Advice

‘I work for a Big Four accountancy firm but want to be a corporate lawyer’

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Early career changer requires readers’ advice

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one career changer is looking to put down the calculator and pick up the law books.

“I am currently working in assurance at KPMG having graduated from university last year. I am looking, however, to make a career change into commercial law beginning with a vac scheme next summer. I was just wondering if you had an insight into whether there are any firms that are particularly keen on applicants with similar experience and conversely any law firms that are adverse to early career changers?”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

67 Comments

Anonymous

These are Friday fillers. There is no person genuinely asking LC this question.

(72)(4)

Anonymous

Though having an inane echo-chamber twitterstorm as a website’s top story and banning comments on it is truly pathetic.

(4)(2)

Anonymous

Stay at KPMG. Chances are they’ll own the firm you’ll be joining in 5 years time.

(37)(7)

Dr Fran

yaa, though he would still be working in assurance!

(1)(0)

Kirkland NQ

LOL. Just wait until one of my multi-billion dollar AUM PE clients LBOs KPMG.

(3)(9)

Anonymous

Honestly? Like are you happy going about your life gloating, ‘bigging’ yourself up so that you feel better that everyone else?

(4)(4)

Anonymous

He’s not really at Kirkland. He just writes this from his student dorm room.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

Or his Surrey house bought by his estranged father while listening to Stormzy

Anonymous

I hear assurance is pretty wild 😜

(1)(7)

Anonymous

Just ask yourself a simple question: Why?

(7)(3)

--

What department do you work in the Big 4? Are you willing to complete the extra academic requirements? What is the main motivator?

(1)(2)

TommyBoy

I work for legalcheek but want to be a journalist.

(101)(1)

Anonymous

No chance there

(12)(0)

Dr Fran

assurance is basically selling snake oil…

(2)(11)

Anonymous

No more so than 99% of due diligence done by Magic Circle firms.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I’m more interested in what you’re like when you’ve had a few beers after work. What I’m saying is, can you fit in with the culture of the firm?

(1)(6)

Anonymous

I worked at Deloitte for a year after I graduated. It gave me experience working on some high profile projects, expanded my network beyond other lawyers and allowed me to assume responsibility which I wouldn’t have got as a paralegal, for example. It was one of the main reasons I was successful in securing a training contract.

You just need to learn how to spin it during the application process and interviews to highlight how your experience was relevant. Also, be prepared for the inevitable interview questions: “why don’t you want to stay at KPMG” or “why did you choose KPMG if you want to be a lawyer”.

(33)(0)

Anonymous

Which department were you working in? And had you studied law prior, or had legal experience before?

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Would echo the above as a career changer from back office at an investment bank.

The other thing worth noting is a lot of firms (particularly US) primarily recruit from their vac scheme and, in any event, firms will want to see vac schemes on your CV as a sign of commitment to the career (not that I agree with that being solid evidence, HR just think it is). Assuming you aren’t intending to leave your current role prior to securing a TC, may mean you need to use annual leave in order to do vac schemes. I used 20 days annual leave in a year to do two vac schemes (and ultimately got a TC off the back of them).

(9)(1)

Anonymous

Just to be clear – re expanding your ‘network’ beyond other lawyers is crap. In law all you need to know is other lawyers – if you want to lateral and for them to put in a good word (get an incentive fee from their firm) or go in-house where lawyers hire other lawyers. Even if you wanted to go in-house knowing some audit guys for a few months 8 years ago in a grunt job is never going to help you or put you in contact with helpful people in any way whatsoever.

Nor were you ‘working’ on high profile projects. You were doing primary school level grunt work on discreet tasks which could have been done on anything. Don’t get me wrong, trainees do huge amounts grunt work but at a city firm there’s much more responsibility and the way you justify all the crap work is by saying “erm….yes I am doing proofreading, markups, checklists and redlines all day but the transaction is worth 3 billion which erm…is exciting to know that I was a piece of that puzzle”. It doesn’t give you meaningful ‘high profile work’ experience.

I’m hugely against paralegalling but if you want to be a lawyer, it’s much better to do than going to work at a big four.

(3)(27)

Anonymous

This is such bullshit. Obviously you need to know non-lawyers. Where on earth do you think work comes from? You might not be getting instructed by friends as a trainee, but if you get 10 years down the line and don’t have a great network you can forget about partnership (absent a few very lucky people who rely totally on institutional relationships).

(17)(1)

Anonymous

I am a lawyer. The work comes from lawyers in-house. It doesn’t come from the principals. In-house lawyers make decisions when and which external counsel to hire. Which is why law firms make great efforts to take care of staff leaving in-house and maintain relationships with alumni.

So again knowing some audit gimps at KPMG (in particular) is not useful at all. Particularly from over 10 years ago (which is the time after leaving you might be thinking of partnership).

Of course didn’t mean to tread on your toes, am sure you are very well versed in bringing in business for law firms and where our clients come from.

(3)(21)

Anonymous

I am also a lawyer and often work with big 4 teams on transactions.

A network is a network and commercial experience is commercial experience.

