Law is changing - for clients and for lawyers!

A unique insight from Partner and Head of Corporate, Jonathan Grant, on the various routes into the legal profession and the range of law firms within which candidates may choose to develop their careers.

Often considered one of the most conservative professions things are changing fast. In this article I look at ways to qualify and the range of law businesses.

For those entering the profession, there is also now a wider choice as to how you qualify.

Traditional route
Law graduates complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC)(full time) at the College of Law, followed by a two year training contract (moving disciplines every six months). Non law graduates complete a one-year conversion course. Costs range from £15k to £20k for the LPC, with earnings reduced during the training contract.

New Route
The Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) is set to become the dominant qualification route in the future. Graduates can take exams while working; the exams take 2 to 3 years, and if your experience is good, you can qualify when you complete the final exam. Costs are way less than the LPC route and you can be working (and paid) while studying.

Both routes are still available, but SQE has significant benefits for law firms and candidates.

Where to Qualify?
Consultancy businesses, where lawyers receive a proportion of the fees they bill, will for obvious reasons have limited training opportunities.

General practices (traditional equity/PLC consolidators) will always have places for new lawyers. The choice may in part be the desire to own a part of the business in which you work for in future, but often it is the type and quality of work you have access to and reputation of partners.

Specialist practices (focus on one area of law) will have some opportunities, but these are necessarily limited the area of law in question.
The quality of the lawyers you will work with as a trainee/young lawyer, is the key to predicting the lawyer you will become (along with hard work and some inspiration!).
Technical skills are not the only thing to bear in mind, and culture is increasingly important. Perhaps confusingly, some of the biggest firms with great reputations, have the most challenging cultures.

Range of Law Businesses
Traditional Law Firm
Operating as limited liability partnerships, where the senior partners run the business, supported by a “back office”, including operations, finance, HR, and risk (in larger firms). Typically providing a broad range of services, the culture and quality is dictated by the partners.
Profit is shared amongst partners, with some paid on a contract basis while others (the equity) rewarded based on the profits of the firm (good or bad). Sizes vary, from small high street firms to larger commercial practices.

Specialist Firms
An increasing number of law firms focus on one area of law, such as property, divorce, or criminal law. These are typically smaller, set up as LLP’s or limited companies. For clients who want help on one issue this can be attractive, similarly for lawyers who want to specialise. Some work, such as criminal defence, is rarely now carried out by traditional firms.

Businesses which offer self-employment within an “umbrella” organisation. The firm provides insurance, back office/accounts, and meeting room facilities, paid for by the lawyers.

With lower fixed overheads (staff and premises), these firms can scale quickly. There are specialist and general consultancies of all sizes, giving lawyers complete flexibility on where and how hard they work. Each lawyer receives a percentage of the fees they invoice, with security depending on the work they can produce.

Listed Law Firms
Lawyers are all employees within a larger firm. These listed firms offer all commercial general practice skills with some also providing personal legal work.

Which to choose?
There is a no right or wrong answer, but independent recommendation to a particular lawyer/firm is always a good place to start! Lawyers should be willing to provide references, and there are trade publications such as Chambers and Legal 500, who will interview other professionals and clients.

The reputation of a law firms depends on the quality of its’ lawyers, with a resulting need to coach/ develop good young lawyers. How a firm does this varies, with a corresponding effect on the culture of the firm, and its’ ability to maintain consistent standards.

Consultancies operate with individual lawyers instead of teams. This will impact the size and complexity of jobs they can run, particularly those requiring different specialists. On the plus side, the individual you know, will do all the work.

For large commercial projects, larger traditional or listed firms will dominate. Smaller or more specialist projects can be effectively run by good consultants.

Looking ahead, those firms able to create the best culture, will attract the top legal talent.

About the authors

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Jonathan Grant


Expert in mergers and acquisitions, management buy outs/buy ins and sales.

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