Advice

‘Can I jump from a fairly standard regional firm to a high ranking City one?’

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Rookie requires readers’ help

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring lawyer on the verge of securing a training contract with a “fairly standard” regional firm asks Legal Cheek readers whether it’s possible to go on to secure a junior lawyer role in the City.

“Hi there. Can’t seem to find an answer to this legal career issue. Let’s say you secure a training contract at a fairly standard, regional firm. Maybe a couple of vacancies each year, no strict academic requirements, and you qualify with them happily.

Say after 2-3 years post qualification, is it ever feasible to make the jump to a City firm? Would high ranking, more competitive London firms care that you qualified at a less well-established regional firm? I’ve tried looking online and there is no clear answer to this.

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I’m in the running to get a TC with a regional firm, but my dream is to work in London. Is there any clarity you could provide on this? I have no idea whether, hypothetically, I would accept, or whether I’d have to make an exceptionally bold move, decline the TC and possibly never qualify in London. Many thanks.”

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

49 Comments

Jolly Roger

I have the same concern about moving from a mid-tier international firm – how can I make sure that I’ll be able to jump ship at NQ? When do I need to start contacting recruiters?

Moving on NQ is an must for me as my NQ pay is literally half the top US firm NQ pay

(5)(61)

Chief Wiggum

You do understand that the vast, vast majority of solicitors never make the kind of money that top US firms pay, right? I would suggest that you might be heading towards disappointment if that’s your benchmark; if you didn’t get into one of those at NQ, it isn’t particularly likely that you will once you qualify.

(17)(5)

Trans-Atlantic 3PQE

Highly unlikely in one move. Your best bet is to be more strategic over the first 5 years of your career, build a relationship with a reputable recruiter who manages the process for you.

I moved from a top tier regional practice into a Trans-Atlantic firm, next move will hopefully be US. I would still be stuck in the regions were it not for the search consultancy’s advice.

(6)(0)

Recruitment person

Magic circle and US, no. Other decent City shops, quite possibly.

(35)(15)

Actually...

there is someone at Kirkland in London who trained at WBD in Leeds
So definitely possible

(55)(4)

bantaman

Agreed. Kirkland has lawyers from all kinds of regional shops, including SPB Leeds, Addleshaws Manchester and DLA Manchester, among others. Ignore the OP and his BS comments.

(55)(2)

.

WBD is a bit better than a “fairly standard regional firm” which is “less well-established” with “a couple of vacancies a year”. Not many regional NQs move straight to US firms on qualification (even from the big firms) – more likely they use another firm as a stepping stone for a couple of years first.

(9)(1)

Truth

Kirkland and Top US shop don’t sit together in the context of hiring. They are a top US shop, but they are fuelled by their massive turnover and need of bodies with, at least, a light pulse. Any Elite NY shop would say no.

(4)(5)

MC Recruiter

It’s easier to get into a US firm than MC at that level, as it’s really rare for MC to hire at NQ because they have such large and strong trainee pools (no matter what comments on here tell you). I’d try a US outfit with small trainee intakes. They always have to poach at the NQ and junior end anyway, so why not save them a recruitment fee.

(18)(1)

Legal Eagle

I am in the same boat – I have good academics with A*AA at A level and distinction LPC so I think that will count for something as usually firms say “good academics”. I have sent people on LinkedIn moving to bigger firms from smaller practices so I imagine it is possible

(2)(43)

Reccer

Definitely possible. Pretty likely to be able to crack silver circle or decent City firms, as well as some US names (nb not cravath scale). Can then lateral down the line again further up the food chain. Best time to do it is right now while the market is bananas. When it all cools down you’ll be stuck in Leeds or joining some tinpoint shop like Bond Dicks 😬

(4)(10)

AnonotaFresher

The comments so far must be from Freshers, or, people who have absolutely no clue how the legal sector operates.

The biggest issue you are going to have is when you try to lateral, and let’s say, you get an interview, you will have done almost no comparable work. When you lateral, the firms are not interested in your academics any more (well, when you are moving adjacent to your current firm, as opposed to going ‘up’). You will be asked to talk about the work you have done and your experiences. Your regional firm might be a leader in insurance, but not many City firms have this as a growing practice so your options are limited.

