Many lawyers enjoy the kudos and intensity of focus that come with the territory in City law firms. Working in complex areas or on high-profile transactions for large corporates and financial service firms can be a thrilling experience but it is not suited to every City lawyer for their entire career.
Acting as a lawyer on behalf of top institutions is a great experience but niche areas can start to feel limited if they are tucked away behind the front lines or they are on the peripheries of a City firm’s core areas of practice. Equally, junior lawyers drawn to the glamour of a City job early in their careers can find that their enthusiasm simply wanes over time. Market trends can certainly play their part too; ask any securitization lawyer that began their career in the property boom how they felt in the immediate aftermath of Lehman Brothers’ collapse.
If your initial enthusiasm for working solely with blue chips is fading, you may have begun to see appeal in the diversity of clients and variety of work which many West End firms have coming through their doors.
Brush Up Your Soft Skills for Freedom and Responsibility
West End firms tend to have fewer institutional clients than City firms and they often lack the depth of resources and more rigid internal structures of City firms. With that in mind, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that a move away from a large City firm to a West End firm presents itself as a simple proposition of a City lawyer becoming a big fish in a small pond. However, the truth is that there are different challenges in each type of firm.
One of the difficulties that many City lawyers face as they progress through their careers is that the freedom and responsibility they had hoped for does not always materialise in a way that meets their expectations. However, the limitations that mark out West End firms from their City counterparts are the very things that can offer City lawyers the freedom and responsibility they crave.
In West End firms, work does not just roll down from above; individual lawyers have a much greater need to introduce new business. This is often reflected in the competencies required for new recruits. West End firms tend to value business skills as much as, or even more than, pure technical skills.
These factors play into other aspects of the West End lawyer’s role. As a result of being much closer to the coal face of West End firm’s own business, West End lawyers need to have sharp client development skills in order to build their own client base over time and to deal with the much closer contact they have with the firm’s existing clients. Although this can be challenging initially, for those that can develop their abilities quickly, there is much greater scope to stand out among other associates than in large City firms that have armies of lawyers serving giant corporate clients.
Needless to say, promotion prospects are far brighter when your soft skills can complement or even outshine your technical legal skills. They can help build your influence in your team and the wider firm and enable you to stretch beyond the strictures of a rigid City career path.
Look to Your Legal Future
Looking ahead, any associate can recognise the increasingly competitive situation they will have to face in order to stand a chance of being made partner, particularly in the City. That competition should be slightly less fierce in smaller firms.
Those associates who are ready really to engage their client-facing competencies can boost their career prospects by moving to a smaller firm. For specialist advice about the opportunities available for City associates considering a move to a West End firm, contact