Big Law to IB? (+PE)

What are the exit opportunities out of Big Law (if locationally specific, London) to IB/PE with work experience in M&A/PE/Capital Markets/RX etc. ? Does this happen frequently or is it unlikely/extremely difficult?

If possible, how does PQE transfer to seniority in (for example) an investment bank? I've heard that 2-3 PQE = associate but also heard someone move into a VP role. Heard similar conflicting information pertaining to 1-2 PQE (analyst vs. associate)

Also curious if Big Law to PE is possible, and if not, if Big Law to IB to PE is easier if you have previous PE experience on the Big Law side.

^ BTW Also assuming at least V30-40 if not V20 or higher

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Comments (17)

  • Associate 2 in PE - LBOs
Jun 13, 2021 - 6:06pm

I'm in London and don't know of any lawyer who went to a deal team directly. Your work has something to do with a deal but it's very far off how you actually do a deal. Probably best to try to go through IB and take it from there

Jun 13, 2021 - 6:06pm

I've seen a few people at T14 law schools with an interest in RX end up going into RX IB as an associate instead of RX law. Not sure about people who have graduated and wish to transfer though. 

Edit: I'm American and this is for NY

  • Intern in Legal
Jun 13, 2021 - 8:53pm

Thanks for the response. Does that mean that a JD usually enters as an associate? I am curious as to if LLB (equivalent of JD here in UK/Europe) would lead to a direct associate position like it would in the US

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  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jun 13, 2021 - 6:39pm

Personally I know 2-3 people that switched from Big Law to capital markets at a BB. I think trying to switch the coverage banking would be tough, but definitely doable for M&A Big law -> M&A banking. It all comes down to your area of expertise and deal experience. I know one guy who was "Counsel" (1 level below Partner)  and came in as a junior director. Another guy was an Associate at a law firm then move to banking as a junior VP. Both had extremely good resumes - Top 15 undergrad -> top 10 law school  -> premier law firm. One was from Cravath, the other was Davis Polk. The Davis Polk guy was an equity derivative lawyer so he moved to the equity-linked team at a BB. The Cravath guy was a debt offerings specialist so I think he switched to DCM. As a lawyer, you're probably able to add more value to product teams because so much of it is legal docs and understanding the fine print. However, the most important part to make the jump is to have good existing relationships with the bankers you work with. If they think you're really good, they might even ask you to come over. I've also heard some Big Law guys move to banking to be their in-house counsel, but tbh that seems a lot less interesting (but decent job stability).

  • Intern in Legal
Jun 13, 2021 - 8:58pm

OP here. Thank you for sharing your detailed examples, it's been hard to find info on here or other forums.

I'm located in London and am curious as to if your post applies here or if it's just NYC exclusive (assuming only NYC & London cuz Cravath only has offices there)?

  • Prospect in IB - Gen
Jun 13, 2021 - 9:15pm

Yeah both of the examples I gave are NY-based people. I'm sure the same situation applies to London. If you're at a top securities/finance law firm that does a ton of transactions with banks then the jump is definitely doable. Banks love having trained lawyers who really understand certain products. If you have access to Bloomberg, go to League Tables and look up which Law Firms in the UK are the best for M&A, IPO, ECM, high yield, etc.

Jun 13, 2021 - 9:48pm

Former lawyer here. In the US, you usually transition to an associate role in IB and take a large decrease in seniority.  The optimal time to switch over is years 3-4 (obviously you'd want to switch earlier due to seniority issues, but it is far less likely). Breaking into IB with a JD is very, very, very uphill even if you have stellar academic credentials and an analyst stint.  In financial services generally, Rx is your best bet. Going directly to a PE firm isn't going to happen unless it is a legal position. You're competing against an army of elite MBAs and the (not incorrect) perception that law school/legal practice gives lawyers zero commercial acumen and tangible skills. 

