How Leaving The City Can Boost Your Legal Career

For outsiders looking in, the life of legal professionals can stereotypically be about big bonuses, high salaries, and designer suits in the big city – and for good reason.

With nearly one third of law firms in England and Wales located within the boundaries of M25 and pay checks certainly being higher, these preconceptions have their foundations in fact.

But what if London isn’t for you? Rosie Hare, recruitment manager at Roythornes Solicitors, explains why regional firms may have more to offer those looking for the next step in their career than their city counterparts.

“There is now a much greater emphasis on an employee’s work life balance”, says Rosie. “British workers cite it as their number one priority according to The Network’s latest Global Talent Survey. However, treading that fine line between work and free time is tough, especially for legal professionals working in the city.

“More professionals are coming to us from the city because of the better work-life balance. They are often working flat out for 12 hours a day, and that doesn’t count the time it takes to commute to and from the office.”

Burning the candle at both ends

Roythornes, which has its headquarters in Spalding, Lincolnshire, is as a Top 200 law firm in The Times and has four regional offices across the Midlands and East Anglia.

Since joining the firm in March 2019, Rosie has conducted more than a hundred interviews with potential new recruits and sees burnout as a particularly common problem.

“Regional firms may have traditionally struggled to attract young people away from the bright lights of the city but often there’s greater flexibility with working hours. The legal profession is, and always will be, a very competitive industry. So, many professionals – especially new recruits – work incredibly long hours each day just to prove themselves and get ahead of their colleagues.

“I feel we can promote a more relaxed working environment because the lifestyle is less fast paced. It gives our employees more time to digest information properly, which in turn enables us to give our staff more responsibility as they get more confident in the role.”

Specialisms outside the city

Burnout in the legal industry is nothing new. In the past two years the Stevenson Farmer Review and Junior Lawyers Division Resilience and Wellbeing Survey paint a worrying picture of the mental health of industry professionals.

But while some look to the regional firms for an improved work-life balance, others look to firms outside the city because they can offer different specialisms.

Among those shunning the city is trainee solicitor Rosie Reynolds. Having grown up in a big family in the Cambridgeshire countryside, Rosie was familiar to life in rural areas. So, when it came to choosing a university, she opted for a campus outside of town and settled on the University of East Anglia.

“I had no intention of joining a major city firm”, Rosie explains. “The lifestyle isn’t suited to me, and after doing work experience in London, Birmingham and Norwich, I felt underappreciated, stressed and disillusioned. It was almost enough to put me off going into the profession.”

It’s at university where she developed her love for agricultural property and began exploring opportunities in regional firms to pursue her interest. Having entered and excelled in Roythornes’ annual  ‘At Home with Roythornes’ event, – an afternoon seminar which includes a two-minute pitch for a chance to win an interview for a training contract – Rosie took up a training contract with the firm towards the end of 2019 and is now based primarily in the Spalding HQ.

“Aspiring legal professionals think it’s all criminal and corporate business cases, but the beauty of the industry is that there are so many niche areas of law that require specialist knowledge.

“Given the nature of the city firms, I knew the more specialist agriculture firms would be located outside of the city. When I pitched myself for the ‘At Home’ event, I focused on my love for green spaces and knew I’d be happier with Roythornes. Having spoken to my friends in the profession, I feel I’ve had more hands-on experience than they have whilst working in the city.”

Utilising the same skillset

However, it would be wrong though to say that the city is losing its charm. In fact, in the UK, London’s 58,322 practicing solicitors make up approximately 40 per cent of the total number of solicitors in England and Wales. The City of London specifically has seen a 59 per cent increase in practicing solicitors in the past decade from 2008.

There is no escaping that financial reward does tend to lie in the city, especially for lawyers heading into corporate law. Professionals will have to sacrifice the higher wages by moving into more rural firms but for Joanne Sinclair, corporate and commercial specialist solicitor, it was one worth making in order to gain a broader working knowledge.

Having grown up in Spalding, Joanne moved down to London to study for her law degree at Kings College. After graduating with a first and impressing her tutors, she then took a training contract and then a job at international law firm Allen & Overy, specialising in corporate law.

“People think you have to use city firms to get specialist advice but there’s no difference in the skills and advice we give to our clients, here at Roythornes” says Joanne.

“There’s a certain perception that working in regional offices means you miss out on interesting cases, but I was pleasantly surprised with the work coming through the firm. It’s very similar to what I’m used to in the city, but the pressure isn’t as intense.”

Despite her specialist corporate training, Joanne felt she was at a disadvantage when joining Roythornes in 2018.

“I was working on a really broad range of cases and disciplines that I hadn’t encountered in the city. Prior to working in regional offices, I hadn’t had any practical experience working with partnerships because the clients we worked with were mainly limited companies”.

Investing in staff

Both Rosie and Joanne have joined Roythornes during a prosperous period for the firm. In 2018, the firm opened a new office in Alconbury, Cambridgeshire, and is now finalising a move to a larger premises to accommodate its growing team.

The company also welcomed 48 new members of staff in 2019 across its four offices and has two more set to join before the end of the year. As well as attracting more employees with its high calibre of work, Roythornes is reaping the rewards from reaching out to universities around its Spalding, Nottingham, Peterborough and Alconbury offices.

Rosie Hare, who joined in 2019, has been driving force behind this push and revels in the chance of telling young people about how Roythornes can boost their career.

“The number of students graduating university with a first was the highest on record in 2018 and, as a result, training contracts are harder to come by. I’m finding that younger people don’t want to move too far from home. They want to have a good career in an area where they’re comfortable and once we discuss the types of law we’re involved in, and the big cases we work on, there is always genuine interest.

“The cost of living in these areas is much lower than in nearby cities like Cambridge and London, so they’re finding they can get onto the property ladder quicker and have more disposable income.

“Turnover in city firms also tends to be much higher, especially for those on training contracts. From my experience, it’s likely that only half of those coming on a training contract are kept on in the city, whereas we tend to keep approximately 80 per cent of our trainees. It’s something we’re particularly proud of.

“Your career is the biggest investment you can make; my key piece of advice is to get what you want from it. There’s no getting away from the fact that some people want to work in legal hubs like London or Manchester, but there is a significant number of people out there who are burnt out by the city and understand the huge advantage of looking outside the limits of the M25.”

For more information visit www.roythornes.co.uk or follow @roythornes on Twitter.

Roythornes Solicitors is a top 200 national law firm with strategically located offices across the Midlands and East Anglia. The firm adopts a one team ethos across all offices, with trusted advice being given by its recognised experts on a national spread. It prides itself on building longstanding relationships with clients with a high emphasis on personal connectivity. The firm’s clients include major blue-chip companies, family businesses and private individuals, based nationally and internationally.

Each client benefits from the company’s partner-led, practical approach. As well as a powerful breadth and depth of legal expertise, the team brings commercial know-how and invaluable lateral thinking to each case, drawing on a diverse range of skills and contacts.

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