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Law firms are not all the same

March 2023

When speaking to Associates at the start of their search for a new role, I am still surprised by how many are inclined to rule out US firms in their entirety. This is often based on a concern around hours and expectations.

I find this is a sentiment held by many junior Associates and Trainees in particular, and a large portion of those who are coming from overseas jurisdictions.

After a bit of probing, it is apparent that these opinions are heavily (if not entirely) based on hearsay and the same horror stories that have been passed down from one contact to another, rather than being based on any real or recent first-hand experience.

I spend a lot of time myth-busting around this point, and actively encouraging these Associates to take a more open-minded approach to their search.

The reality is that whilst Associates at US firms do work hard (they often service the biggest clients on the most complex and cutting-edge transactions/disputes) the expectations are really not much different to Magic Circle and other international outfits too.

In many cases the hours are the same.

For US firms quoting 1,900 or 2,000 hours you will find that some allow 200 of those hours to be a combination of client development / pro bono, know-how work etc, (i.e. not just client billings). So in reality, you are looking at 1,700 chargeable hours as the gateway to  eligibility for a bonus – directly competing with non-US headquartered firms.

After recognising that there is often little to no difference in the hours, the stark difference in pay scales between UK and US headquartered law firms in the City makes the latter an extremely attractive option.

US firms also tend to operate with much leaner teams, providing Associates with higher levels of responsibility and the opportunity to work directly with Partners and clients at a much earlier stage in your career. This dynamic can propel your professional development forward, at a pace unmatched by large UK teams, where Associates can feel like small cogs in a big wheel.

The key message here is to take other peoples’ opinions with a pinch of salt and always do your due diligence / make your own mind up.

More often than not, Associates for whom US firms were not instinctively what they thought they wanted, come away from these interview processes feeling incredibly enthusiastic and excited by the prospect of joining them.

If you are a Trainee or Associate interested in having an honest and confidential chat about opportunities available to you, get in touch with myself or one of my colleagues on the LTN Associate team.

To discuss this topic or talk about a potential move please contact

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