As mentioned above, the market is bonkers right now but this is mostly in corporate seats. As I have mentioned, this is where tour glass ceiling will become apparent. The corporate work you do in the region’s will be vastly different in scale and complexity compared to the work your average MC/US firm does. So, let’s say you got that interview, you just aren’t going to stack up as well versus your peers who are also vying for that lateral move. It’s going to be tough.

The best bet is going to be working your way up the ladder with a a few lateral moves, gaining experience along the way

(39)(3)

US trainee

Isn’t the role of a trainee on a corporate deal fairly similar at any half decent firm? I guess I’m wondering whether the complexity of big deals filters down to the work trainees do given you do see a fair amount of regional moves to top US firms.

(10)(0)

Banking lawyer

Very true and well said.

No one give a sheet about academics after you qualify, the only care about your experience in areas in demand at their firm and utilisation.

The issue here for lateraling from a small firm to a large global firm is that the scope of work is gonna vary drastically, ie you may just be advising tenants or private companies in small firms vs advising landlords and plcs at bigger firms. This gets more important the more years PQE.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Don’t you DARE use “lateral” as a verb in this shop!

(5)(1)

Timi

Yes upward mobility is quite common. As others have noted, you’ll find lots of people with such a trajectory on LinkedIn.

And according to The Lawyer, Allen & Overy hired two new junior associates into the leveraged finance group this year who trained at regional firms Burges Salmon and Womble Bond Dickinson (via Pinsent Masons. A third trained at mid-market Aussie firm HWL Ebsworth. None of those firms has anything that could be regarded as an established leveraged finance practice.

(27)(3)

Anonymous

It also works the other way . Firms such as A

(0)(9)

True story

Recent Burges Salmon movers have gone to CC, K&E, A&O, Macs, Dechert

(24)(2)

.

Reckon BS is a good few notches above the type of firm the post is referring to though. Great moves have been made in markets like this but not realistic from the type of firm this post seems to describe.

(18)(2)

Hmm

BS is pretty much the top “regional” firm though – they take on something like 30+ trainees a year. It is certainly not a “less well established” regional firm. You’d have no problem moving to a good City firm from there, at a smaller firm it is much less likely as the work just isn’t similar. The person asking the question might do better to move from a smaller regional firm to somewhere like Burges, and then go to London.

(2)(0)

hm

yeah… they moved to A&O LevFin… the team that *always* has a shortage of staff…

it’s not hard to move to boring corporate/finance seats at MC firms. the hours are long the pay is only… borderline worth it. so a lot of ppl burn out or jump to US firms. that leaves a constant number of vacancies that need to be filled.

it’s harder to move to other teams especially in disputes, advisory.

(11)(4)

scottish confucius

I am seeing quite alot of people qualifying at good, though not upper-tier, Scottish commercial law firms and then moving to big Scottish firms when theyre NQ. So Gillespie MacAndrew to Dickson Minto or Shepherd Wedderburn. I assume the experience could be transferable to England and London, especially as DM and SW have offices in and do alot of work in London.

Alot might depend on just how good you are.

(2)(12)

Scottish NQ

Brodies/Burness Paull are the top firms in Scotland and both will take NQs from literally anywhere (even High Street). They also do London work and international work. If the newly minted NQ survives the transition is another story. They often do not.

Even as the top Scottish firms they bleed talent to London/International firms almost monthly and need to replace them.

Getting a job at either isn’t necessarily an indicator of quality.

(17)(3)

Commercial NQ

Scottish market is shocking right now because the pay has been terrible for a good few years – it is very easy to move from an average Scottish firm to a ‘good’ one because associates very often leave to go to London. Good firms are bleeding associates because the hours are atrocious for the pay.

I moved from Scotland because I was literally working London hours for Scottish money – so many people in my firm were getting burned out and off work for stress, and you could make a similar amount if you went in house to a local council for 35 hours a week. It just wasn’t worth it. The trainees in my firm are getting more than Scottish NQs, and we aren’t even in London.

(2)(0)

Former Regional Lawyer

The answer is yes, and I am an example of someone who has gone through this route.

I had fairly average A Levels (ABC), but got a 1st at Uni and a distinction on my own funded LPC. I was a paralegal at a ‘disrupter’ high street firm, who’s aggressive growth strategy was to open a new high street office every other month. We had offices from Bath, stretching across the south coast and various offices in London boroughs. Paralegal’s were almost guaranteed a training contract after 1 year of basically slave labour. I trained there and did your usual high street firm seats, resi conveyancing, PI/Clin neg, commercial lit and some private client.

