International firms

These are mainly located in the City of London. For the UK-born 'Anglo' firms, London is the hub of their international operations, which can range from just a couple of strategically located offices to a sprawling global network - Clifford Chance, for example, has 37 in 25 countries. Among these Anglo firms are some of the world's legal giants, reflecting the fact that English law governs complex, big-ticket transactions across the globe, and is the law of choice for high-value disputes. The appeal of English law is not the only asset for UK firms: they also reap dividends from the ubiquity of the English language, the City's status as a key financial centre and the convenience of European time zones for coordinating cross-border deals.

A firm's footprint determines the availability of overseas secondments for trainees, and in the current economic climate these opportunities are more important than ever. Wherever you are based, expect to work mostly on multi-jurisdictional matters for either UK or foreign-based corporate clients. As well as providing a comprehensive commercial offering, each will have its own strong suits; for example, Allen & Overy is dominant in all things finance-related, while Clyde & Co excels in disputes. It's important to understand the key practice areas and client sectors of the firms you apply to.

People sometimes refer to the 'magic circle' and 'silver circle'. These expressions have historical resonance, but no real significance. The magic circle comprises Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters and Slaughter and May. The so-called silver circle firms are not quite as big as their magic circle peers, although one or two are equally profitable.

US firms in London used to be viewed as a separate category, having offered English law advice only since the mid-1990s. However, there are now around 75 US-born firms in the UK and around a dozen more hybrid Anglo-US firms. Approximately 40 run training schemes, some with 30-plus trainees and others just a handful. Yet small in London need not equate to small globally: Arnold & Porter, for example, employs some 850 lawyers across 10 global offices, but takes on just two UK trainees each year.

Staff work long hours in return for top dollar. A trainee's starting salary will be in the high £30,000s to low £40,000s. If you join a big London office, you'll have resources, amenities and peers aplenty, and probably a relatively bureaucratic working environment. While potential seat options will be abundant, competition for the most popular ones will be stiff and you will have to spend much of your time in core departments.