Well, I can immediately tell you, no you are not.
Coming from a family a rather “corporate” family, I’ve always had a just of how competitive the legal industry was; not just in getting your foot in the door but also staying within it. I moved to the U.K. seven years ago from Sweden after finishing secondary school, I was pumped and ready to go somewhere new and to finally have a go at working towards my career in law.
Not too long after arriving, I managed to secure work experience at a local high street firm just ten minutes away from my home; I worked there on my free days from college for six months and learned many things. It was small, close-knit and friendly, with quite a lot of responsibility given early on due to size and workload. I carried on getting work experience anywhere that I could throughout my college years, whether it was a week in some places or two-three months in others; it really allowed me to grow as a person and learn more practically in preparation for my law degree. Upon starting university, I had just under two years worth of legal work experience in high street firms and felt ridiculously proud of myself and what I had already learnt coming in, but when university actually started and I met people on my course, nearly everyone I’d spoken to had an ambition or drive to go towards large commercial firms, despite having not worked in either commercial or high street firms beforehand; but that wasn’t the weird part, the weird part came along when people freely expressed their disdain for working in a high street firm, almost seeing it as something that was beneath them. My question at that point was, you’re a first-year law student, with no legal work experience behind you whatsoever but somehow working at or getting experience at a high street firm is beneath you? How so?
I was completely baffled as to how many people thought this way and it or worse in second year. As someone who had spent a majority of her college years in high street firms gaining valuable knowledge about the industry and practice in a very personal way, it made me quite angry to see that people were purposely giving opportunities a miss because of name, size, location, and status – as young people who want to get into one of the most competitive and most respected industries in the world, that isn’t really an option.
Now don’t get me wrong, I completely see the appeal in going for the large commercial firms and they do a great job as appearing as that perfect apple on the apple tree, I’d know, I’m a trainee at a commercial law firm myself! However, there is a key fact that everyone needs to know and that is, commercial isn’t for everybody and that is absolutely fine.
You should always explore your options and go with what’s best for you, your personality and the way that you work. So if you’re still in your deciding stage, I’d like to introduce a few factors to take into account regarding high street firms.
- High street firms are generally a lot smaller than commercial firms and are more close-knit in terms of communication structure, you don’t have to escalate through several layers.
- Getting work experience in a high street firm is slightly easier but the process is usually less structured as work experience vacancies depend on the nature of the business and how busy the time of year is, bagging a work experience gig can be due to the right timing throughout the year as oppose to summer and Easter breaks.
- Smaller firms in my experience also give you a better sense of responsibility early on due to size, you may have to “wear different hats” regularly which can benefit you in wider employment.
- Working hours are important for a good work/life balance, commercial law firms tend to strike out in this sense due to international clientele and a range of different factors. High street firms have the more generalised 8:30-9:00 – 5:00/6:00.
- Money. We all need and want it and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a lot of it – however, try not to let money take charge of your career goals and where you want to be, especially in an industry such as law. People often become disenfranchised very quickly after coming to the realisation that other aspects of a job matter as well (don’t let that be you!).
- High street firms are also more engaged with the community they are in, which is very important for building character, self-development and local knowledge. Often people think the bigger the better, but that’s not necessarily the case. It is quite refreshing to be dealing with intimate and very personal issues as opposed to ones that affect companies/organisations.
Thanks for reading !
The Strand by Night |Image by James Petts © Creative Commons