Comment

Law firms are run by ‘dinosaurs’ looking to exploit ‘desperate’ grads

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‘I cannot wait to qualify and change professions’, says anonymous rookie solicitor Dejected Trainee

The joy of securing one of only 100 places at the Institute of Professional Legal Studies in Northern Ireland (completing the Northern Irish equivalent of the Legal Practice Course (LPC)) quickly turned into a feeling of regret, pressure, anger and helplessness. A feeling not uncommon among trainees, particularly those away from the bright lights of the City at mid-tier firms. After some research among friends I studied with, over half said they had been dissuaded from becoming a solicitor after their experiences in mid-size firms in Northern Ireland.

The realisation

In September, I sat down ready for my first three-month spell within a firm as part of my training contract. At this point, I should explain the training contract structure in Northern Ireland is different compared to England and Wales, with trainees splitting their time between the firm and their studies. After three days and no training, I had 100 cases and no idea what I was doing. The money was no compensation for this. The Law Society of Northern Ireland, like in England and Wales, only gives guidelines on trainee salaries — these are mere guidelines I can assure you. I work 40 hours a week and earn £700 a month. My diploma costs £10,000 and the firm does not pay for this. I am approaching the end of my training contract and I am drowning in debt and files.

My firm has hired and lost almost every graduate in my town. The partners in my department come and go as they please while a room full of overworked paralegals and two unlucky trainees line the equity partners’ pockets. My department has witnessed two members of staff suffer mental breakdowns in the last year — TWO! I do not plan to practise as a solicitor when I qualify but I can’t quit now as it will have all been for nothing. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the ‘modern’ law firm for many trainees.

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The job itself

The work is monotonous, mind-numbing and unrewarding. I haven’t had the chance to rotate to a different department despite my requests. I feel like I am waiting out a life sentence in a dying industry. I cannot wait to qualify and change professions. I have 124 live files and often work overtime, which is pointless as there is no end to my tasks. But the longer I work the more I get paid, right? Wrong. Our salaries are capped and we cannot earn more by working overtime.

Money woes

My pay packet is not enough to get by. I took a second job as a business development manager at a local company so that I didn’t have to move back in with my parents. I get paid more in a full week there than a month at my firm. I am extremely lucky to have this as I know people on my course who don’t have this luxury and work as bartenders and waitresses after work and class. I fully intend to qualify as a solicitor and then jump ship.

Don’t jump without looking

This is the reality. The legal profession is run by dinosaurs who take advantage of young graduates desperate to get on the legal ladder. They have no idea what is needed to attract smart, young and driven law graduates.

This goes beyond salary; there is no work-life balance. No relationships outside of work. Nothing. I am lucky enough to have plotted an escape but some are not so lucky. If any student is considering law or any law graduate is considering becoming a solicitor, think carefully and choose wisely.

Dejected Trainee is a trainee solicitor at a law firm in Northern Ireland.

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89 Comments

Anonymous

A person’s prose is the window to their soul. The above article was found particularly… wanting.

A mixture of tautologies and conflicting statements was sprinkled across the whole piece.

Anonymous

Silly comment. And pompous.

Anonymous

Were.

Anonymous

Or are.

Barry H

Er… no, “was”. Mixture is singular.

Also, pompous and unkind though his comment may have been, it’s entirely true. The author’s writing skills are terrible. But then most people’s are nowadays because expressing yourself clearly and interestingly is regarded as elitist.

In fact the opposite is true: bad writing is elitist. “I am powerful. You are not. I can’t be bothered to make the effort to be clear or interesting, so I’ll just waste your time with this confusing drivel and you can try and read my mind to fill in the gaps.”

Archibald Pomp O'City

EXCUSE ME. “Try and [sic] read my mind”?

Try “Try TO read my mind”.

Mind me, now.

Anonymous

It is a single mixture, not several mixtures moron.

Anonymous

While training contracts are so scarce, and there is no guarantee of gaining another one if you leave a TC, the risk of exploitation like this exists. This is even without taking into account that if you leave a TC with one firm, you usually have to start again with another.

