By Christianah Babajide
What is it really like to work in a US firm?
With the Yankees upping their London training contract numbers of late, working in a US firm in London is becoming an increasingly mainstream route. The likes of White & Case, Shearman & Sterling and Latham & Watkins are now major players in the UK graduate recruitment scene.
On the 13th of Dec, trainee solicitors took to Legal Cheek comments section to share their experiences of working at a US firm.
Here are 5 key points LCR’s Christianah fleshed out…
- Money is Great
It is not uncommon for rookie solicitors at US firms to be earning over £140,000, which is over £50,000 more than the nearest magic circle rival. It is clear that US firms pay their trainees much higher than their UK rituals, a US trainee described the salary as “top-end NYC NQ rates” and boasted about having his own office.
But why do US firms pay their trainees so much? Are they trying to compensate for the crazy working hours and lack of work/life balance?
A trainee in the comments section explained that “most of the time, US firm’s salaries are simply reflecting what that particular firm pays its lawyers in the US.”
- No Formal Training
After the hype of great pay died down, it became apparent US firms were known for lack of training. A senior Associate who stated magic circle trained lawyers were the best, admitted the training at his firm is almost non-existent and advised law students to stay away from US firms at trainee level. He went on to say, “get decent training under your belt at a good city firm then head over to a US firm.” In a US firm, you are expected to learn on the job and get on with it, and although this works for some, it doesn’t work for everyone. A trainee complained about the lack of training and admitted it often left him feeling “overwhelmed and unprepared.”
However, an optimistic trainee informed that “working in a US firm, you have far greater responsibility than your friends at magic circle firms.” He went on to say, “the reality is you don’t become a great M&A lawyer from being thought in a classroom, you need to be working on transactions constantly.”
- Crazy Work Hours
For such high level of pay, it’s unsurprising US firms expect you to work during unsociable hours. A trainee who often pulled all-nighters and was used to working 65-hours a week described this as “illegal exploitation” and called for civilised working hours.
As more trainees complained about working from 10am-2am, it became clear long hours was typical but a US trainee played it down, “you are required to work long hours at every firm” he said that due to smaller intakes, you are recognised more. However, another trainee argued, “smaller intakes doesn’t mean more recognition, it means less support, more all-nighters and still no recognition.”
- Good Client Contact
Aside from the insane level of responsibility, client contact from the get go is also a norm at US firms. A Trainee boasted that client contact has been almost constant from his first day at the firm. Another said on their second week as a trainee, they were told to call a client to explain something complex to them and expected to seal a deal. Despite carrying this out under supervision, being given a 10-minute warning meant they were unprepared and under pressure.
Although some would be frightened of being thrown into the deep end with no preparation beforehand, a particular trainee said he enjoyed the experience, “I doubt if I would have this level of client involvement if I worked at the non-US firm.”
- It’s Just Like Suits
For many Suit lovers, landing a job at a US firm is a dream come true, but is being a lawyer as epic as it looks on TV?
Legal Cheek thread showed similarities to the American drama such as high pay and fancy perks of the firm of dining in high-end restaurants. However, it also showed it’s a far cry from the glamorous TV series.
From the thread, it’s clear being in a US firm involves working in a high-stress environment during unsociable hours, expected to pull all-nighters and produce good quality work despite the lack of training.
However, the office romances that is depicted in Suits is probably mirrored at US firms. As a result of working long hours in close proximity with your colleagues, you are more likely to form a romantic relationship with one of your colleagues. So in a way, I guess it is just like Suits.