What does it take to make it in the city?

One of the most asked questions from both aspiring law students and the general public is what does it take to make it in the city?

Well from my (albeit limited) experience, there are a number of character traits that are ultimately required to succeed in the city. These are the “skills” which most law firms ask you to explain on your application for a training contract with them, however, my view is that talk is cheap and execution speaks volumes.

If you want to make it as a city lawyer the top five traits which I think you need are:

1. Dedication and a mind set that nothing is too much trouble. This is something which is very easy to claim that you have, but to put it in to perspective, would you be prepared to stay in the office until 4:00am in the morning to finalise a defence? Would you be prepared to take your Blackberry on holiday with you and not just forward your emails to someone else in the office but often provide a substantive reply since your the only one with intimate knowledge of a deal? These are just rough examples, but I can honestly say that I have done both of these since working as a city lawyer.

2. Intelligence. This seems a bit of an odd thing to require as many would assume that if you make it through law school you have a degree of intelligence. I agree, to an extent and totally disagree to another. There were people in my law school who had no idea what day of the week it was let alone the difference between contract and tort (a very, very simple legal question). To make it in the city you have to be sharp. On day one, when the head of corporate asks you to review the due diligence documentation for an angel investment you have to be able to absorb this quickly and understand the finer points because what follows this will be a discussion with that partner about this material and he will be relying on you to explain it to him. If you don’t have the capacity to be able to do this or the intelligence to understand what is going on then to put it bluntly, your done for.

3. Commercial Awareness. This is possibly the stupidest phrase in the English language, with no real definition. I would say that if you lined up all the HR people for the top 100 law firms in England, then you would get 100 different explanations of this term. That being said, you do need to understand business and to a level where you can at least appreciate why Magic Carpet Limited would want to buy fairy dust from Brazil based The Fairy Godmother PLC (“TFG”) and you need to understand what will happen to Magic Carpet Limited when the ship which TFG placed the fairy dust on sinks en-route from Brazil to London. If you can get your head around this, welcome to the city!

4. Ambition. The city is full of dedicated, intelligent and commercially aware people. So what will make you succeed and them fail? Ambition. If you know that at 33-34 (7 years PQE if your amazing) that you want to be a partner in a top city firm then you need to be prepared to pay for that in “sweat equity” and when you’re striving to hit your 2000+ hours billing targets per year, you better hope that fire is still burning in your belly.

5. Personality. You can be all of the above, intelligent, ambitious, commercially aware and dedicated, but if no one likes you and no one wants to work with you, then I would think again about city law. Despite what old wives tales say, you can and you must be all things to all people and you need a personality which draws people in and keeps them there. This will win your firm business, win over colleagues and will make sure that your path to the top is assured.

So does this sound like you? If so, I look forward to sitting across a board room table from you, negotiating the settlement deal for Magic Carpet Limited and The Fairy Godmother PLC.

If not, why are you still reading this? Get going, you have a lot of self-improvement to do!

All for now – TCL.

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