City lawyers - I am about to become one of you. Please advise me!

(170 Posts)
InGloriousTechnicolor Thu 25-Jul-13 16:33:28

I've just finished the LPC and am about to start my training contract at a commercial firm in the City (think top 25 but not Magic Circle). It would be great to get some advice from City lawyers, especially women, as I don't have any lawyer friends to ask about this stuff.

Basically, if you could go back in time and advise your trainee self, what would you say? (although please don't say 'Run like the wind' because I've signed a contract and it's too late for that!)

PQ77 Thu 25-Jul-13 20:10:02

I've spent the last 8 years at a magic circle firm (qualified abroad prior to that). Am not returning after my second mat leave (whole other story and more related to DC health issues).

I second everyone else's advice - and would add the really basic advice to take a pen and notepad with you everywhere, and when given instructions, even if they seem really simple, write everything down.

As a superviser I really don't mind questions but I do mind if someone has not taken notes (even when I've suggested they jot a few things down) and then later have ended up in a real muddle because they can't remember all the details.

Re mat leave - I think the key thing is to think about the timing of your second child if you want more than one. Most lawyers at my shop take 6 months but some take a year. The ones on partnership track would probably take no more than 6 months. What took me by surprise was that once I returned after 9 months after ds1 everyone assumed I would disappear at any moment on mat leave again. As it was I had several losses and ended up being back for three years before I went off again.

Good luck!

InGloriousTechnicolor Thu 25-Jul-13 20:12:18

microserf - they have invited us students to a few events already and I have done what you said - a third of a glass of wine, swill it about a bit and drink some to get my lipstick on the glass, then just carry it around!

I am 27 and qualify at 29 so can afford to wait just a few years before kids etc. I guess I would probably take no more than 6 months, and work at home before then if I could. I am definitely going to be the main earner in the family, so will definitely need to keep my career progressing as much as I can.

Chubfuddler Thu 25-Jul-13 20:14:36

Don't believe all the doom and gloom about families. I had my first whilst doing my LPC and my second at one year PQE. My career is fine.

ComtesseDeFrouFrou Thu 25-Jul-13 20:14:36

Sorry, just remembered something else. My boss (who trained with Camerons then went to Freshfields) said (when talking about trainees' attitudes) that if you went to a partner with a question, you were expected to have done some reading, formulated some views and found yourself stuck - not to approach them and ask them to sort it out for you.

Another boss calls it the "herewith pile of crap" approach - i.e. just blurt out a load of information and hope someone else will make sense of it - a lot of clients are keen on this approach smile

I find the same thing when trainees come to me. They've been asked to do some research and their research basically consists of asking me hmm It's incredibly irritating.

WhatWillSantaBring Thu 25-Jul-13 20:20:28

YY to all the above, especially the client secondment.

Networking is v important - a partner on your side will get you everything. Seats and NQ jobs ARE done "off market" despite what grad rec claim. If a partner doesn't like you then don't even think if qualifying in his team, as you'll never get good work.

Learn how to do certain things brilliantly - IT (like formatting word docs and basics like finding lost documents that didn't get saved properly) can make you into a hero when it's 1am and there are no secretaries around. (Night typists can type but IME didn't have a clue about the rest). If you're working late withi a group on a big deal and want to do something, offer to organise food/drinks.

From what I saw, no-one below senior associate survived mat leave. Not by being forced, but through choice, as building a city career isn't compatible with a young family. Go, do the best you can and if you can bare it, stick it out till 2-3 years PQE. That way you'll get the good grounding and training, and really get to see what sort of a career you want. The world is hen your oyster!

InGloriousTechnicolor Thu 25-Jul-13 20:23:56

Thanks, this is great.

Due to various factors, my partner will never make enough money to support a family so I have no choice but to make my career work! We have discussed this and he is on board, so I know he will be a great help.

lowra Thu 25-Jul-13 20:27:18

I'm addicted to this thread blush

What salary would a newly qualified city lawyer earn then?

InGloriousTechnicolor Thu 25-Jul-13 20:30:17

It depends on the firm, lowra. The bigger the firm the higher it is generally, although some American firm pays megabucks. The most I've heard is 100k at some US firm. But they are very scary and all work insane hours constantly (friend's bf works for one). My salary will be nowhere near 100k!

Wossname Thu 25-Jul-13 20:30:39

Me too, lowra blush It's so far removed from my bog standard job and sounds so exciting/terrifying.

Theironfistofarkus Thu 25-Jul-13 20:40:51
VioletGoesVintage Thu 25-Jul-13 20:41:04

Find out if trainees are expected to sub for unexpected taxi fares if e.g. returning from an external meeting with a partner/senior associate. Happened all the time at my old firm (Magic Circle).

Also find out exactly what information and library resources your firm offers, whether that's PSLs, access to Practical Law Company or whatever and make sure you know how to use them appropriately and effectively.

Theironfistofarkus Thu 25-Jul-13 20:47:37

Also always ask what the deadline is and if you can't meet it, let your supervisor know asap.

Take responsibility for what you have been asked to do and follow up if you get no response from your supervisor.

Attention to detail is everything. Check everything you do once for sense and once for typos.

