Big Law (M&A) to IBD Associate

AS9's picture
Rank: Senior Chimp | 24

Hi everyone - fairly simple post which I wanted to gather some thoughts/ insights from those in the industry.

I am currently just entering my third year as an associate in the M&A group of a tier 1 law firm (one of Cravath, DPW, Skadden, SullCrom). The job is fine but I find myself becoming more and more interested in business and the role of a corporate adviser, not a corporate lawyer. I have a few friends at the associate level in BB banks and personally find what they do, along with what they will do as they get more senior, more interesting than the day-to-day of what I do in corporate law. I do not regret my time in law and think it provides for an excellent grounding in business, however thinking ahead to the next 5 years this is where I see myself going. The rationale is not to make the jump to end up in PE, I ultimately want to long-term stay in banking and do corporate advisory work.

Have been thinking about this for a while now and really think I want to try and jump in the next 12 months into IBD and ideally enter as a first year associate. My deal is experience is good - a mixture of large public deals and PE deals - and I went to a decent college/ law school.

I am considering the CFA and starting Level 1 this year - would appreciate any insight into whether people think this would be worthwhile or not?

My main concern is about the technicals/ lack of actual finance experience, so if anyone has any insight into courses/ ways to demonstrate that that would be good.

Equally, I have had 2 friends say to me that they think based on my deal experience and strong network, if I can get up to speed on the technical side then there is really no need to try and pursue something like the CFA, as ultimately that is just something they don't think is that valuable for the role and only really adds to my commitment to the industry story, which they think i can demonstrate without it anyway - any thoughts?

Thanks all and appreciate any advice or insight that people may have.

Comments (17)

Most Helpful
Oct 1, 2019

Your M&A experience at a BigLaw firm like the ones you cited will make you an extremely competitive Associate candidate. You have deal experience and your bringing a valuable legal perspective to a bank. This is something other incoming Associates would not have. Not sure if the CFA is necessary, and if you're working BigLaw hours while trying to study, that might be difficult.

I'd suggest reaching out to bankers and just having a casual conversation with them to see what they think. There are plenty of lawyers who have switched to the banking side so you have nothing to worry about there.
Good luck!


    • 5
Oct 2, 2019

Sure, this was my first thought also but just was unsure as to how much value the deal experience + top big law name would help as opposed to not having a background in technical side of finance.

Yes, I do agree that trying to do the CFA would be extremely tough based on the hours I have generally been doing. The only reason I bring it up was due to my worry that my deal experience etc. wasn't enough to negate the fact I don't have a financial background/ the analyst stint under my belt and if that would be an issue when trying to go in at associate level.

Thanks a lot - I will continue to reach out to some people and go from there.

    • 1
Oct 2, 2019

I would seriously consider an MBA. A JD/MBA with your already impressive M&A experience would make you a desirable candidate both now, and in the future. I know going back to school after 3 years of law school sounds... not ideal - but hear me out.

(1) You'll come up for air and be refreshed. An MBA is not law school in terms of hours, and it certainly isn't tier-1 M&A hours at a law firm. It's a great parachute.

(2) While you likely understand legal deal structure, terms/conditions, etc... there are going to be some finance related topics and methodology you will want to know. The "stuff" you have to know can easily be learned, but it's something you'd much rather do in an educational setting.

(3) Networking, networking, networking. Your classmates, people you meet at different grad school functions in the business world, and your teachers will all have connections on the business side in spades. It's a great place to freely connect with people in a relaxed environment.

(4) You could potentially skip right to PE, if you wanted to. 3 years big law experience, plus and MBA... you'd be attractive at PE shops (or strategy consulting, etc...). I think the ability to have 2 years to poke around and see what about the business side you like would do you good. IB is great for me because some of the stuff other people hate (pitching, business development), I love. PE is less of that and more technical. Strategy consulting is... a higher level mix of both, but at the highest level of business (and lots of buzz words).

Just food for thought.

    • 3
  • Summer Associate in IB - Gen
Oct 3, 2019

One big downside would be that he waits 2 years and is back at Associate 0. He should be able to lateral now and may potentially even get in as Associate 1/2 given his law experience, especially if he goes to restructuring

Oct 19, 2019

This is an underrated point. By the time OP hits the desk as an A0, he would have likely been a VP otherwise. I think it only makes sense if OP wants to jump right to PE, (assuming OP gets into a top school which, considering OP's background is probably realistic - and having taken the LSAT gives you a huge leg up on the GMAT, IMO).

Oct 2, 2019

Thanks, appreciate the input and suggestion - it is something I will have a further think about.

Personally, I am pretty adverse to doing an MBA at this point. I think in the not too distant future my plan is to go back to London (family all there) where an MBA seems way less common than it is here in the States for those in business roles.

The BD and pitching side to IB are things that I definitely enjoy. I have been fortunate to have been involved in a few big pitches at my current firm and BD initiatives which I have absolutely loved, whereas most of my peers here do not enjoy this at all.

Oct 2, 2019

Not saying an MBA wouldn't help (it has its advantages like those mentioned above), but with your experience, you probably wouldn't need one to get hired.


    • 2
Oct 2, 2019

Lol never heard someone say I enjoy pitches and boy have I had my share. Maybe it's the romance phase that you're currently going through. Good luck anyway

    • 1
Oct 2, 2019

He's a lawyer, so maybe he actually likes the pitch train

Oct 2, 2019


Thanks all for the input. I will have some more chats with people in the industry and see how it goes from there.

Pretty set on making this move in the next 12 months, ideally Jan onwards (bonus in Dec), so the aim would be to try and break in sometime in the Spring/summer if possible.

Oct 2, 2019

Wouldn't an associate position be a big step back in comp? I heard that associates a few years in to Big Law make bank...

Oct 3, 2019

Not sure exactly, my base is $220,000 (comp in big law is generally in the public domain), with a small bonus on top.

In any event, this isn't a comp-based move. If I am not going to be happy long-term with the role I am in and the nature of the work as the role progresses, I don't see the point in continuing for sake of slightly higher comp (I don't know if it is higher or not than Associate 1 in IB).

Oct 10, 2019

Hey !
I made a similar move (I am in Europe). Feel free to reach through DM.

Oct 10, 2019

It would certainly be important to study up on technical/financial side of finance and banking. But, deal experience and pitch experience as well as general business experience gained at big law would put you so far ahead from whatever experience you get at an MBA before starting at A1, for example. Obviously, there is a clear pipeline for recruiting from MBA, which makes it easier. But, if I were a BB bank hiring an open spot for an associate, I would be much more confident in your ability to hit the ground running vs. the MBA's. I believe thinking about it from this perspective is helpful in illustrating your chances in making the switch (even without CFA).

  • Associate 2 in CorpDev
Oct 11, 2019

I've seen 2 friends do it - both were crazy hardworking / smart guys and they found it necessary to do an MBA. Both for the time off from work to really focus on learning finance / modeling / etc, and to get enough interviews at banks.

Oct 19, 2019

100% doable without an MBA. I pursued this path from a much worse firm and less experience (was a 1st year) when I applied in 2018 and a good deal of firms were very receptive.

I would use alumni from your firm who are at banks in investment banking (I can think of three people off the top of my head from when I lived in NY who have made that switch from those listed firms) to get your foot in the door.

When you are applying for positions, I would try to reach out around HR as HR may have difficulty evaluating your experience.


Oct 20, 2019