updated on 02 October 2017
Many trainee lawyers and solicitors looking to join their first law firm may face the difficult question of whether to start their careers at a regional firm or at one of the more prominent City firms. Sara Duxbury, business psychologist at Carter Corson and former head of people at Fletchers Solicitors, explains why some regional law firms may actually have more to offer new recruits than the larger firms.
Not so long ago, it was often the case that regional law firms struggled to draw budding young lawyers away from the dazzling lights of the big cities and were always on the back foot when it came to recruitment. Larger firms were able to offer exciting new prospects while regional firms found it difficult to compete with the attractive salaries that were being offered in the City. However, this has gradually changed, and more and more regional firms have taken action to publicise the wealth of opportunities they have to offer.
There are numerous benefits of working for a smaller/regional firm. To start with, smaller firms are more likely to allow for greater flexibility with working hours, therefore creating a better work-life balance. This is partly because the regional firms focus more attention on creating strong and lasting relationships with both clients and employees, rather than on long working hours.
We all know a long-working-hours culture is widely associated with a career in law, but it tends to be even more common within the culture of City firms, where the huge workloads constantly roll in. Recent research found that some lawyers can work an average of between 70-80 hours a week. This is equivalent to working over 10 hours every day of the week. Therefore, the idea of having a social life is likely to be something that these trainees give up on the minute they enter into the profession.
Regional law firms, on the other hand, tend to have the capability and flexibility to break away from the traditional law firm structure so young lawyers are now being offered more opportunities to work flexibly. This may include schemes such as 'flexi time' which allow lawyers to vary their work schedule to fit in with other priorities, such as family life and transport arrangements. Employers can choose the hours they work, with a few hours a day being core hours – such as between 11:00am and 3:00pm.
Another benefit of working for a regional law firm is that they tend to offer more responsibility to their employees.
There may even be the option for trainees to work remotely from the comfort of their own homes or somewhere more convenient if commuting is an issue, for example. Sometimes it can be beneficial to work in a quiet environment away from the busy office.
As well as remote working ending long, expensive commutes, law firms situated away from the big cities like London have other advantages, like offering a more affordable cost of living. Therefore, lawyers working in the regions can enjoy a better way of life when they are not in work. People are not always looking for the competitive salaries associated with London anymore - they want more than that. Nowadays, having a work-life balance is an important factor for younger lawyers when they are searching for a job and they may be more likely to pick a firm that offers this culture.
On the personal development side, hard work is likely to be recognised and rewarded more within small firms. In many of these firms, managers will tend to have more time to spend working one-on-one with their trainees. This will help them to gain more first-hand experience and develop their own personal skills. From here, progression and promotion may become much more achievable as managers are on hand to notice improvements in the trainee's work. Where small firms are experiencing periods of significant growth, chances of progression could also increase as the company looks to expand its teams and additional senior roles open up.
Another benefit of working for a regional law firm is that they tend to offer more responsibility to their employees and give trainees the chance to deal directly with cases and with clients. This is because teams are usually smaller and – in order to deal with the caseload – trainees are expected to take on more responsibility within the firm. If you compare this to how large City firms operate, it’s pretty unlikely that trainees will be given much responsibility with the cases, let alone come close to actually meeting their clients. It’s more common for trainees to just get involved in the administration side and work on a small part of a case, rather than be involved in the whole affair.
Lastly, another advantage of working for a regional office to consider is that the office environment is usually much more relaxed and casual. This includes informal office days such as dress-down Fridays and fun days away from the workplace to focus on team building activities. As these firms are usually made up of smaller teams, staff members will spend a lot of time working closely together, so it’s important that employees get along and work well. These types of activities encourage stronger working relationships and greater communication between staff members. A positive working environment also helps to manage stress levels and this may be another benefit that attracts trainee lawyers to regional firms.
When comparing some of the benefits of regional law firms to larger firms usually located in London, it’s easier to see why aspiring new lawyers may now be persuaded to consider the regional options. Although the average wage may be lower at a small firm, the cost of living is also lower and there are a variety of other advantages and development opportunities on offer. Choosing the right law firm for you depends on which direction you intend to progress your career. For those of you who value a good work/life balance and a more relaxed working environment, then joining a regional firm may be the perfect option for you to explore.
Sara Duxbury is a business psychologist at Carter Corson and former head of people at Fletchers Solicitors.
If you want to find out more about the differences between a career in the City and in the regions, and which might suit you better, keep an eye out for details of our exciting 2017 student conferences, CityLawLIVE and NationalLawLIVE. Follow both @CityLawLIVE and @NationalLawLIVE for updates and news.