What's it like working at a commercial law firm?

Learn about the day-to-day life of a commercial lawyer

Here you'll find an overview of the types of work commercial lawyers do and what working life as a graduate here is like.

The work of a commercial law firm can be divided into two main types: transactional and contentious.

Transactional lawyers work for clients entering into commercial deals - for example, in the corporate or banking departments.

Contentious lawyers work with clients involved in commercial disputes, usually in the litigation team. Some departments do contentious and transactional work - for example, IP and employment.

Working for clients

Lawyers at City law firms generally work in teams of between two and ten on any project with tasks allocated according to experience and with the work of junior lawyers supervised by more senior ones.

There are frequent discussions and some collaborative exercises, but a significant amount of time is spent writing or reviewing legal documents.

Lawyers usually won't start from scratch but will instead use previously used documents or a firm template as a starting point. They'll make sure that the document accomplishes its stated legal purpose, and that its terms are in accordance with their client's instructions and in the client's best interests.

As a junior lawyer, you'll start on small supporting documents and work up to the more important ones, which are often hundreds of pages long with footnotes, tables and appendices. Partners will focus on shaping the most important sections of the key documents.

Some of the rest of your time will be spent in meetings or conference calls with clients or other lawyers. You'll also spend a part of your day on emails.

Junior lawyers often also keep track of the multiple documents and correspondence on a deal or dispute for the rest of the team.

In addition, you might do some work for pro bono clients.

Other parts of the job

All lawyers are required to complete a certain amount of training every year, which could be internal or external.

You may also get involved in marketing, drafting briefing notes for clients on changes in the law, or helping a partner write an article.

Lawyers also entertain clients, typically at lunches and drinks, though some firms have branched out into golf days, film screenings and family activities.

You'll also be invited to firm or department social events, and perhaps even away-days or weekends.

The hours

Both transactional and contentious lawyers are likely to work long hours at a large commercial firm.

Because work on business deals is often urgent and unpredictable, transactional lawyers tend to alternate between frantic and quiet periods, at very short notice.

Contentious lawyers tend to work in accordance with set court timetables so are able to predict more easily when busy periods will occur and will find their work more evenly spread out.

The office

Lawyers tend to work in two or three-desk offices rather than in open plan environments.

Each office usually houses lawyers of significantly different levels of experience so that junior lawyers have a mentor and senior lawyers easy access to junior assistance.

Working in offices enables lawyers to close their door for confidential phone conversations and to ensure they're not disturbed when they need to concentrate on difficult work.

However, most firms pride themselves on their "open door" policy, and you'll generally find most office doors ajar at least.

Lawyers' offices tend to be grouped around an open-plan area with secretaries. All lawyers are allocated a secretary who helps them with word-processing, printing, photocopying and filing, and sends out post and takes phone messages.

The building will also contain meeting rooms, used for client meetings, document signings, and any other functions involving people outside the firm.

You'll also usually find a canteen providing food all day and sometimes round the clock. Some firms offer gyms, shops, dentists, bars and even sleeping pods!

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