The City Legal Market – past, present & future – a talk by Robert Sutton, Senior Adviser, Macfarlanes – Marie Tay

Author Marie

The City Legal Market – where leading solicitors gather – is a place that calls for versatile capabilities and wit along with the ability to adapt to new challenges constantly. And it’s a place where the faint-hearted or egoistic need not apply. Set against a background of Eurozone instability and the arrival of a number of US law firms on the scene, today’s City Legal Market is a far more competitive one.

Is there still a place for the GDL/LLB graduate whose goal is that increasingly hard-to-obtain training contract?

The answer is still a resounding yes. For it is said that competition brings out the best in us. And most certainly, while the entry of the US firms fosters competition between City firms, this also means that there is now a wider range of opportunities available.

Good news then for those seeking employment at City firms. For all that’s left to do is to prove yourself. Except that you need to do this in a more prominent manner than before. As City lawyers now play larger roles in the driving or organising of transactions, you need to be equipped with additional skill sets along with the all-important legal knowledge such as administrative and communication skills, a ‘what if’ intellect and the ability to lead.

What qualities should a trainee solicitor possess?

Key legal skill! Credit: JoelMontes

1. Reading and writing. To a very high standard. For the life of a City lawyer is dominated by documents, documents and more documents. Of which a detailed analysis is required.

2. The ‘what if’ intellect. A crucial ability that lets you identify the risks in a case and allocate them between the parties, in order to reach an agreement that’s in-line with their commercial intentions.

3. The team comes first. A good lawyer has the ability to integrate and coordinate well with others. The needs of the team always take predominance over one’s ego.

4. Project your best front. Or rather your best qualities to clients. For they often look to be impressed with character and personality. Beyond the mere ability to dispense legal advice.

5. Understanding/Communicating with the client.
Sounds simple, but grasping the client’s commercial intention and finding the right solution to their problem isn’t always easy. Especially when the client isn’t always right. The key to this is chemistry with your clients as well as your partners.

6. Get over your mistakes. Don’t cry over spilt milk (or at least
not for too long) as a good City lawyer needs the ability to get over his/her mistake quickly. But more importantly, confess and don’t make it twice!

What to look out for if you want to succeed as a City solicitor

When applying to the City firm of your choice, it’s important to engage in research, research and more research. Not doing your homework well in this area could limit your legal career even before you start. Things to look out for include the opportunities junior lawyers are exposed to, for example, the balance between transaction and advisory work, the chance to observe senior partners in action, the reasons for the early retirement of senior staff if any, the strategic direction the firm is set to take in the future amongst others.

And lastly, what of the Legal Services Act, which brings a new sense of freedom and the influence of outside investment into City law firms? Guest speaker, Mr Robert Sutton, Senior Adviser, Macfarlanes suggests that this is one significant change that will affect the City legal market in the near future particularly, the purpose that the outside capital is being used for. Is it for the benefit of the firm and its people or will it lead to short-term considerations where law firms may mortgage their future in the interests of existing partners?

Despite the influx of new challenges that the future brings, he believes the future of City law firms remains strong. “If you are not afraid of the intellectual and other challenges of being a successful City lawyer, then it can be a great profession.” Indeed, for while the stakes have been raised, the satisfaction of conquering these challenges will surely make the job of a City lawyer even more rewarding than before. So GDL/LLB students take heart.

Marie Tay is a former copywriter and editor currently studying for her GDL at The City Law School.

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