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Capital connection

13 August 12

In the current state of the market, is it worth looking at London if you can't find a job in Scotland? The Journal spoke to some of the Scots lawyers who have made the move

by Peter Nicholson

London, with its vast legal and financial sector, is home to the biggest population of Scots lawyers outside Edinburgh and Glasgow. But it is not immune to the country’s economic woes, as recent redundancies in the legal sector have shown. For a junior lawyer struggling to find a position in Scotland, what are the current prospects in the UK capital? 

One point to emerge from our case studies is that a Scottish qualification is little handicap when job hunting, and may even act as an advantage. There is also a consensus that, for a Scots lawyer, becoming dual qualified is not that difficult – though the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Test, which most of our interviewees have taken, has now been replaced by the reputedly more rigorous Qualified Lawyer Transfer Scheme.

Quality training

“Doing court work as part of your traineeship gives you an advantage over English lawyers, and I’m quite surprised they don’t do it as part of their training”, says John Cush, an in-house lawyer with Direct Line Group, the soon to be sold off insurance arm of RBS Group. “Without generalising too much, I certainly believe that training in Glasgow gives you a pragmatism, a commerciality that is invaluable, so on the whole I think we’re fairly adaptable to most situations. That’s certainly what I got from my degree and training.”

James Shaw, who founded niche venture capital legal practice, JAG Shaw, after working with two large City firms, agrees. “When I first came south, I was surprised to find my breadth of knowledge was much better, and my exposure to different types of work greater than many City trained people. It is a generalisation, but Scots tend to be more rounded lawyers.”

Guy Norfolk, financial services partner at Maclay Murray & Spens and current President of the Society of Scottish Lawyers in London, comments: “I don’t know whether the advantages are fully understood by the London firms but they know they’re there. The talent pool of young lawyers in Scotland is very good; the traineeship that Scottish firms offer, and I think also post-traineeship training for young lawyers, is very good; and their involvement in deals – I speak from my background in corporate – at these stages is good quality experience.”

Debra Shields, a corporate lawyer with American firm Morrison & Foerster (“MoFo”), advises Scots to “be confident and sell themselves” – bearing in mind that they will be competing with many lawyers who began with a non-law degree and perhaps have something different to offer. “City/international firms seem to like this, especially if, like MoFo, they have a particular area of expertise such as technology, clean tech, financial services or life sciences”, she says.

Winners and losers

What of the current state of the market? Broadly, it varies with the sector. “It depends on the size of the firm and the department: the larger firms with international clients seem to be riding out the conditions better”, suggests Gregor Boyd, associate at international firm Clyde & Co, who moved from Tods Murray at the turn of the year. “If you don’t look and don’t apply, you won’t know what might be out there for you.”

“It must be more difficult at present”, Norfolk comments, “but I still think there are jobs out there.” Financial services remains “an attractive sector”, partly because it is now more heavily regulated and partly because it bounced back from crisis reasonably quickly. “From personal experience there are enough jobs for good quality people if they feel the draw of London. I know of individuals who have moved recently and very successfully. So although it’s a tough marketplace I think there remains opportunity.”

David Holdsworth, a corporate partner at Linklaters specialising in M&A (mergers and acquisitions), says it is definitely worth thinking about. “I couldn’t recommend coming to London, to the right firm and for the right opportunity, highly enough. I think at this point in the cycle there will not be so many opportunities in M&A, but there may be openings for people interested in restructuring or litigation for example. It will depend on which area you’re in and where the work is.”

Shaw adds a word of advice: “The person who will thrive is someone who is able to turn their hand to different things – helping others outside their own niche, while developing their practice. I learned that when I worked for a US firm.”

London-based legal magazines have carried reports in the last few months on different firms forced to declare redundancies in certain departments – but that applies to Scottish practices too. Some people believe that firms are paying off associates in order to replace them with cheaper NQs, but from our respondents’ comments there remain openings at each level.

