How to choose a law firm

Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
August, 2015

It's easy to be drawn to high-profile deals and six-figure salaries, but it's more important to choose a firm that matches your skills and motivations

Every firm will offer something different, from international secondments to the opportunity of pro bono work. Here are some factors to consider when choosing…

Area of law

The first thing to decide is which area of law is right for you. This could be anything from banking to intellectual property. For a comprehensive summary of the industry see our overview of the law sector.

As a starting point, think about the topics that you enjoy at university and any legal work experience that you've done. Use trade press and social media to read up on the challenges that the area is facing and the types of clients that are involved.

Firm size

As well as affecting the clients you deal with and the work that you do, the size of the firm will also impact on trainee numbers. Would you rather be the only trainee but with one-to-one mentoring or one of 20 trainees with a strong support network that understands the pressure?

  • Magic Circle - This is made up of Linklaters, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Slaughter and May, and Allen & Overy. These are the biggest firms in the UK legal industry and only the best trainees will be considered.
  • National - Offering a decent salary and a good work/life balance, these firms have well-developed networks of offices across the UK.
  • High street - These are small to medium-sized practices that mostly provide legal services to household clients. Serving a range of clients means diverse work and a greater responsibility for trainees.
  • USA-based firm - Opening up offices across the UK, these deal with top-end corporate work and offer high salaries to the small amount of trainees that they take on each year.


Many firms will have offices across the UK, so location may not be an issue. However, you must take this into account as it’s essential to be somewhere that you’re happy to live. Are you happy to relocate? Do you want big city living or a slower pace of life?


Trainees traditionally complete four six-month seats, although this can differ between firms. Some firms offer six four-month seats, allowing you to experience a greater number of areas but in arguably less depth. Other firms may impose mandatory seats. This is where your research is important. Find out what your chosen firm offers and check that it matches your requirements.

'Students and potential trainees should undertake detailed research before making any applications to law firms,' advises Chris Wilkinson, careers adviser at the University of York. 'This research should be thorough and show that the applicant has really thought about why they want to apply to that particular firm.'

Your research should go beyond websites. You must look at firms' social media pages, read up on cases that they've been involved in and find out their stance on corporate social responsibility.