’t the only (or even the best) option for quality work outside the capital. Manchester and Leeds have more established “name” firms and are approx 2 hours from London by train. At firms like Pinsents, DLA, Addleshaws etc you can enjoy a genuinely “big law” career, with all the opportunities that go with that, whilst being based in a city with a bustling nightlife AND low cost of living and affordable housing. Bristol housing is cheaper than London but by Northern Powerhouse standards it’s really quite pricey.

Kirkland NQ

You people share offices?

Anonymous

You leave your office?

Anonymous

There’s something outside the office?

Ambulance chaser

Do you even go to the office? IM trainees basically work 3 days a week don’t they.

Anonymous

Yep, enjoy the London hours targets on regional pay 👍🏽👍🏽👍🏽

Anonymous

“Northern Powerhouse” 😂

Anonymous

Maybe you’re just a snobby bore! There’s more to life than just top tier work (even though I totally understand your points haha)

Anonymous

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

Insider

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

Anonymous

You can’t have your cake and eat it. Best quality work and pay in London, but forget getting home at a reasonable time, buying a decent property or raising a family. If you want those things, move our of London. It has been this way for a long time – hardly newsworthy. And the author does come across as having a very high opinion of themselves.

Anonymous

What a load of rubbish. Don’t let anyone tell you having a family is inconsistent with living in London, it’s simply not true.

Anonymous

The university comment was definitely snobbish, especially as a couple of the MC firms have been reported to recruit from one of the largest number of universities. They just want the best minds. Sure, there will be the inevitable skew to the top 5 universities that place a large proportion of graduates (Chambers Student did a decent guide on this), but if you have a First in law from any uni it will stand out in the application stage along with those god awful logic game performances.

That old debate put aside for now…

I would like to hear what type of London firm would take someone who trained and/or practiced at either of the two prominent Bristol brands. I would also like to hear what kind of London firm the original poster moved to after their time in Bristol, given their MC background.

Back to the MC? A Silver Circle or big international UK firm like NRF or HogLov? A deep-pocketed American outpost? Or perhaps a boutique corporate firm in the west end?

Anonymous

The university comment, whilst snobbish, is, generally, true.

You merely pointed out the exception. The truth is that only a minority of students from poor ranking universities will be of the same intellectual calibre.

Trendspotter 5000

Imagine thinking that the higher presence of Durham over the top London unis is because of anything that is remotely related to the ability of its graduates.

Actually, you probably do think that. Hence why you believe that there’s a top 5 in the first place. Sad!

Anonymous

Who are the top 5 universities referred to by the poster?

Adam Dean

1. University of Staffordshire
2. Derby University
3. Southampton Solent
4. University of Sunderland
5. Northampton.

Thicc

How’s Jones Day treating you, Adam?

LL and P

Top 5 Universities team is a ridiculous phrase used to refer to the top unis in the land even though there are more than 5 on the list. It actually tells one very little about firms recruitment policies. Oxford and Cambridge are there. Then is it LSE, UCL, KCL, Imperial, Durham, Bristol, Warwick etc? Who makes the cut? Not to mention St Andrews, Edinburgh and the City preferred red bricks e.g Birmingham, Manchester, Exeter, Southampton, York, Newcastle, QMUL. You begin to see how daft the top 5 label is.

LL and P

*term

What LL and P said

^

Anonymous

Am I missing something? The commenter said top 50, not top 5. The commenter is specifically calling out people who went to UWE.

Anonymous

Off topic but do LPC grades matter to London firms?

Anonymous

Lol

#THICC

Yes, they really do – if you’ve scored anything less than 80% overall, none of the top firms will even consider you.

Sorry.

Anonymous

But ain’t a distinction 70%?

Anonymous

The poster is being a flippant little twat

BPTC student

I thought you did your LPC after you’ve already been recruited?

Anonymous

Quite interesting reading the comments here – would be nice to hear from more people that have made the jump from the City to Bristol.