Boyd, for example, the most recent mover in our sample, chose to stay in Scotland for a couple of years after qualifying. “I think it stood me in good stead in terms of gaining exposure to, and experience of, different types of work”, he comments. “It helps differentiate you from English junior solicitors looking to come to London from other cities.”

Private practice is far from the only option. Although there are now fewer opportunities in Government service, the large commercial in-house sector seems in decent health. “In my time in London and the south east I’ve never been in a department that’s shed lawyers”, says Cush. “Yes, a number of the city firms are cutting back at the moment, but that’s been my experience. Whether or not it’s the exact position you want, the in-house market has been good to me.”

Wide world

Once there, you are likely to find a much greater range of career options. “There is something special about a big international city like London”, says Paul Scullion, who moved south as a corporate lawyer but now works in the legal team at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. “There is definitely more exposure to new openings and I don’t think you would necessarily have that in other English cities – or in Scotland.”

If you work in certain sectors, London offers a range of work impossible to obtain elsewhere – our respondents in M&A, venture capital, tax, financial services and international work equally agree that the city has no equal, and further possibilities are as likely to open up abroad as in London itself.

Alberto Costa, Law Society of Scotland Council member for England & Wales, cites his own experience as illustrating career opportunities “sadly unavailable in Scotland”. Trained in Scotland and married to a Greek, he wanted the option of being able to practise in Greece. Shipping law seemed to provide a route, and London the obvious place to start. He obtained a position at Richards Butler (now Reed Smith) and was soon immersed in high value international commercial litigation and arbitration.

“My training as a Scots lawyer set me apart”, he says. “I had experience of down-to-earth litigation, which many of my colleagues did not. I recall some of them being aghast when I told them I would personally appear before a Master rather than instruct counsel. Drafting my own pleadings and preparing for arbitral tribunals owed much to drafting initial writs. As it happened, I did not move to Greece, but shipping law and my solid training opened the world to me in terms of international commercial work.”

After a spell with the Treasury Solicitor’s office, he opened his own boutique commercial law firm, close to his home. “I would greatly welcome more Scottish solicitors taking the opportunity to invest in the legal markets across Britain and practise as dual qualified”, he says. “My Scottish training and varied quality career experience have given me the confidence to deal with a range of work and a range of clients, domestic and international.”

Getting a life

What about life outside work? Are you even allowed one? Again there is no single answer. Shields at MoFo, along with her employment colleague Caroline Stakim, admit they work long, often unsociable, hours but still enjoy the fast-paced lifestyle.

“Think about the full package”, Stakim advises. “There are lots of perks to working in the City – challenging but rewarding work, international clients, a great social and cultural scene and higher salaries – but also a different working culture which means it can be more difficult to achieve a good work-life balance all the time.”

Boyd agrees that there is a good social side. “My hours aren’t that different from before, though I know of people in some departments who do work very long hours”, he says. “You get a high quality of work, but the big difference is that the time pressure to produce the work is greater than in Edinburgh.”

Norfolk comments: “You do need to want to be in London, to experience living in the city as much as working in the city. I think for a lot of people that’s quite straightforward; they have felt that draw for a long time and the combination of the big city and the work experience works well. But make sure you want to make the move from both perspectives, and properly become a part of London life.”

Silvana Corrieri, a solicitor in Maclays’ tax department who accepted a transfer in 2010, adds: “I just feel it’s a really exciting city to be in – whatever you feel like doing, it will always be happening somewhere in London.”

Never to return?

Is it a one-way street south? Not necessarily. Many of our sample are well settled in London, having gone just to try it out. But Scullion, for example, comments that it’s a good way of getting experience and fast tracking your career if you decide to go back to Scotland; and Norfolk agrees that it is usually looked on favourably at the Scottish end.

“I think the challenge for the individual is that in moving back you’re moving away a little bit from the lifestyle and the money you have got used to, so it does take a little shift in your expectations”, he observes. “But from a career perspective it is quite a well trodden path.”

