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The Oracle

What do the differences between national and City firms mean for my career?

updated on 11 September 2018

Dear Oracle

I’m confused about the difference between national and City firms – both types often seem to have London offices and work for high-quality clients. For a prospective trainee solicitor, what really distinguishes a national firm from other types of law firm? 

The Oracle replies

You are right that many national firms have a London office and, like City firms, are large organisations spanning multiple sites. However, a national firm will be identifiable by the fact that it has several important offices in other cities across the United Kingdom, which are just as important for the firm – if not more so – than its London office, if it has one. Key legal centres outside London include Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham, and national firms operate all around the United Kingdom – including Scotland in many cases – rather than being limited to one particular region.

Despite their categorisation, many national firms handle international work for overseas clients. Here the difference between national and global firms is that the biggest City, US and multinational firms are likely to be instructed by financial clients such as large banks and hedge funds, while national firms’ clients come from a wide range of other business sectors outside multinational finance. This is why you are likely to hear a representative of a national firm emphasise their organisation’s “City-quality work outside London”. National firms also have strong links with national and regional UK businesses in a varied range of interesting fields.

There are plenty of reasons why training and qualifying at a national firm would be attractive to a prospective solicitor. As well as access to high-quality, complex work, a national firm trainee is likely to have a wider variety of practice areas to choose their seats from and benefit from greater responsibility than, for example, a magic circle trainee assigned to one specific area of a giant finance department. National firms are also excellent destinations for those who would prefer to live and work outside London, and a network of nationwide offices also offers opportunities to move while remaining with the same firm.

To learn more straight from the firms themselves, apply for a place at one of our LawCareersNetLIVE conferences taking place in November and December 2018? Delegates will have plenty of opportunities to meet top national firms face to face and learn about their businesses and the career opportunities they offer.