Life as a trainee solicitor: Manchester vs. London

When you’re looking at the top ranking law firms in the country to complete a training contract, which city can offer you the most – London or Manchester?

After years of hard work studying for your degree and completing your LPC and GDL, achieving a training contract in a top law firm with a well paid salary is your reward.

Applicants often set their sights on the legal hubs of Manchester and London as they make the transition from a life of study to their first professional role. Each city has its advantages as a place to live and work; working at a City law firm you have the obvious advantages of working in the Capital. Your office is surrounded by landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and the Shard whilst working with internationally renowned legal professionals in a highly competitive environment.

Manchester is commonly regarded as secondary to London in terms of professional prestige. However, choosing to fulfil your training contract in Manchester offers the same vast opportunities as working for a City firm. Large national and international businesses turn to Manchester firms as frequently as they do their London equivalents, meaning there is little difference in the size of the cases you will be able to work on, or the experience of the partners you work with and learn from.

Getting the work-life balance as a trainee solicitor

Training contracts are famous for their long hours with each trainee striving to stand out from the rest of the pack. Trainees are similarly focussed on acquiring the knowledge of various practice areas whilst continuing to improve their CV.

Such is the level of commitment required throughout a training contract that lawyers often spend their time outside of the office with other lawyers and trainees. Both Manchester and London have Trainee Solicitors and Young Lawyers Groups set up to support trainees both in their ongoing education and social activities. Many firms pay for their trainee’s annual memberships as it plays a prominent role in their lives.

For most trainees, the key difference between working in the north and south lies in the time it takes to travel to work. In the north the shorter commute is an appealing factor as it can drastically improve the quality of a work-life balance when less time is spent travelling before, and after an already long day.

Could pay sway you?

Although there are a number of lifestyle differences between the UK’s legal hubs, it is the increase in income that attracts many trainees to City firms. Manchester has a resilient legal market, with a number of the country’s best-performing law firms in The Lawyer’s UK top 50 with DLA Piper, DWF, Addleshaw Goddard, Pinsent Mason, Eversheds and Weightmans all based in Manchester; however, there is a £10,000 plus difference in a first year trainee’s potential earnings in London and Manchester.

Manchester based firm, DLA Piper (rank one) paid trainees a first year salary of £25,000 looking to an NQ salary of £37,000, whilst City firm Clifford Chance (rank two) paid first years £39,000, with the prospect of an NQ salary of £63,500.

However, the difference in pay is reflective of the market in the City and Manchester. Whilst Manchester has a thriving legal industry and has the same compact nature of the City, the north is on an all round smaller scale.

There are advantages to this such as fewer trainees to compete with resulting in increased responsibility early on, and closer relationships with partners. The Manchester offices tend to have fewer lawyers than their City equivalents, creating a north-south divide in the environment at the UK’s top firms. DLA has a total of 124 lawyers, 10 of whom are trainees; whereas Clifford Chance recruits a minimum of 100 trainees alone per year.

It’s all about the individual

The best place for you will always depend on the individual, where you can excel and where you will achieve the most. You may make the decision based on salary expectations, or on the importance of working in a close-knit team with more opportunity for responsibility early on.

There is no disputing that finding a legal job in Manchester or London is equally challenging, but it is important to consider more than the financial differences when deciding where you will be spending two formative years of your career.

About the author: Jordan works for BCL Legal a legal recruitment specialist with a wealth of experience working with the nation’s leading law firms to find them the very best candidates.

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