Even with his own practice in the City, Shaw has a foot in both camps. “Our business is based in Edinburgh and London”, he says. “These days you have a well connected and networked community. The world is becoming much smaller, and clients expect people to have flexibility. Where you are based is becoming less important.”

Corrieri’s final comment perhaps sums up the advice on offer. “Do it, try it out”, she says. “I don’t think London is for everyone, but it’s worth coming down and trying for a while.”


Online extra: career profiles

Paul Scullion

Legal adviser in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Trained in Edinburgh 1999-2001. (Found advocacy in year 2 “very useful”, but decided not to pursue.) Moved to London to qualify in England, worked as corporate lawyer for three years, did the QLTT, then worked for a short time in Paris, his first taste of working in an international organisation. Came back to London in 2004 and began with the Treasury Solicitor’s department (“the fact that I was dual qualified was helpful”).

He worked for two years with the Treasury Solicitor in a commercial/EU law job, while doing an LLM in public international law, then went on secondment to the European Commission legal service in Brussels. “I had a career path in mind by the time I did my LLM of coming to the FCO. I had a taste for the international side by then. I did some international law in my Erasmus year in Leiden, but enjoyed getting qualified at home first and then experimenting with the corporate side of things.”

In the Commission legal service (external relations team) he dealt with things like WTO cases, UN law and negotiations on Turkish accession to the EU, and participated in COJUR, an international law working group in the Council of the EU where Member States work with officials from the EU Institutions to resolve key international law issues of the day. He then had a spell with the European Parliament legal service, again in the external relations team, advising parliamentary committees on questions of EU and international law.

At the FCO he is one of a team of about 30 lawyers (five of them Scots law qualified) in London, some of whom are on postings, including overseas. He has been in the EU & Wider Europe team, and has now moved to the International Institutions and Security Policy team to undertake sanctions work in relation to African countries, along with work on piracy, arms exports and other issues. “There are lots of opportunities for moving around, not only within Government but to other posts. Also, the FCO Legal Adviser and the senior legal adviser in the UK mission to the UN in New York are both Scots law qualified.”

Other comments: “It’s interesting to see some of the initiatives to bring Scots-qualified people together in London. The Law Society of Scotland’s efforts are welcome; there is probably an appetite for more to be done. I’m sure there are opportunities people haven’t thought about where they could bring business back to Scotland or just share business ideas with people back there.”

John Cush

Solicitor/commercial lawyer at Direct Line Group, currently part of RBS Group but now in process of hiving off.

Degree/Diploma at Glasgow, trained 1999-2001 at Grant Brown Lindsay. When qualified, he was keen to explore opportunities in London – thought if he didn’t do it then, he might never get round to it. He wanted to see what the opportunities were, and had a few friends who had already done it. He did a (part time) Masters at Strathclyde in IT/telecoms law while training to get his qualifications the best he could, and moved down in May 2001, as the same time as a good friend who was a doctor.

Moving south without a position to go to (“In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have done it without a job”), he overcame the hurdle of English recruitment consultants unfamiliar with the Scottish degree and Diploma system, and spent about a year temping, including at Freshfields, before getting a permanent job as an in-house commercial lawyer with the RSPCA, based near Gatwick Airport.

“They’re a great organisation. I was fortunate enough to be involved with the bill which became the Hunting Act, so I was in Parliament through the whole committee stage. That was fascinating dealing with the MPs on both sides. They’ve got a huge IP portfolio as well, anything from the lozenge on Christmas cards to approving a new range of pet food. I didn’t do much on the legacies side, which is huge, or the prosecution work, except very occasionally. They outsourced their call centre as well, I was heavily involved in that – six regional call centres into one. Indeed I instructed Scots lawyers to advise me on the finer TUPE aspects of the deal.

“I was there for six years or thereabouts to 2008, then I got an opportunity to join RBS Group working for the insurance division, then based in Croydon. That was literally just before the financial crisis! I was worried for my future at first; there was a huge period of uncertainty, however people almost got used to a state of flux and uncertainty and just carried on. And fortunately things have panned out.”