  • Associate 3 in PE - Growth
Jun 14, 2021 - 11:32am

LLB grad here, did 3 vac schemes in MC/US firms and then switched to banking upon graduation. But back in the day I did thoroughly research the ways to switch if I did a few years in law (was considering training at an MC and going to finance later). I aborted that plan, now work in PE

I have only seen this switch happen from BigLaw to IB, never PE. It does happen once in a while, but usually only for top firms (V10-15). I've seen a lot from Wachtell/Cravath type places switch to the IBD counterparts on their deal team (this is more common than usually thought). At my old bank (GS/MS/JP) I remember a few Associates and VPs who had 3-4 PQE at Skadden/STB/K&E type firms. Less common for MC firms, but I do know a Freshfields guy (4 PQE) who went to DB.

In short, yeah if you're a junior be prepared to be knocked down at least 2-3 years. I don't see it happening easily at 4+ PQE mainly because they'll need a lot of convincing as to why a VP/ED-age guy wants to come in as a first/second year associate. The other option is to wait until Counsel/Jr Partner level and lateral over as an ED/MD. At senior levels the job is very similar. Know a guy who went to a BB as an MD from a salaried partner position at MC.  

  • Intern in Legal
Jun 14, 2021 - 11:47am

This is great information, thank you so much.

Did you find that your vac schemes helped you find IB SA/FT roles after your graduation? How was the process of moving from (basically) interning at MC/US firms to finding IB roles? I'm from a strong UK law target but high semi for finance and am curious if i'll be in a precarious position if I go that route, although I am definitely intrigued by it

Also, if you don't mind me asking, why did you move over to IB after multiple top vac schemes?

I also appreciate the insight about the seniority question- seems like if i'm 2 PQE deep I either have to jump ship to IB or ride it out to 8+ years (unless I want to sacrifice a few years), which is definitely interesting

Thanks again for the response and I appreciate your detailed insight

  • Associate 3 in PE - Growth
Jun 15, 2021 - 5:19am

In terms of how: The vac schemes did help (they were all in M&A/Capital Markets), but not as much as a proper finance internship would. 90% of what got me through interviews was self studying interview questions and finance knowledge (which honestly wasn't nearly as hard as my law degree). If you're still a student, I would aim on just getting directly into finance out of school because of how wonky/uncertain the process is to go after PQE. You might need an extra year but it's worth it in my opinion - going to finance as an LLB grad is definitely easier than going to finance PQE. Alternatively, if you're 2 PQE, the easiest way to pull this off is to go to INSEAD/LBS/LSE for an masters.

In my final LLB year, I was admitted to a business-related masters, which helped me qualify for penultimate-year internships during my final year LLB summer. I then received an IB SA offer for the summer before masters / right after finishing LLB. After I got the return offer from SA, I just ditched the masters and asked to start FT early. There were other analysts in my class who did this sort of thing too.

In terms of why: I basically determined I wanted to do PE during my second vac scheme, because I was in a client meeting with a big PE fund, and they just honestly seemed like the smartest guys in the room, and the stuff they did seemed more interesting / substantive than what my partners/associates did. Guys who needed to straddle both the commercial AND legal/structural considerations (at a high level), meanwhile the lawyers only focused on the latter, and rather than focusing on the 3-4 high impact considerations that actually matter, they got bogged down on all 1000 legal concerns (in all fairness that's what you pay a lawyer for). After some research, I knew IB was basically the prerequisite for PE, so I just made that my initial goal. 5 years later, I'm now in PE, and while I've realized I had an extremely rose-tinted perception of PE when I was a law student, I am still very thankful I put in the effort to make the jump, because there are just so many more open paths to me now than just law firm partner or general counsel. Besides other PE positions, I've gotten calls for jobs ranging from strategy at netflix, impact investing at the world bank in far flung regions of the world, venture capital, senior level positions in startups, etc. 

Jun 16, 2021 - 11:40am

Ex did law and asked me to show her finance for exit ops. I think it's reasonably plausible. If you know exactly what the recruiter is wanting or you want yourself and find a suitable shop. I suggest you ask r/Law more law professionals over there that sometimes lurk after the switch. Rn I am taking a few courses to pile up for the bar exam too. Doesn't hurt to get an extra degree. And similar you can get a MBA or finance certificate to qualify you to move over more seamlessly.

  • Intern in AM - Other
Jul 6, 2021 - 2:49am

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