Job Watch: Small/West End firms

As the competition hots up in the City to secure training contracts and associate roles, it is worth looking at what some of the smaller firms in the West End have to offer.

As the competition hots up in the City to secure training contracts and associate roles, it is worth looking at what some of the smaller firms in the West End have to offer.

“We’re continuing to see recruitment activity among these firms,” comments James Franklin, manager of private practice recruitment at Robert Walters. “Although most demand is at a fairly senior level, some firms are looking for six years’-plus PQE. They’re looking for partners who can grow a business and consequently we’re seeing demand for business development and client-facing skills, and experience in these roles.”

Stuart Greenland of First Counsel notes that “although demand is steady, it’s never in the same league as at the large City firms. They tend to look for good candidates with a couple of years’ PQE who aren’t afraid to roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.”

There are a number of good reasons to join a small firm, says Franklin.

“The main advantages are symptomatic of being a ’bigger fish in a smaller pond’ – specifically quicker career progression, a quicker and easier route to partnership and greater contact with clients,” he comments.

Franklin eschews the notion that moving from the City to a West End firm is an easy route.

“The truth is that it comes with different challenges,” he says.

“A West End firm’s likely to have fewer institutional clients, so roles are likely to have greater scope for business development. When recruiting, these firms are typically looking for business rather than technical skills.”

Greenland adds that “usually, the lawyers who succeed when moving from City firms are hard-working, entrepreneurial and ambitious”.

As for practice areas, there is considerable demand in a number of specialisms.

“There’s always a shortage of good two- to four-year PQE private client lawyers with tax planning experience,” notes Greenland.

There is also a growing demand for experienced lawyers in the technology and IP sectors, adds Franklin. “The key areas West End firms are recruiting for at the moment include data protection, commercial and company law, outsourcing and technology,” he reveals. “We’ve also seen notable demand for regulatory lawyers with financial services backgrounds.

“One of the main advantages of working for one of these firms is the potential to work in some unique practice areas.”

He highlights a wide range of alternative practice areas available, from music, online gaming and technology to employment law specific to partnerships.

“There are always opportunities to specialise in media, sport or music,” agrees Greenland. “These types of firms and roles are always highly subscribed and not everyone can be a media lawyer.

“However, if you work in the West End rather than the City you’re more likely to be able to touch upon different areas and types of work.”