Other comments: “Commercial contracts are the bread and butter work, 70% of what I do on a day to day basis. I gained a good knowledge of charity law including the regulatory aspects when I worked at RSPCA, and now my knowledge of the motor industry and insurance law has improved. But in terms of actual day-to-day stuff it’s not the seismic change that you would imagine: commercial contracts remain commercial contracts. I think that’s the beauty of in-house – you can turn your hand to most things, you’re almost expected to. It keeps it interesting.”

Guy Norfolk

Partner in Maclay Murray & Spens and head of its financial services practice based in London office.

Trained at the firm between 1999 and 2001, and spent his first few post-qualifying years in Edinburgh before moving to London about five years ago.

“They might describe it as their idea; I might describe it as mine”, he says. “I think we both saw the opportunity for me expanding the financial services practice down here; growth in London has for a long time been no 1 in our strategy and growth in financial services has been right up at the top as well, so those two combined quite nicely to make it a good strategic move for me and for the firm.

“I definitely had a desire to work in London. It was probably a mix of work and social – I did a maths degree in England before converting to Scots law. A lot of my friends were settled in London and I was spending quite a lot of my time there socially and on a work basis, and I began to think that’s where I would like to be.”

As head of an expanding practice he feels well settled in London, though is one who has not done the QLTT. “I decided that given my practice is a corporate one, I can survive on my Scottish qualification. I think I will at some stage but it hasn’t been essential. I don’t think it is too onerous to undertake but likewise I don’t think it is too essential.”

Other comments: “You will find accommodation. There’s a huge choice. I’ve no idea how you decide which part of London you’re going to live in: it’s a little bit like closing your eyes and putting a pin into the map, but there are so many lovely places it doesn’t really matter in a sense, you find your spot and you develop your relationship with it.”

“We think that having a London office is attractive to trainees and NQs who might want to move down. Because you’re up against the big boys, that is great experience and that allows us to benchmark against the top firms in a way that we couldn’t do without a London office.”

Silvana Corrieri

Solicitor with Maclay Murray & Spens in the tax department.

Trained with MMS, qualified 2008 and moved to London in January 2010. She was initially sent on a six month secondment to London because they needed more support there, but enjoyed it so asked if she could stay and they agreed. “It had always been one of these things I’d thought about, to come down to London and try it for a while, but if I hadn’t actually been pushed I’m not sure if I’d ever have got round to it.

“Actually making the move was really good. It was quite serious coming down, because I didn’t really know anyone before I moved down here, but I love living in London now – it’s a really exciting city to be in. My boyfriend lived down here; other than that I didn’t really know anyone. But because I was moving down with Maclays, I knew some people at work and I was doing the same job, just slightly different clients and at a different location. So it wasn’t difficult in that sense.

“I’m not sure I can see myself staying in London for ever, but I can’t picture myself leaving any time soon. Workwise, especially doing tax I think you get a far bigger variety of work here. I’m particularly interested in international tax, for which there’s simply a lot more opportunity than there is in Scotland.”

David Holdsworth

Corporate partner at Linklaters.

Trained at Shepherd & Wedderburn in Edinburgh 1999-2001 and joined Linklaters on qualifying. Associate at 2001-09; elected partner 2009.

He moved to London “rather by accident”, he says. “I was going for a drink with a friend and she wanted to go to a recruitment fair because she was thinking of going down, so I went along and started the discussions there and then. I had recognised that I wanted to spend some time in London, but at that stage thought I would probably come down at say two years qualified and do two or three years. But through the discussions and through the fact that the recruitment people were able to get me interviews at the firms I was interested in, I started exploring things seriously. And when the offers came in I decided to accept.”

He has always wanted to practise in his areas of corporate, M&A, private equity, and joint ventures. “London is the place to be for that. The transactions I have been involved in have been fabulous; the people I’ve worked with have been great and it really is one of the major global legal markets and I think that is one of the reasons why I love working here.”