We need to bring back the minimum salary for trainees, especially given most, like the writer, have to fund their own training.

The SRA has allowed all the risk and cost to rest on the student without holding firms to account

Anonymous

In NI the minimum wage is a criteria
It is non negotiable

Katie

It’s such a common story and I wonder if it’s perpetuated by the ‘beasting’ of trainees by partners who’ve experienced the same 20 years ago and think it’s normal? The system corrupts optimistic young talent and turns a lot of them into abusers. I am lucky as I work in a firm where respect and compassion are high up in the behaviours expected of partners. It’s very rare though.

Anonymous

Absolutely. It happened to them therefore it is acceptable behaviour and if you cannot hack it, you are simply not cut out to be a lawyer.

Anonymous

Disagree completely that it is uncommon it is not my experience nor is it the experience of each firm in my town. Maybe more a BELFAST experience?

Anonymous

Bye-bye snowflake.

Anonymous

Salaries in Northern Ireland are sh1t

Just sayin

Anonymous

Northern Ireland is sh!t. Just sayin.

Anonymous

The partners are exploiting the trainees in Northern Ireland, that’s the point

Anonymous

Diddums.

Anonymous

You know what they are alot better than they were!

Anonymous

This account is sad, but not surprising. Law is rarely the distinguished, worthwhile profession that students – and their parents, often – think it is.

It’s mostly grindingly dull work imposed by thick greedy partners.

I’d never advise a young person to become a solicitor. The bar is better but the chances of pupillage are too low for any but the highest achievers.

I agree with the writer: get out.

Anonymous

When I met solicitors while planning university choices, they said the same to me. “Do not become a solicitor”. I did not listen. I now say the same to students when I am asked.

Anonymous

I quite like my job, but think the trick is to have no preconceptions during the TC and base your qualification area as much on the culture as the work. I went in originally wanting to qualify to another department and would have been completely miserable there due to psychopathic partners and the lack of any good work for associates/trainees.

Also helps to go to a good firm obviously.

OP

I think I tolerate my job. There are elements I like, plenty I do not. People I like, plenty I do not. I am constantly amazed by those people, like my wife, who profess to love their jobs. I wonder what that feels like.

Anonymous

The problem with basing your qualification decision on team culture is that teams change over time and, often in law, quite regularly. I qualified into a corporate department in which there are currently only 3 associates who were in the dept during my TC.

Anonymous

Agree with your sentiment, but disagree with the Bar being locked to all but the highest achievers. The number of unremarkable betas with little sparkle to their CVs I have seen obtaining pupillage over their higher achieving rivals, seemingly because they talk and act like their interviewers, is staggering. Ingroup/Outgroup psychology.

Anonyman

As an aspiring lawyer, surely you would have carried out sufficient due diligence of what a training contract and studying to become a lawyer entailed?

Of course, the above sounds ghastly. But ultimately it’s just, albeit a rather miserable, means to an end.

Anonymous

Problem is most firms are dishonest about the culture, and secretive about salaries – often it is very difficult to know what you’re signing up to until it’s too late.

Anonymous

I imagine £700 a month is a statutory minimum (to take account of all the training that trainees are supposed to get) as an exception to the minimum wage. Terrible it’s put this low. Professional work, even if training is an element, deserves more than the minimum wage.

Anon

The £700 does not include training, the training is paid by the trainee. And when you take I to account unpaid OT and unpaid travel costs, you’re luck to get 50% min wage. Outrageous!!!! Considering the same partners promoting this would would be happy to litigate for a client not getting minimum wage or being treated this poorly.

Kirkland NQ

Firm in Northern Island…must be TOP

Clive Warren

Good luck with your A Level results today young man.

Anonymous

Took my A levels aged 16 and achieved 7 A*s. Not sure what further ‘luck’ I need, but thanks.

Anonymous

Did you win a medal?

Anonymous

Cool story bro, did you win a medal?

Anonymous

Oh really? Your comment, ironically, makes me highly suspect that you have never taken any.

Anonymous

I think you are confusing the A Level with the GCSE.

Anonymous

It can be a very big shock moving in to the world of work.

