How we do our research

 

About the True Picture

Every firm will tell you it is different from all the others because of its friendly culture in which everybody is down-to-earth and where approachable partners operate an open-door policy. If you're feeling bamboozled by brochure-speak we have the antidote: the True Picture.

If you have any questions about the True Picture or you work for a firm which you would like to see featured in the True Picture please contact the editors:

Antony Cooke       editor 020 7778 1676       [email protected]  
Sam Morris deputy editor 020 7778 1618 [email protected]
Tom Lewis deputy editor        020 7778 1467 [email protected]

 

How we do our research

Every year we spend many months compiling the True Picture reports on law firms in England and Wales, ranging from the international giants to small regional practices. Our purpose is to get to the heart of what you need to know about a prospective employer – what it can really offer you in terms of work and working environment. You’ll want to know how many hours a day you’ll be chained to your desk, the tasks that will keep you occupied and who you’ll be working with. Importantly, you’ll want to know about a firm’s culture and whether colleagues will turn into party animals or party poopers come Friday night.

Most of our chosen firms handle commercial law, although many also offer private client experience. There are also a few firms which handle publicly funded or public interest work. To take part in the True Picture a firm must provide a complete list of its trainees. After checking the list is complete, we randomly select a sample of individuals for telephone interviews. Our sources are guaranteed anonymity to give them the confidence to speak frankly. The True Picture is not shown to the law firms prior to publication; they see it for the first time when this book is published.

Our sources are guaranteed anonymity to give them the confidence to speak frankly. The True Picture is not shown to the law firms prior to publication.

We’re the only publication that conducts our research in this way. By chatting to trainees rather than sending them formulaic questionnaires, we can follow up on leads, delve deeper into what makes firms tick and what challenges they face. We think that leads to better, more detailed information for our readers. 

Trainees tell us why they chose their firm and why others might want to. We put on our serious faces and talk about seat allocation, the character and work of different departments, the level of supervision and what happens to people on qualification. And we flirt shamelessly to get the gossip on firm politics, office oddities and after-hours fun. We look for the things trainees agree upon, and if they don’t agree we present both sides of the argument. 

Your choice of firm should be based on location, size and the practice areas available. Once you're settled on those, it's all about chemistry: some firms are stuffier, some are more industrious and some are very brand-aware, involving trainees heavily in marketing activities. Some work in modern open-plan offices; others occupy buildings with a more traditional set-up. Some focus on international business; others are at the heart of their local business communities. Some concentrate on contentious work; others transactional. The combinations of these variables are endless.

 

Our findings this year

As the website of a magic circle firm stated recently, ‘Brexit has blasted its way to the top of the boardroom agenda.’ Lawyers have sprung into action to advise businesses on the implications of Brexit for them, as well as waiting anxiously to see what effects the UK leaving the EU will have on the economy and the legal industry. The problems and opportunities that Brexit creates for lawyers are manifold. Other issues that are at the forefront of lawyers’ minds include developing market volatility from Russia to China, what the Trump presidency will mean for US trading and economic relations, the future of the euro and the European Union, and the effects of public spending and legal aid cuts – all of these factors could potentially have adverse effects on law firms. Read more about all this in our feature on Trends affecting the legal profession and in our overviews of Solicitors’ practice areas.

A word on law firm mergers and closures. Mergers are now a common feature of the legal landscape. This is partly due to challenging economic conditions – strength in numbers, and all that. However, it is also a result of globalisation. Firms with big ambitions seem to feel that unless they have a sizeable international office network, they will lose out. When firms merge, trainees’ contracts are honoured, though of course it does mean that new recruits find themselves in a different firm to the one they signed up to. So be aware that your firm of choice may undergo a transformative merger before or after you join. Mergers can drastically change firms’ footprints and culture; we do our best to report on these changes in the relevant True Picture features. Law firm closures are rarer, but they do happen. The most recent big firm to go bust was King & Wood Mallesons, a major City and international player. When firms do go under, current and future trainees can find themselves caught on the hop, though a trend has developed recently for other firms to swoop in and take current (though not future) trainees under their wing.

Since the recession many firms are announcing their qualification job offers extremely late – this trend continued in 2018. Firms are increasingly secretive about their retention rates, but we think they’re a good way for you to judge a firm’s commitment to its trainees and the full career opportunities available. Overall, retention rates at the firms featured in this guide have hovered around the 80% mark in recent years (after a drop to below 75% during the recession). The absolute number of trainees firms are retaining on qualification has fallen in the past ten years though, with downsizing especially noticeable at the biggest outfits. In 2018 the firms featured in Chambers Student retained 80% of their trainees on qualification. Have a look at the retention statistics for each firm going back to 2001.

If you intend to use retention rates as a determining factor in your choice of firm, do be wary of the statistics being bandied around. Law firms make their own rules on how to calculate retention rates – you may not be getting a full picture from them. We collect our own statistics and include them in each law firm feature.

 

Things we hear every year...

 

  • Some seats are more popular than others and there are no guarantees of getting a specific seat. Employment and intellectual property are perennial favourites.
  • Levels of responsibility vary between departments. In property you might have your own small files. In corporate you will generally work in a very junior capacity as part of a team.
  • The experience in litigation depends entirely on the type of cases your firm handles; usually a trainee’s responsibility is inversely proportionate to the value and complexity of a case.
  • Working in corporate and finance seats means putting in long hours, commonly climaxing in all-nighters. The size and complexity of a deal will determine your role, but corporate and finance usually require the most teamwork.
  • Most firms offer four six-month seats; some offer six four-month seats and others operate their own unique systems. Trainees switch departments and supervisors for each seat. Some share a room and work with a partner or senior assistant; others sit in an open-plan office, either with the rest of the team or with other trainees.
  • All firms conduct appraisals: a minimum of one at the conclusion of each seat, and usually halfway through as well.
  • Client secondments help you learn to understand clients’ needs. They can be the highlight of a training contract.
  • Trainees love doing overseas seats. They’re not just a fun jaunt abroad but a good way of getting an insight into a firm’s international activities; as overseas offices are usually smaller than domestic ones, responsibility levels are usually higher abroad.
  • Some firms have certain seats they require or prefer trainees to do.

 

Use the True Picture to help you decide which firms to target. No matter how easy or hard securing a training contract is for you, you’ll want to end up with the right one.