Introduction to law

What does a legal career in the Square Mile involve? The Gateway explains, so you can decide whether you want to court employers in this field

What is law in the City all about?

The City is a marketplace in which a plethora of different kinds of corporate transaction take place - and lawyers play a crucial role in them. They advise their clients - usually corporates, financial institutions and government entities - on the legal aspects of the deals they're doing. More specifically, they draft and negotiate transaction documents, and help manage any commercial disputes that arise by guiding the parties through court proceedings, or by settling things through negotiation.

What kind of careers are available to graduates in this industry?

The most common career path taken by graduates is recruitment onto a City law firm's training contract programme. A training contract is a two-year period of employment at a law firm which leads to qualification as a solicitor. After completing a City firm training contract, many graduates stay on at their firm to work as a qualified lawyer, known as an assistant or an associate. However, after qualification, or (more usually) in subsequent years, lawyers may well choose to move to a different City firm, to a different kind of firm or, sometimes, into a legal role at a corporate or a bank.

Some of the larger City law firms may also recruit graduates to join them in marketing, internal finance, HR or IT roles.

Who are the major recruiters?

Five of the largest City firms, who are traditionally thought of as the most prestigious players in the market, are known collectively as the �Magic Circle". They are Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields, Linklaters and Slaughter and May. All of these recruit over 100 graduates every year to train as lawyers with them. There are, however, many other City firms which offer similar opportunities to graduates and often nearly as many training contract places, such as Ashurst and Hogan Lovells.

Many American law firms, such as Jones Day and Mayer Brown, also have large London offices and places available for students to qualify as English lawyers.

Finally, City training contracts are also available at smaller general City firms, such as Stephenson Harwood or Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, or at firms specialising in particular areas of practice.

What kind of students are they looking for?

Those wanting to train as lawyers need (usually) to have an undergraduate degree (which doesn't have to be law) and the correct legal qualifications (see below), and if you have your sights set on a City firm, you'll need to get top grades because the challenges of the work you'll encounter at one require a sharp intellect and quick wit. But there's far more to being a City lawyer than legal expertise, so City law firms are also looking for a range of other attributes in their recruits.

Commercial awareness is crucial - when you apply you'll need to have a good overview of the business and finance worlds, and an appreciation of the commercial implications of legal procedures and issues for a business. Lawyers have to market their services and skills to clients and to others within their firm and so an entrepreneurial streak and a confident manner will go down well with City firms. As much of the job boils down to working in teams on complex projects, being able to demonstrate people skills and organisational ability is essential - participation in extra-curricular activities is a great way to do so.

Will I need to do any further study when I finish my degree?

The short answer is yes, whether or not you've done a law degree. Before starting at a law firm, law graduates (provided their degree has covered the seven required subjects, which is the case with most UK university LLB programmes) must go on to law school, often BPP or the College of Law in the case of future City firm trainees. Here they'll study for the Legal Practice Course (LPC) before starting a training contract. The LPC complements academic legal study by focusing on applying law to real-life situations and on the skills needed to work effectively with clients. Non-law graduates must also study for the LPC, but first must take the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL, also known as the Common Professional Exam or CPE), which equips you with the academic legal knowledge you'll need to practice that law graduates gain from their degree. Both the GDL and the LPC are normally done over the course of a year, though accelerated programmes may be available to you.

If I'm interested, what should my next steps be?

Look out for the opportunities specifically for first years at City law firms, which include insight days, workshops and short internships. In addition, some firms may allow you to apply for their longer summer internships, but these are more usually done by penultimate and final year students. Finding out as much as you can about the legal world is also a good move. On campus, one of the best ways to do so is to get involved in the activities of your university Law Society. You'll also need to get up to speed with the City and the business world in general to help with your applications to law firms, and also to make sure that this branch of the legal profession is the one for you. The Gateway will be here to help you along the way - every two weeks during term time we'll be giving you the lowdown on top legal recruiters, finance and business knowledge, and careers tips. And if you'd like a comprehensive guide to law in the City, as only The Gateway can do it.