When that shock happens to bright and articulate young people, you tend to get the reaction seen above.

But twas ever thus. Work sucks. That’s why they have to pay you to do it. Try to get by and stop damning your fellow man – the wrinkly faced people are just like you and one day very soon, you’ll be one too.

Anonymous

I agree there is a learning curve and initial “settling in” period but working like this for £700 a month while funding your own training is not just this.

“Wrinkly faced” people familiar with the world of work would not put up with these conditions for good reason, unless they were essentially trapped by something like the TC system

Questioner

“Do not become a solicitor”. I did not listen. I now say the same to students when I am asked.

Why did you follow the career path then? Money? Prestige?

Potato Pat

Following money and prestige in Northern Ireland? Pull another one mate

Anonymous

Everything is relative.

Anonymous

I suspect that when told by an adult “do not become a solicitor”, much like all 16 year olds, I thought I knew better.

Anonymous

I thought I knew better aged 28 as a Barrister.

Anonymous

This kid seems to labelling the entire industry based upon his experience at one firm. If that is the limit of his analysis skills then he is not suited to the profession.

Anonymous

Do you wonder why the general public despises lawyers?

Clive Warren

I don’t do it for the money – there would be less stressful ways to earn 6 figures. I do it for the prestige. You should see the looks of desire I get when i tell a young lady in a bar that I’m a corporate lawyer. In other words, a confident, successful young man.

Anonymous

Lmao u betacuck

Anonymous

That’s nice. I find most people assume (rightly) that I’m an incredibly tedious wanker.

Anonymous

Doing it primarily for the prestige and bragging rights is so wrong. It’s one of the underlying reasons why everyone thinks lawyers are twats, and case fuck-ups happen.

Realist

If you can’t secure a training contract in a high-end firm, you may well end up like the author of this article. The lessons are: (1) there is a vast amount of competition; and (2) you *can’t* be anything you want to be. Until and unless you secure a training contract at a high-end firm, you must have a back-up plan *outside law*.

In terms of remuneration and employability, there is a hierarchy of firms, and the quality of your life depends how high up on the list you are at the start:

1. US firms.
2. Magic Circle firms.
3. Silver Circle firms.
4. Other City firms.
5. Regional firms.
6. High street firms.
7. Legal aid firms.

It is easy to move down the list, but virtually impossible to move up. Students seem to (a) get delusions of grandeur about their own ability; and (b) when dreams hit reality, refuse to contemplate a Plan B outside the law.

My suggestion is: only enter law if you can secure a training contract in categories 1-4 above. Otherwise, you are setting the foundations for your own failure.

Anonymous

But avoid (1) like the plague. It is easy to move from (2) or (3) to (1).

Anonymous

Yes, and despite what LC comments seem to always say, the beastings are worse, the job security is worse, and the training is worse at US firms. There’s a reason they have to pay so much.

Anonymous

Exactly and after a TC there they are damaged goods in the market being seen as self-absorbed classless money chasers.

Anonymous

Wouldn’t say that to be honest – I think it’s just assumed that they haven’t been trained to the level of a MC or SC Associate.

Anonymous

That too.

Anonymous

Funny you say that. I know plenty of people training at US firms who are now finding out they are not being retained and are totally f*cked up the anus, without a role. Next stop job seekers allowance.

Anonymous

Typically US firms replace their home grown English lawyers with MC ones by around the senior associate mark at the latest.

Anonymous

Typically? Dream on. Look at the numbers: there are nearly 3000 associates in MC firms. If US firms lose lawyers, to banking, child rearing, overseas or whatever, a lot of gaps end up being filled from the MC because that’s where the surplus is.

Don’t let it give you delusions of grandeur. A US firm doesn’t replace an Oxbridge double first who has been a good fit with a drone from the MC.

Anonymous

What about a regional office of a city firm?

Anonymous

Or regional office of a city/international firm. The lines are often blurred.

Anonymous

This is broadly right – it’s perfectly possible to move from 5 to 4 (3/2 if lucky) and extremely easy to move from 4, 3 and 2 to 1.