Was sat next to a guy on the train yesterday who said, “Yeah, few years time, will move to a Bristol firm for an easy life.”

Is this a rose-tinted view? Having spoken to some people at Bristol firms I understand that while the hours aren’t as long as some City firms, they very much are still on 12 hour days.

Also wondering what the work is actually like. I think there is a lot of self-justification in these comments that the work is much inferior than in the City but would be interesting to get more people’s take who have actually made the transition.

Anonymous

Failed at MC then failed at Bristol. Anything else to add?

Trendspotter 5000

TL;DR Shit unis get shit students who go onto shit jobs. There are some exceptions to this rule. You don’t want to be in an environment populated by shit students.

Next!

Come on, guys

I am an average student, didnt go to durham/st andrews/lse/oxbridge, and I got a pass in my GDL (probably a reflection of my lesser ability/intelligence). I am probably restricted to entering the type of firm being ridiculed in this article. As such, articles like this one are pretty offensive. Surely, people at all levels of the legal profession should have respect for each other, from MC solicitor to high street paralegal. I believe everyone should make positive contributions to allow for the existence a more encouraging environment within the profession. Those of us who do not/cannot reach the top of the profession should not be laughed at, but rather recognised for doing the best we can. It isnt nice to know that you are looked down upon for doing your best.

Anonymous

It’s rather sweet that the poorly educated and intellectually third rate want to be lawyers, but there is more at stake than career aspiration: the administration of justice. The public deserve the best representation and people like you simply cannot provide it.

Come on, guys

A very brutal delivery, but you have given my intellectually challenged mind a new perspective. It can be difficult to look past one’s own personal aspirations as we live in a society which encourages individualism, especially when you are as intellectually deficient as me. However, I am certain that many lawyers who are lucky enough to possess the requisite level of intellect to enter the profession are motivated by personal aspirations rather than doing their best for the public, otherwise legal services would be far more accessible to the vulnerable as fees would be lower.

Anonymous

It’s only February and yet we have an almost certain winner of the Legal Cheek Pomposity Trophy for 2018.

“Administration of Justice”? “Deserve the best”? Who the fuck are you? The Lord Chief?

Most law is done by sols, out of court and with a practical, sensible eye on the client’s best interests.

Anonymous

Your written English is dreadful and indicates that you went to the local comp, followed by a former poly. I am sure the purchasers of legal services would be delighted to retain someone of your education and intellect.

Come on, guys

Believe it or not, I am actually the product of a private international education. No idea where it all went wrong. Not to worry, though. I shall make sure to keep my legal advice away from the ears of the public!

Anonymous

I’m 99% sure this was written by a magic circle firm as an employee retention ploy!

Anonymous

Possibly, although most MC lawyers quit to go to US firms rather than Bristol.

Anonymous

“Quality work” in corporate law. Bless.

Anonymous

Try – Southampton- it’s a lot worse!

Anonymous

Unless you are a partner in the firm you haven’t made it and most of you won’t. Sorry.

Eponymous

The final paragraph of the comment is telling. Seems that OP couldn’t get on with people at the new firm and has turned this into a damning (and obviously bitter) critique of all regional firms.

The comment about top 50 universities is jarring because it smacks of the offensive elitism that plagues the industry. I have obtained degrees from a so-called top rank university and a former poly. Whilst the standard of students is generally higher at a Russel Group, there are plenty of thick students who were lucky enough to attend very good (and/or expensive) schools at the former and plenty of very bright students who were unlucky enough to attend crap schools at the latter.

Should law not be a meritocracy? Once you reach the level of partner have you not done enough to render conversations about which school you went to irrelevant?
It’s absurd that those who have received the best head start possible, a world-class education, should wish to exclude from the race those who started behind them.

Drop the entitlement and grow up.

Anonymous

There’s not a lot I like more than rugby and pints. I’m sure that makes me a terrible person, but they’re both great.

Which firm was it again?

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