It wouldn’t go amiss to have a trainee with a proper accounting background in my seat imho anyway

Anonymous

What a bell end you are

Anonymous

The bell end shot is aimed at 9:37 by the way.

Anonymous

I work with big 4 teams all the time too, but they aren’t clients and don’t give us work, nor do I ever work for with the same people because they’re so big. The reality is you don’t have a good network by doing a year of low paid low level grunt work at a big four.
The assumption above is having a network of KPMG people is something which would be valued by law firms or would be useful for long-run opportunities in-house. Categorically, it is not.
Having some work experience is always a nice to have, but not a necessity. “Commercial experience” is a nonsense phrase. Any vacation scheme or work experience is “commercial”. MC and US firms offers almost all TCs to people who are still at, or just graduating, university.
I came to law after doing something different, something “commercial” (heh) for a few years. I have to be honest, it added absolutely no value whatsoever. Having accounting knowledge as a trainee is not important, but it is picked up on the LPC and PSC courses. What’s important is having a super work ethic and being excruciatingly organised and having a supernatural attention to detail. You’re not developing the particular skill-set you need in most graduate jobs, it’s a very particular technical one.
In fact, what’s probably best is what most US and MC trainees do always. Take a long break after university. Travel. Have fun. Get everything out of your system. Feel very ready to work. And just sell your soul for two years.

A lot of this wibbling above is sour grapes from not having gotten what is quite a crappy job first or second time round. And thinking of something temporary to do whilst you apply for it. Rather than trying to have a career at something else. If you actually want to work in a big four and have an associated career – do it. Otherwise, especially if you think it’s adding value to your TC applications – don’t.

Anonymous

I’d have to disagree, I also came into law after a couple of years in consulting – even if we dismiss anything gained from networking I would say the experience was key in giving me something to talk about that made me stand out from the rest of the cohort as well as the usual academics and uni extracurrics.

Sure it would have been nice to go into law earlier, but not everyone, including myself, works out what they plan on doing as early as uni. Law firms, thankfully seem aware of this.

Besides I’m sure the skills involved in audit to go through large amounts of financial information to find errors transfers nicely to the required skillset you described above. In particular the eye for detail.

By virtue of you having joined law later and having “commercial” experience before, i would have thought you’d be able to appreciate the difference in your skillset between yourself at the end of uni and at the end of your first job.

Anonymous

Also I maintain a network is a network, you never know where you’re former colleagues will end up and who may become a future client

Anonymous

As you would know if you were actually a lawyer, lawyers are adverse to anything even resembling a number. Dealing with numbers or excel is drastically different to legal work. Law is all about words. In fact, I worked with numbers too before coming to law. I was good at spotting various issues. It does not translate.

As you become more senior in law, your attention to detail improves in part at least because you know what to look for, how to spot it and you’ve seen and reviewed it a million times before. That’s why trainees have to do so much grunt work. There’s a big difference in quality between a third or fourth seater vs first or second and, in my experience, their background / what they did prior to law has no bearing on any individual trainee’s output.

I simply don’t believe that anyone commenting is anything but a trainee to be or a failed lawyer.

Anonymous

Nice one. If I may throw something back at you.

To use your own argument, if you were actually a lawyer you’d know it was “averse” not “adverse”.

Funny given “As you become more senior in law, your attention to detail improves”… You can’t have been in law for very long.

We’ll agree to disagree anyway.

Anonymous

Unless someone’s S&G is so far gone it is obvious they are not who they say they are, quite possible some of it is down to autocorrect and typing internet posts hastily to someone they don’t care about. I’m a mid-level btw. No trainee or lawyer would take issue with the points you’re taking issue with.

Anonymous

You don’t understand the benefits of having a wide network as you clearly lack the communication and social skills to develop one.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

KPMG is about to be put out of business by Quinn Emmanuel big d!ck lawyazzz…!

(8)(2)

Anonymous

If this is a genuine question and this person is genuinely unsure if any law firms would be receptive to their experience, I don’t think this person knows enough about the legal industry to justify their career choice.

(4)(16)

Anonymous

How so?

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Oftentimes people do ask for advice when they’re unsure about something.
Strong perceptive skills.

To OP I’d say your experience is strong, esp from the commercial and client dealing side – it would help if you could show some tangible way you have a genuine interest in law, for instance if you worked on any legal projects.

That would be the main thing you’d have to consider recruiters- that this is a genuine desire to make a switch and not a whim.

Good luck

(21)(0)

Anonymous

As a corporate lawyer, I don’t want to be a corporate lawyer.

(28)(0)

Anonymous

Why not?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Cos he works at Shoosmiths. Lol.

(5)(1)

Anonymous

Clients are insane with personality defects and unreasonable expectations; partners you work for in the first 8-12 years of your career are psychopaths that want you to bill until your eyes bleed to help their equity drawings; unpredictable hours means kiss extended holidays with significant others good bye (and enjoying trying to bang the temp float secretary when you wind up single with no other option).

