Finding your Firm Fit: How I Chose the Right Firm for Me

Matthew Berrick recently spoke with Tom Carron, a future trainee at CMS, about how to choose the right firm for you. In this guest piece, Tom Carron details his route into commercial law and how he approached the applications season. Thanks for sharing your insight!

Many people jump into training contract applications without really thinking about the long-term impact it will have. While it can be difficult to differentiate law firms on paper, factors such as location, culture and practice areas can make life as a solicitor considerably different from one firm to the next. Here’s how I narrowed down my choices and decided which law firms to apply for, before choosing to accept a training contract offer from CMS.

Practice areas

After finishing up my undergraduate law degree, I decided to branch out further and study an LLM in Banking and Finance Law. Throughout that year I was inspired by the world of financial markets and the role that lawyers have to play in them. I looked at high profile mergers and acquisitions and the way the debt capital markets worked around the world. As a result, I decided that I wanted to train at a firm where I would be able to sit in a finance seat. 

While it’s a good start to look for firms with practice areas you find interesting, you shouldn’t set yourself too narrow a focus as you will have to undertake a variety of seats while you are training. Quite often studying an area of law is quite different in practice, so keeping an open mind ensures you make the most out of every opportunity. Personally, I disliked land law at university but I really enjoyed the practical side of real estate when it came to my LPC and doing leasehold work on another vacation scheme.

A greener picture…

Quite early on in the process I decided that the London lifestyle wasn’t for me. Whilst many are attracted to the glamour and bustle of the City, I instead fell in love with the colourful and vibrant city of Bristol. Alongside the promise of a healthier work-life balance, Bristol boasts a high reputation for being a green and sustainable city. Having lived there for a number of years I felt happy to substitute stuffy tube journeys with a walk through the park to work.

It was encouraging to see a number of prominent international firms with offices in Bristol, many of them offering traineeships. Bristol’s location puts these firms conveniently in the centre of a thriving technology, aerospace and energy markets as well as nearby to key offices of major banks. Given my experience with banking and financial law, this was a really exciting prospect for me.

People and culture

Most firms will stress the openness and positivity of their culture but it can be difficult for applicants to get a true sense of the culture without experiencing it first-hand. The best way to get a feel for it is to make an effort to meet the people, whether that be at an open day, law fair or a vacation scheme. This can give you a valuable insight into what it’s like to work for the firm and decide whether you’d be comfortable and confident in that environment.

At the university law fair, I met the graduate recruitment team and some trainee solicitors from CMS. I was immediately drawn to the warmth and friendliness of the people and was eager to learn more about the firm. During our conversation they were very interested in hearing about my interests outside of the law and it was clear that they valued all of my experiences, not just those that were law related. 

I was pleased that this attitude continued during the vacation scheme and I felt very supported and included within the team. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it was encouraging to see the firm supporting Pride and it was a pleasure to represent CMS alongside members at all levels of the firm at Bristol Pride.

Quality of work and training

As part of my three-week vacation scheme with CMS I sat in their banking litigation department. I had the opportunity to contribute to exciting international work as well as assist with tasks conducted for some of the firm’s major clients. It was evident that I could expect to work on high-value matters during my traineeship despite not being in the London office. 

I was also really drawn to the small trainee intake at Bristol because this tends to come with greater responsibility for trainees. I made strong connections with my cohort and ended up performing tasks for members at all level of the firm. This was really exciting because it assured me that I would have a lot of responsibility as a trainee in Bristol and could take on challenging work early on in my legal career.

Choosing the right firm for you is undoubtedly a big decision and it will shape the start of your legal career, so make sure you have enough information to make an informed choice. Highlight your priorities first and then pick out firms which align with them. Don’t be afraid to take initiative and meet the people to ask about life at the firm – you will learn much more this way than reading about them online!

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