On qualification I managed to secure a role at a firm who had the largest presence in that particular region in an area of law I had not trained in – they took a punt on me ultimately. Unfortunately due to personal issues, I subsequently moved to a national firm (with a City presence), which had a regional office closer to home and therefore an easier commute. I spent just over 2 years at this national firm, gaining good experience and working on transactions where City firms were on the other side. I also made sure I networked and built relationships with clients in the City.

During the pandemic, I decided I wanted a move into the City and because many firms were now adopting flexible working policies, the dreaded 5 days a week on the Thameslink was a thing of the past. I was offered jobs by two firms, a top 10 law firm with a global offering and a top 20 firm, which had a strong international presence and offered international secondments. Ultimately I doubled my salary, but work 2/3 days a week at home, have decent working hours (around 9-6:30/7) and will be seconding in the Doha office next year!

(47)(6)

STALLONE

Cool story brah. Tell us more about the ‘disrupter’ high street firm, sounds hella phat

(19)(52)

Indeed

Clearly they didn’t disrupt their way into teaching you how to use an apostrophe or distinguish between “who’s” and “whose”.

P.S. being seconded to Doha is not a reward, it’s where they send the absolute drossers.

(30)(7)

Archibald Pomp O'City

Cool story, bro

(3)(0)

City

Working in Doha is the pits and the equivalent in professional terms of being in Cayman or BVI. Professional graveyards.

(14)(2)

Anon

This is going to come down to practice area primarily.

If the City’s your goal, firstly and obvious don’t qualify into anything which isn’t practised there, e.g. PI.

Second, don’t qualify into anything which is already oversubscribed by City trainees and sees fewer fluctuations in workload. This covers Tax, Employment, Pensions etc. and, to a large degree, Litigation.

Next, qualify into one of the areas City firms need bodies in, which realistically means Corporate or Finance.

Finally, wait for a hot market (like the current one) and be ready to jump. This is tricky, as you might have other things in life going on at the time, but you’ve got to strike whilst the iron’s hot. In the interview sell why having you brings different skills, e.g. understanding of the entire transaction, experience with clients, to your competitors from a different background.

(23)(2)

Interested party

What are the practice areas that give you the best chance of being able to move from a regional to a city firm? Is employment one of them by any chance? Really interested in what these areas are.

(2)(3)

.

No, Employment isn’t Banking / Finance, Corporate, Real Estate. Maybe Commercial (because there’s always a shortage of mid level Commercial lawyers as they all move in-house).

(4)(0)

Commercial NQ

Can second Commercial – it is very hard to get an NQ job as it is usually a very popular area, but if you manage to get one you will be very in demand down the line as it is probably the main practice area for in-house lawyers. This is particularly true if you develop a specialty, for example data or AI.

(0)(0)

Anon

How long will this lateral boom last?

I’m hoping to move up a tier on qualification but I’ve yet to start the TC.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Former lawyer now recruiter for coming up to 9 years. Historically firms had infrequently hired from the regions (I moved people from the likes of Pinsents/Eversheds Birmingham to US firms in London from time to time), but that has really taken off in the past 4-5 years.
Kirkland, as someone else mentioned, has taken the majority of their PE NQ laterals from the regions at times. Scotland has also been a good source for firms too.

It has really reached a peak now with PE and lev fin teams being so busy and there just not being enough London based candidates to reliably go around. Regions are being plundered even before they have gone into their final seats sometimes.

Definitely worth talking to a recruiter, although my advice is always to consider staying put and then if, you want to look, do so at 1PQE+ so you’re not in the chaotic feeding frenzy that is the NQ lateral market…

(8)(1)

Trowers & Hamlins trainee

Completely possibly. 2/3 of the juniors from the Trowers banking and finance team have left over the last six months to Ashurst, Mayer Brown, and Macfarlanes to name a few firms. Obviously the finance team at Trowers isn’t on the same level as those type of firms. Market is crazy at the moment so move while you can.

(6)(0)

Pumphole of the Mags

Crime more fun.

(4)(1)

MA

Question as I’m not sure how to post a career conundrum:

How easy is it to move from a firm’s regional office after your training contract to the London office? Similarly, how easy is it to move to London after you have done your training contract in the regions?