US firms are a mixed bag in London. Some are known more or less only for one star team and a couple of star partners – others are full service, complete package shops. Others err on the side of ‘proper obscure’ and may well be avoided. Perfectly easy to move from US to MC if you want as well.

Anonymous

Trained at 6, qualifying into 3/4. Not impossible to move upward provided you can sell your experience and have a bit of luck with timing/finding suitable roles

Anonymous

yes but is this in London or in the regions? In the regions its not unusual. A lot more competitive in the city

Anonymous

It’s easy as piss to move up, I know plenty, including one guy that just moved from a glorified estate agent in the north to a silver circle firm.

Anonymous

1. US firms.
2. Magic Circle firms.
3. Silver Circle firms.
4. Other City firms.
5. Regional firms.
6. High street firms.
7. Legal aid firms.
8. Legal Cheek journalists.

Anonymous

It’s very easy to move to 1 from 2-4. Happens all the time. Starts getting very difficult/almost impossible to move up to 1-3 if you’re 5-7.

Anonymous

I know several that have done 5 or 4 to 2 or 1 no issue.

I did 5 to 2, but only stuck it for two years. I hadn’t been institutionalised to think that kind of work life balance was normal, as those that train led there had been, and I nearly lost my now wife. I’m now at 4 earning more per hour, if you do the sums, and actually see my kids every night.

The lawyers at 2 were no technically better than at 4 or 5, they are paid what they are paid to turn things around at ten times the pace.

The keyboard warriors on here seriously need drop the complex, it’ll do you no favours long term.

Anonymous

8. Offshore firms

Anonymous

9. Offshore firms

Anonymous

Just don’t go work at backwoods firms.

Anonymous

“The work is monotonous, mind-numbing and unrewarding.”

This is true of most jobs, not just law.

Anonymous

The author should report this to the equivalent to the SRA to investigate for both the trainees’ and the clients’ sake. Easy to imagine clients are not getting the service they are paying for or professional negligence/disciplinary proceedings ruining an overworked and under-trained trainee’s career.

Anonymous

I think it would be filed in the big round metal filing tray. Where it belongs.

hardcore softie

Well done, author, for speaking up about a situation that has no place in modern society. I’m sorry to hear of your struggle – no one should have to work that hard for so little. Yes, a lot of work (in and outside of law) can be dull and alienating. But it should never be exploitative, degrading or damaging. There is plenty of money going round to ensure things are set up in such a way that people can live healthy and fulfilling lives, and their productivity goes up when they’re treated better.

To see the insecure smugness of the Oxbridge/Russell Group brigade (that’s not everyone who studied there, obviously – you know who you are) fill the rooms of top law firms with their empty, self-obsessed statements and amusement at those who weren’t born to mummy and daddy eating and breathing finance or law or who actually think it’s ok to try and retain some integrity in the legal profession, should make it easy on anyone who isn’t stupid enough to swallow up that horse shite to walk out and find something more fulfilling to do.

Anonymous

Couldn’t agree more with this.

Anonymous

Nail on head. The behaviour of that brigade on LC is despicable and embarrassing for the profession.

Anonymous

Obvious this chip on the shoulder snowflake has no concept of reality by his presumption that Oxbridge = “born to mummy and daddy eating and breathing finance or law”. Most got their because they are smarter than you. Much smarter.

Trojan

‘got there’

Cynic

Did that #GetDylan2Cambridge malarkey actually come off btw? Had a quick browse and looks as though he only managed to con a nice £12k out of the £60k-odd he needed…

Anonymous

He is at the lowest rung. What does he expect. Those without backbone can go off and find another job.

Anonymous

Nice view from your ivory tower?

Anonymous

Lovely. Nice view from the townhouse too. And the weekend place. But god I worked long hours and worked for real jerks when I started.

Top dollar

I qualified at a regional firm now I work at a Cravath pay scale US firm. If you have talent, ambition and determination anything is possible.

I love my job. I do all nighters but I get paid ridiculously well and thrive on the adrenaline. I’d be bored as hell doing a 9-5 in the regions churning contracts for the sale of Local Business 1 to Local Business 2. Go hard or go home.

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