Guest blogger Charlotte Lewis-Williams shares her experiences and thoughts on the differences between US and UK law firms.

Choosing which law firms to apply to for a training contract can seem like a daunting task. Where do you start? If you are considering City law firms, you may be wondering what the difference is, if any, between US firms and UK firms. I trained at a UK magic circle firm and moved as a senior associate to a US firm and, in my experience, there are some notable differences.

Consider the following:

  1. Clients and type of work/product/sector
    Some firms are known as leaders in certain industry sectors or product areas which you may have a particular interest in. Convergence or differences between US and UK markets may give certain firms a competitive edge or even market dominance. Before applying to a firm, be sure to research its key clients and the main types of work it does – every firm is different.
  1. Training, knowledge and development
    Legal and business training, education and development may need to be more formalised in a UK firm with a larger trainee cohort but are likely to be more flexible and bespoke in a US firm with a select number of trainees. Likewise, the level of responsibility given to trainees and client exposure may vary depending on the size of the London team, with smaller teams often affording more opportunities for individual growth. Consider which type of training might suit you best.
  1. Remuneration and targets
    Higher billable targets for associates may be compensated by higher salaries and bonuses. Law firms regularly review trainee and associate salaries against the market (New York, mid-Atlantic, UK) as well as the maintenance grants they offer to GDL and LPC students. Remember that not all pay scales are linear and some include discretional margins/brackets.
  1. International reach
    Both types of firms may have international networks and the size of the network may or may not limit your ability to work abroad, on cross-border deals or with international clients. Some firms have formal or informal “best friend” relationships with other firms; some firms work closely with local counsel. If you are interested in doing an international secondment, consider the options available at the firm in question.
  1. Diversity and inclusion
    Law firms are increasingly focussed on diversity and inclusion for legal and ethical reasons but also because it makes business sense: clients are diverse and diverse teams bring more perspectives, knowledge and experience to the table. Successful law firms invest in and develop all their people to attract clients as well as future lawyers/leaders.

In terms of researching law firms, Chambers and other guides and league tables will give you a general overview but there is no substitute for talking to people from individual firms at careers fairs, law firm presentations, open days and the like. Current trainees and practising lawyers who are taking time to meet prospective trainees will be best placed to give you an insight into the culture and feel of the firm. Take every opportunity to ask them questions about their personal experiences, career highlights and tips for successful applications. Could you see yourself working with them, doing their job, progressing in their team?

My top tips for training contract applications to US or UK firms are to do your homework on each firm, consider your preferences and tailor your applications to maximise your opportunities. Good luck!

Charlotte Lewis-Williams is a Senior Associate in the Finance department at Vinson & Elkins. She trained and practised at Clifford Chance for several years. She acts for banks, sponsors and corporates on cross-border corporate transactions across a range of industries, including energy, healthcare, food/beverage, retail, transport, telecoms, hotels, software/IT, tobacco and insurance. Charlotte has previously been on secondment to two major international investment banks and has worked in Paris and Milan.
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