He spent 2010 based in Tokyo – “a fabulous experience” – and since coming back he has run the firm’s Japanese outward-bound M&A practice, travelling to Japan pretty much on a monthly basis.

Other comments: “From my perspective I worked in Edinburgh and enjoyed going back home to Aberdeen every once in a while, and actually I find it easier going back to Aberdeen from London than from Edinburgh. London is not as far away as people think, and also in terms of getting to other places in the world it’s so easy with the international airports being so close. So anyone that is concerned that they don’t wish to move away from home shouldn’t be, because the distance is nothing.”

Caroline Stakim and Debra Shields

Both are associates in the London office of Morrison & Foerster (“MoFo”), a large, US-based international firm with over 1,000 lawyers worldwide.

An employment lawyer, Caroline qualified in 2008, training with Shepherd and Wedderburn and moving to London for the third seat of her traineeship. She stayed in London on qualifying and moved to MoFo in April 2011.

Debra, a corporate lawyer, qualified in 2005, trained with McGrigors. She did the second year of her traineeship in London and stayed on in London as a NQ, moving to MoFo in November 2011.

Caroline had no prior aspiration to move, but took the opportunity when offered. She decided to stay because of the new experiences, the social side and the fast-paced lifestyle. Salaries are higher in London, even taking account of higher living costs.

Debra chose McGrigors to train at because they had a London office and there was a good chance of getting a seat there. She says that although the money is better than outside London, it wasn’t at the top of her list when deciding to move. She too thinks the lifestyle is great. She works long, often unsociable, hours but enjoys the social and cultural scene and thinks there are more opportunities to do international work and to work abroad if that’s what you’re looking for.

Both say that London offers greater variety of work, and working for a large US international firm means that they have opportunities to do interesting work for some of the world’s largest companies, and with MoFo at the cutting edge of the industry.

James Shaw

Partner, JAG Shaw

Took the accelerated LLB at Edinburgh after a degree in Marine Biology with French. Trained with Murray Beith & Murray 1998-2000, then worked in their corporate team (now MBM Commercial) with Sandy Finlayson. “Sandy encouraged me to continue my interest in science and he advised me to build a practice round that.”

Together they worked with research bodies, including many of the Scottish universities, conducting spinout activities. It became apparent that there was a funding gap for companies at a certain level of growth, and they would have to look further afield. In 2005 Shaw decided to move to SJ Berwin in London to gain international experience at the next stage of funding, acting for venture capital investors.

After two years there, he was approached by American firm Brown Rudnick to build a European venture capital practice, joining as a senior associate and becoming the first UK lawyer promoted to partner, in 2008. Encouraged by clients after the banking crisis began, he founded his own venture legal boutique JAG Shaw, and now acts for international investors in the life sciences and clean tech sectors, and venture backed companies.

Having had an initial aim of spending a couple of years in London Shaw finds himself still based there after seven years, but returns to Scotland regularly for business (and fishing).

Gregor Boyd

Associate at Clyde & Co, International Trade & Energy Team.

Trained at Tods Murray 2006-08, worked in corporate department on qualifying until December 2011 when moved south.

He had always thought about moving south. He knew friends who had gone, and didn’t want to leave it too late – “I had a feeling that it’s best done when you are more junior” – but chose to stay in Scotland for a couple of years after qualifying. “I think it stood me in good stead in terms of gaining exposure to and experience of different types of work.” He had been keeping his eyes open for an opportunity and one came up.

“I have a couple of friends two or three years qualified who have moved since I did. As with Scottish firms, some London firms have made people redundant, but others have expanded or merged for growth. The number of opportunities may depend on what sector you are interested in. However, I think there are more overall than in Scotland.”

Other comments: “I came down to see what it was like, but now I think I’m here for the foreseeable future.”

Alberto Costa

Partner, Costa Carlisle

Costa’s career path is outlined in the main article.

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