The 20th edition of Chambers Student is out this week. We look at how far the legal profession has come since we began interviewing trainee lawyers, and unearth a few timeless truths about succeeding in the law.
Reading our first edition side-by-side with our 20th, we expected to see a profession transformed profoundly by global events. But what we found was far more subtle: the life of a lawyer in the late 90s is very familiar – and that’s the way it ought to be. You are, after all, entering one of the most stable, structured professions there is. That’s not to say law firms are immune to change – the lawyer who adapts succeeds. The past 20 years have seen firms swap names a hundred times over, go bust or merge; the clients created or had to conform to a more sophisticated world, and their problems changed with them; and lawyers use a lot less paper these days. But our first edition proved most entertaining for a spot of nostalgia: where today law firms throw perks like enhanced paternity leave, free gyms and pilates classes at you, back in the day they advertised some retro perks like “squash courts” and “luncheon vouchers.”
Cultural change at law firms has been more obvious, with things shifting away from the fusty and towards something more progressive. This year we published a survey on law firms’ preferred universities, and comparing these results to our same survey in 1998 shows a dramatic shift from a quite exclusive industry. That’s not to say elitism is dead – Oxbridge and the Russell Group still dominate, and for good reason – but law firms are at least beginning to address unconscious bias.
It’s not all been high-fiving on the culture front, though. In our first edition a female banking partner told how few women there were at the top, “by and large because they don’t want to be there.” This comment wouldn’t look out of place in a survey today; progress has been frustrating for women. The gender disparity at the top is still huge, but attitudes are changing as client expectations and accountability improve. In 1997 we reported how Linklaters pioneered a flexible working scheme and a total of one lawyer took them up on it; these days it’s the norm for firms to offer a package of perks to both parents.
Back in ‘98 firms paid trainees £20k-ish in the City or upwards of £10k in the regions. Inflation itself isn’t interesting, but glance at the salary survey in today’s Guide and you’ll see a new challenge to the established elite from the American firms, who have spent the past two decades settling in London. Pay at the US firms has always been supersized, but after a salary war in New York in 2016, their NQ salaries now outstrip the magic and silver circles by some grotesque sums. The City has become a strategic global hub for these firms, and this salary gazumping is just one sign of a global elite separating from the old national hierarchies. This autumn follow us online as we examine globalisation, the law, and how you fit in.
During every research season there have been events that reshape the legal profession, and 2016’s EU referendum is one of them. Lawyers will be at the centre of the Brexit negotiations and their commercial fallout, so expect to hear about the topic when you get to interview. To help you, we asked our interviewees to tell us how Brexit will affect their work, and you’ll find their responses throughout our practice area guides.
We’ve watched the graduate recruitment business get cannier and more aggressive in its branding. Knowing what source to trust is hard, but a personal recommendation remains more powerful than any advert. In each of our 20 editions, the Chambers Student research team has sought to capture those word-of-mouth accounts that help inform your decisions. We build our True Picture reviews by interviewing trainees about everything they love and loathe about their jobs. Each feature is the vivid, real-life experience of many, but presented in a balanced, structured and comparative form: word-of-mouth accounts without the bias.
Antony Cooke, Editor