Thank you!

(1)(2)

6PQE - US firm

It would definitely be possible to lateral as an NQ to a decent City firm provided that you qualify into a transactional area (there are fewer vacancies in advisory areas).

If it were me, I’d take the TC offer and qualify at the firm you trained at. Then, after 6 months to a year post qualification, I’d look to move. There will be a lot of NQs looking to move straight after qualification so it may be better to wait until after 6 months to make the move.

In terms of experience, City firms are less bothered about this at NQ level (whereas at 3 years PQE they will be). They key will be showing that you understand the nature of the work that you’ll be expected to do by drawing on the arguably less prestigious work that you might have done at the “standard” regional shop you qualified at.

Decent City firms also have regional offices. So, whilst it will take slightly longer, you may wish to consider joining an office of a “City firm” as a 6 month NQ in Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester etc. You can then apply internally for a role in London after you’ve joined (although give it a year otherwise they’ll think you’re taking the p*ss).

(4)(0)

Rob

TBF, that’s pretty helpful.

(3)(0)

Recruiter who helps regionals do this...

Its certainly possible and happens fairly regularly but two big factors that determine your chances are practice area and you as a person…

Historically the moves i’ve been involved with like this have been with people in practice areas hot enough that London firms are more lenient with their usual standards and increase their willingness to upskill regional people and also the person has stood out as particularly switched on or ambitious etc and not just looking for the bigger salary with no real justification (which a lot of regional people state outright as their motivation, to their detriment)

Obviously London firms will prefer London first but if you pick your right moment in the job market for your practice area and you market yourself well enough to stand out, you’ll get your chance!

Persistence is key with this kind of process and even if the first few London firms say no, it doesn’t mean the next one will!

(4)(0)

us tax associate

honestly pls take my place because I hate it here. I’ve gained 1 stone in the three years I’ve worked as a lawyer because I’m too tired most of the time to go to the gym and most of the time the only comfort at the office is the dinner allowance after 7, my bf broke up with me 6 months into my tc because I had to cancel dates nearly every other week because of work (he’s now with a girl who works in big 4 accounting), I always see my friends on 6-7pm dinner dates on ig which I can never join and every single person around me at the office is just as miserable as I am. Get me out of here.

(29)(0)

Go for it

Honestly, move firms. Plenty of firms could give you a decent work life balance compared to what you have now.

(1)(0)

Future Trainee

BLM to K&E here I come!

(10)(0)

Young person

What are the practice areas to avoid if we want to make a similar jump from the regions to the city? Would really appreciate some advice on this

(3)(0)

City Trainee

I mean, it’s kind of obvious – don’t do the standard high street wills, probate conveyancing and think about Finance based practices if you want to be able to make a jump to the city.

However, if you’ve not actually got a TC yet, then which practice areas to avoid isn’t the thing you need to be thinking about right now.

(1)(1)

SC Trainee

Speak to a recruiter – if you’re actually in the position to make this kind of move, you should be able to speak to recruiters to find out your options. If you’re a student asking this question, just train at the best firm for you can get a TC at – if you can only get a TC at a regional shop, then take that.

(12)(0)

NQ

Yes, depending on what type of regional firm and your practice area and the NQ market at the time. I went to university in Edinburgh and work at a US firm in London. A number of my class mates stayed in Edinburgh and trained at Scottish firms – one now works as a funds associate for a US firm in London, another 3 in corporate have lateraled at 3pqe to MC firms. The market is great for juniors atm though so that makes it easier, but it does happen.

(1)(0)

US Firm Recruiter

A lot of the advice given here is wrong. If you are going to ‘upskill’ you need to do it as early as possible after qualification, as an NQ or within a few months. The longer you stay doing less complex work, the further ahead other associates in your class year are going to be in terms of knowledge and experience. As an NQ people expect that yu will know very little – if you are smart, hardworking, articulate and ambitious you will learn on the job and be fine. At 2 years PQE your peers in the top US firms will have completed dozens of deals and those are the people we will be comparing you with at interview. Move while everyone knows next to nothing – it’s a steep enough learning without making it even harder for yourself by starting late. In this market, some firms will still hire you later on but they might insist you take a year or two ‘cut’ in seniority and pay and personally I don’t see the point in waiting.

(3)(0)

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