Getting into commercial work after doing a high street training contract, is it possible?
in Careers Advice, Changing Jobs, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Getting into commercial work after doing a high street training contract, is it possible?

A question recently asked on our careers site from a trainee solicitor in a high street practice. When he qualifies he would like to get into corporate finance work and wanted to know how to go about doing this.

His training seats were conveyancing, family and wills and probate.

When you start out in your legal career, this is a very important factor to take into account. If you train with a particular type of firm, it is very difficult to subsequently move from that particular type of firm into another area of law just because that is what you have decided is best for you.

Law firms do not tend to recruit so randomly that they would take someone coming from a conveyancing and wills & probate background and plonk them down in a role that required corporate finance experience.

Although both of these areas have the word law in them somewhere, and the pieces of paper and digital documents you’ll be working on also contain the word law, there’s not much else that is similar between the two fields.

So when you start out in your legal career, it is important to bear in mind that where you train and where you get your experience generally is highly likely to be where you end up working. Trainee solicitors at criminal and family law firms tend to end up doing crime or family. Trainees who have undertaken corporate finance, commercial litigation and corporate commercial tend to end up working in one of these three fields. In-house trainees tend to end up working in-house.

This is the way of the world and it makes a lot of sense. Why would a law firm want to recruit someone with no experience in an area of law they have a requirement for someone to work in? It doesn’t make any sense at all and unfortunately when you set out on your legal career this is something that you needed to know about at the time. You cannot just simply jump from one area to the other, it is usually impossible.

A Potential Solution

There is a way though of changing your career trajectory into something a little different and I have come across solicitors over the years who have managed to do this. It usually entails getting further work experience that very often is unpaid, and also requires quite a bit of perseverance.

Moving from high street into commercial can be done mainly by identifying work that is in similar fields, or finding a firm that does some corporate commercial or some commercial litigation as well as similar fields to your own experience and then using this as a stepping stone into something else. I have come across senior solicitors in a commercial environment who have started out as family lawyers but managed to move across by working within a firm that has done both family and company commercial work, eventually ending up just doing the company commercial and using that as a stepping stone into a larger practice or a more challenging role. Not the easiest thing to do and certainly something that requires perseverance, but it is possible to do this.

The same applies in the opposite direction, despite the natural assumption of corporate and commercial solicitors that they can just join a high street firm! We have come across commercial solicitors trying to make the jump into providing personal law (wills and probate, conveyancing, crime, family law etc), but this is not so easy as you would think, because these solicitors do not have the experience in those areas that a firm is necessarily looking for when it starts its recruitment process. The same applies that you will probably have to go and get some experience first, or at least very low paid work in order to make the move across.

Summary

Essentially when you make your decision to accept a training contract with Smith & Co with training contract seats in shipping, construction and energy, this is likely to be the path of your legal career. Whether or not you want to carry on down this path is a matter for you in the long term, but in all likelihood this is where you are going to be.

Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 17 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at www.legalcareercoaching.co.uk. You can contact Jonathan at cv@ten-percent.co.uk