Murtette Thu 25-Jul-13 20:49:36

I agree that the most important thing is that if you make a mistake, tell someone. It doesn't have to be your supervisor or the partner on the deal, any friendly mid/senior associate is enough to start with as then can then either suggest some solutions or come with you & hand hold.
If you're at a commercial firm, then accept that most of your seats and where you qualify are likely to be in commercial departments. Yes, they may have a family dept or an employment dept but everyone will be after that seat (partly because its perceived to be easy; partly because some will have woken up to the fact that they've taken the job due to the salary on offer not due to the area of law they're interested in).
Re pregnancy, I think you either need to do it immediately upon qualification or a few years down the line. If you do it immediately upon qualification, then its less obvious than if you're 1yr PQE as the dept aren't used to having you there or you working all hours so, when you get back and insist on having to leave every Wednesday at 5pm to do pick up, it may be more acceptable than someone trying to change what people are used to them doing. Also, read the maternity policy carefully. Remember that your contract actually terminates at the end of your TC and you then sign another one as an NQ, even if staying on at the same firm. And for second pregnancies, they may expect you to come back for X amount of time before going back again.
Good luck!
It can be a fantastic career but its very hard work at times and juggling it with children is challenging (to say the least!).

NumTumDeDum Thu 25-Jul-13 20:56:20

A friend of mine always had her passport ready and a change of clothes packed just in case. You do not want to miss out on trips because you are not ready. The advice on admin staff extends also to court staff and ushers in particular.

Do not be drawn into office politics. Say nothing about a colleague you are not prepared to say to their face. Do not discuss clients out of work - it will bite you on the ass - see recent news story about JK Rowling's ex solicitors.

GraduallyGoingInsane Thu 25-Jul-13 21:01:47

I'm on the dark side, so I'd say always remember to pay your barrister! I'm saying that whilst chasing fees from 2010...

On a serious note, I used to work at one of the magic circle firms. I'd say do work for as many people as you can - I did some work responding to a capacity email, and ended up doing a talk on antitrust in the pharmaceutical industry (something I knew nothing about) with one of the top competition lawyers in the country. It opened my eyes to a whole new area of law I'd never considered. I totally agree with being nice to admin staff, reception, post room, cleaners - everyone really! Firstly you might need a favour someday, and secondly if you behave like a snob then chances are someone will see you and rightly conclude you have no people skills.

Take a notebook everywhere, work out what style documents are presented in (eg do partners always send out memos with headings in bold type, are client names italics?) - make your document look like your supervisors so they can just tweak it and send your work out as theirs. Smile lots even when you're exhausted.

Good luck (and if you hate it, come to the dark side..)

stella1w Thu 25-Jul-13 21:33:40

I'm with chub here.. Had my first while on the gdl and second during tc. Took a yr mat leave, about to qualify and am being kept on. Will i make partner? Prob not. Have i committed career suicide? No. Do i feel for my colleagues in their early 30s hoping to make partner, not daring to get pg but worried about their bio clock? Yes.

stella1w Thu 25-Jul-13 21:34:00

I'm with chub here.. Had my first while on the gdl and second during tc. Took a yr mat leave, about to qualify and am being kept on. Will i make partner? Prob not. Have i committed career suicide? No. Do i feel for my colleagues in their early 30s hoping to make partner, not daring to get pg but worried about their bio clock? Yes.

Chubfuddler Thu 25-Jul-13 21:36:01

Stella there is no reason why you shouldn't make partner just because you had ML very very early on in your career, particularly if you are done as far as babies are concerned. I am. Full steam ahead on career now.

Good to hear, Chubfuddler.

tiggyhop Thu 25-Jul-13 21:45:38

Ask ask ask for work. Go round and knock on more senior lawyers' doors and say "is there anything I can help you with?" - go and see people rather than email them.

Chubfuddler Thu 25-Jul-13 21:48:27

Depending on whether you get to raise bills yourself, do not pinch other people's WIP. You will probably get sacked.

GherkinsAreAce Thu 25-Jul-13 21:49:45

Very normal to take the full year maternity leave in my firm

tigerlilygrr Thu 25-Jul-13 21:51:13

Keep your desk tidy. I assume a trainee is too chaotic if their desk looks like a shit tip.

This is good advice but it did make me laugh as my DH is a magic circle lawyer and his entire office is an absolute mess! He seems to deal with it by just requesting more desks! Don't follow his approach though.

I am a non-lawyer but I do work in the city. I think in the first two years just try really hard to be a very safe pair of hands. That means enormous attention to detail, an absolute willingness to drop everything to get the job done, always highlighting if you are unsure but outlining your suggested approach (solutions not problems), and responding really quickly wherever you can. It's a tall order but the training you will get is invaluable and in the blink of an eye you'll be expecting those standards of others.

Murtette Thu 25-Jul-13 21:59:01

Always have deodarant, toothbrush, spare pants & blouse, some flat shoes, shower gel & towel in the office for when you end up doing the inevitable all nighter. Whilst you'll still feel knackered the next morning, you'll at least feel fresher if you've been able to shower or, if not time for that, change.
I always expect the trainee to know the number for a conference call, the address of where we're going and to have printed out a map & be on top of that side of things. Having been caught out a few times as a trainee myself, I try not to rely on them to pick up cab fares but it will happen on occasion.
And work out a filing system. It is vital.

Salmotrutta Thu 25-Jul-13 22:05:12

I'm with lowra and Wossname - this is a fascinating thread and I'm not a lawyer!

I'm intrigued!

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