(4)(0)

Anonymous

Somebody on the RoF forums posed the same question a few weeks ago, so seems legit (or borrowed by the PC staff ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

(9)(0)

Anonymous

KPMG have a great corporate law team! Can’t you go and speak to people in that team and see if you can get some experience there?

(3)(2)

Anonymous

No, they really don’t.

(9)(2)

Freshfields M&A TITAN

no

(0)(0)

Big4 at the door

Excellent suggestion, surprised its not been made earlier. KPMG are expanding their law offering. Certainly worthwhile having a chat internally first, OP?

(0)(0)

Kirkland NQ

I’m sorry I get a bit carried away when I pretend to be a lawyer – I’ve got too much summer holiday until 2nd year of my LLB at Exeter

(23)(1)

Anonymous

Exe-rah.

(1)(1)

Kronos

Looking for tippy TOP TIER TITAN WORK?

Sack off KPMG (no idea who they are anyway, probably some low tier irrelevant business in the middle of nowhere) and apply for a vacation scheme at Greenberg Glusker.

Our corporate team works in numerous jurisdictions. We’re currently overseeing the acquisition of numerous Londis shops being purchased by a private equity company based in Timbuktu.

(8)(2)

4th Seat Trainee

Sounds like a shit firm tbh with work like that. I recently worked on the LBO of a Great Yarmouth-based arcade business. As a result, I now have a September NQ offer in hand from each of K&E and Skadden complete with a phat sign-on bonus to cover the down-payment on a lambo. Any advice on which I should take?

(4)(2)

Kronos

Poor shops, discount them both. They pay peanuts. No idea what K&E stands for either…thus irrelevant.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I would bother answer, if you were not fictional and if the series in question was inane filler.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

I did actually ask this question, believe it or not – if you have any input I’m genuinely interested.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

You will appear flighty and most of the better firms won’t touch you unless you have a top grade CV.

(1)(16)

Anonymous

That’s bs, city law firms take many career changers – early and late ones

(9)(0)

Anonymous

Career changers, yes, but this quick a change is a big red flag for most decision makers. Absent a stellar academic background I’d file an application like this in the bin instantly.

(0)(7)

Anonymous

Hmm in my intake I’d say about 10-15% had spent a 1-3 years in a different scheme.

I think firms would be more interested in the experience and skills gained – as well as a demonstration that the individual has given their career a lot of thought. Most People join assurance or audit or whatever it’s called and leave the moment they get qualified anyway. This definitely isn’t unheard of.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

But it is different if they have qualified. That mitigates the damage. But leaving before then, big big black mark. I agree with 9.05.

Anonymous

On the odd chance that this was a legitimate question , don’t listen to the above pleb. People leave their grad schemes midway all the time and move on just fine.

Speak to any trainee in an established firm and you’ll see the range of backgrounds people come from. Firms value experience not individuals.

Anonymous

“Pleb”. Nice touch, junior. Do you enjoying playing at being a lawyer in the holidays? When your profit margins depend on hiring decisions you will understand why this is a negative for an applicant. But then with your attitude I suspect the issue is unlikely to arise. By, kid.

Anonymous

Good good. Let the hate flow through you

Anonymous

Thanks, snowflake. If I want advice from someone spewing vacuous passive aggressive clichés I’ll know where to look. You are on the lowest rung of them, with the “U Ok hun” brigade. And yes, your first reaction will be to post “U Ok hun” but don’t worry I am doing great thanks. Just remember I am the type of person that decided who gets jobs and promotions – no-one said life is fair or nice people win.

Anonymous

U ok Hun?

Anonymous

Thought I’d come back and say this actually –

Didn’t mean to get you worked up my good sir – I take the pleb slight back.

I mean this sincerely.

We can just agree to disagree on the issue. I merely wished to put out to OP that in my firm which takes up to 100 trainees, id say there’s a good 10-15 of those that left a grad scheme to come in.

Perhaps its different at your firm.

Have a good day.

Anonymous

They’re meant to. Big 4 know this and work trainees into the ground. No one publishes retention metrics for accountancy firms because no one cares about it. It is an accepted principle that people move immediatly after qualifying.

Anonymous

KPMG does expert witness stuff I think. Can you get involved with that some how and see how trial works? That would probably help sell the legal interest.

(0)(0)

Anon

I moved to the commercial bar after qualifying as an accountant with a Big 4 firm (although tax not audit). Slightly different to your scenario, but similar. I can’t answer your questions directly as I don’t have any experience of applying to law firms, but I know that the bar viewed my experience and qualification as an asset. I don’t see any reason why it would be different for a law firm. Accountancy gives you a fluency with understanding financial information that lawyers generally don’t have. Completing a Big 4 TC also demonstrates your ability to work on demanding professional engagements; an asset to any legal application.

I’d advise sticking out your training contract and qualifying with KPMG before you leave. You probably wouldn’t get a TC to start before you qualify anyway so that should work, you’d have a good qualification and a fall-back. Investigate KPMG’s legal department, I’m sure they’d like to keep you within the wider firm if you’re any good. Good luck.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

Appreciate the advice. Thanks.

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.