Ex-City IP lawyer moves to regional firm
Tom Lingard trained at Herbert Smith and spent over three years as an assistant in the IP litigation group there. In March 2007 he moved to Stevens & Bolton, a regional firm based in Guildford and we spoke to him about the change.
mtl: Hi Tom, please can you tell us about working in the City?
Tom: I trained at Herbert Smith and qualified into the IP group in 2003. I really enjoyed working there and after five years had made lots of friends within the firm. At about 2 yrs PQE, I began to be aware of my options though. By 3 yrs PQE I realised that I had to think about where I wanted to be in the long-term. The reality of the big firms is that they take on 100 trainees a year and only about 10 will make partnership. I had to decide whether to risk staying in the hope of being made up, be happy being “Of Counsel” or a career associate, or change firm to improve my chances.
From that point, it took me six to eight months to join my current firm, Stevens & Bolton LLP. There did not seem to be any point staying in the City at a rival firm as there would probably have been the same competition for partnership, but without the network that I had established at Herbert Smith. I briefly considered going to a boutique firm in the West End but didn’t take this option any further. Being an intellectual property lawyer, there are not many firms outside of London where I would get a similarly high level of work, but as I lived in Guildford I knew about Stevens & Bolton and the opportunity that came up was too good to miss.
mtl: How did you find the transition out of the City?
Tom: Being based in the centre of a large town like Guildford is, at first very different to traveling to the City every day. At lunchtime you see pensioners and women with prams rather than only people in suits! At the beginning it can feel not as “grand” as working in a huge glass office in the City. However in reality an office is an office, with a desk and computer and the actual work that I do is no different – we are advising on the same points of law.
In fact I’ve had exposure to a wider range of cases in the last eight months than I did in a much longer period at Herbert Smith. That is partly due to the fact that the average size of the cases isn’t so high, so they have a quicker turnover. For example, you could be stuck doing disclosure on a huge case in a large firm for a year, and although some of our cases can be document heavy, generally speaking it is a far more straight forward exercise. As a result I spend a greater proportion of my time considering the legal issues, rather than shuffling paper, so the work is more interesting. I also get greater variety and because I work in a smaller team, I get involved in everything that is going on.
mtl: How does your lifestyle compare?
Tom: I was lucky in that my area of Herbert Smith wasn’t horrendously busy when I was there so I never did terrible hours. However I can now spend as long in the office as I did in the City but also spend more time at home as I have no commute. My job fits in with my life better and is much more flexible so I can nip home if I need to. I save 2 ½ hours a day of commuting and £3500 on transport. So, I would say that the amount of work I do is no different but I fit in more in the evenings, which makes a huge difference and leads to a more relaxing way of life.
mtl: What about the salary cut?
Tom: Obviously the longer you leave a move, the greater the differential will be between top-end city rates and those at a regional firm. However, that is not to say that regional firms are badly paid at all. I took a 15% pay cut, but if you factor in the annual train ticket, it makes very little difference on a monthly basis. You can’t expect to be paid the same as in a City or large West End firm, but being able to leave the house just before 9am and (usually) being home by 6pm more than makes up for the difference.
mtl: When do you think is a good time to move out of the City?
Tom: It can depend on what type of work you want to do. Good experience from a City firm will stand you in good stead, but if the type of work you’d do in a regional firm is slightly different then you may want to move sooner rather than later. Unless you are unhappy I think it is good to stay for a while because you will gain useful experience and training. Stevens & Bolton takes on associates at all levels and has recruited about 10 associates in the last year or so from City firms. It is growing and recruiting fast and made up five partners last year.
mtl: Is there anything that you miss about working in the City?
Tom: Having trained and worked at the same place for five years, I miss my friends and familiar faces but that would be the case in most job changes. You don’t realise how much support you have at a firm like Herbert Smith, which has big dedicated HR, billing/accounts, reprographics and training teams. I still have that in my new firm, just not quite on the same scale. I sometimes miss the security of having lots of people in a department to ask for help, but being in a smaller firm means that you get more of a taste for figures, billing and business planning and therefore get closer to the business. We have the same knowledge resources so that isn’t a problem.
mtl: Tell us about working in Guildford for those who don’t know it.
Tom: It is very good for law firms and Barlow Robbins, Charles Russell and Clyde & Co are all represented here. There are a lot of major FTSE 100 companies with offices in the area and many local businesses. Our office is near to the station and a fast train takes 35 minutes to Waterloo, so we can still get to court or meetings quickly and it is easy to go out in London in the evenings. It’s a nice town but I’m biased because I grew up here. Having said that it is always highly rated by Kirsty and Phil!
mtl: Any final tips?
Tom: There is an attitude within the City that you are almost “admitting defeat” if you go to a regional firm and that all we do in the sticks is residential conveyancing and probate, which is simply not the case. Most big companies will have a top 10 firm for their major corporate matters but there is a huge amount of other work that needs to be done and that is often more interesting.
I work for a former Bristows partner and as a former Herbert Smith associate we can sell ourselves as having City experience but at literally half the price, which gives us a huge advantage when pitching for work against City firms. We can also step in to give advice where it is not cost effective for the client to call a large City firm.
Working at Stevens & Bolton has allowed me to be more involved in business development, has given me more technical experience, and the mythical work/life balance is now very much a reality. It has been great so far and I wouldn’t change anything about it.
Click here to see the Stevens & Bolton website.
BSci Physics, Nottingham
CPE and LPC, College of Law, Guildford
Trainee, Herbert Smith
IP associate, Herbert Smith
IP associate, Stevens & Bolton, Guildford