How to Break Into Finance as a Lawyer

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Lawyer to Finance“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

-William Shakespeare, Henry VI Part 2, Act IV

Lawyers don’t get much respect – whether it’s from investment bankers or Shakespeare.

But if you’re a lawyer and you want to break into finance – investment banking, private equity, hedge funds, and so on – there is good news: you have it easier than some professions.

And in some ways you have it harder – so let’s get started with what you’re up against, what your strengths are, and how to network like a ninja and dominate your interviews until you land an offer.

What You’re Up Against

Each profession faces its own set of challenges when breaking into finance:

  • Engineers: They’re great with numbers, but can they talk to real people and work far more than they would at tech companies?
  • Accountants: They might be accounting wizards, but can they work without sleep for days at a time?
  • Consultants: They understand how to work with clients and how the corporate world works, but can they work banker hours and avoid using the mouse in Excel?
  • Liberal Arts Majors: They can communicate, but can they crunch numbers and burn the midnight oil?

Here’s your challenge as a lawyer:

“I know you can burn the midnight oil and deal with crazy people all day, but can you count? Do you know how to use Excel? And are you ready to throw away your investment in law school and your career up until now?”

In Your Favor

On the other hand, you do have a few things working in your favor:

  • You “get it” – you understand how the corporate world works, what you’ll have to put up with, and how to deal with psychopaths all day long.
  • You’re hopefully at a prestigious law firm that everyone knows – that’s huge.
  • You can get better networking opportunities by going through clients, former clients, and even Partners and ex-Partners at your firm (yes, discretion is required).

All things considered, you don’t have it so bad next to the engineers and liberal arts majors out there that want to move into business.

Just as with universities and business schools, the prestige of your law school and law firm matters a lot – so make sure you get into a top law school and get a top corporate law job and you’ll have a much easier time moving into finance.

Telling Your Story

First, refer to the “how to tell your story” template and tutorial – this is also known as the “Walk me through your resume” or “Tell me about yourself” question (yes, they’re all the same).

You should say that originally you were interested in law, but then got exposed to M&A/IPO/Debt/Other deals and that those drew you to the finance side – you wanted to be the one driving transactions as opposed to just checking the paperwork afterward.

Here’s a quick sketch:

“In law school I was always interested in corporate finance and mergers & acquisitions. I took a lot of classes in the field and went to work in M&A at [BIGLAW] firm after graduation.

I enjoyed the work at first, but after a few years I was envious of the bankers on these deals – they actually got to see everything from beginning to end and could directly influence whether or not a company was sold.

All I could do was sit on the sidelines and comment on specific issues in contracts and agreements. I want to be the deal-maker, or at least be close to the dealmaker, rather than just drafting contracts.”

If you’re not in corporate or securities law, you will face a challenge here telling a convincing story: your best bet is to move into one of those, or to focus on a very specific area within finance if you can’t make the transition (e.g. if you do real estate law, focusing on real estate banking groups or real estate investments).

Other fields like antitrust, civil, copyright, criminal, litigation, and so on are just not that relevant: you need corporate/securities (ideal) or an industry-specific practice (less than ideal).

You don’t have to say that you got more interested in finance after you already began working as a lawyer, but it’s harder to tell your story if you claim that you were interested before that and still went into law.

So apply all those spinning skills you learned in law school and on the job and make your story “creative non-fiction” if necessary.

Networking Like a Ninja

I’m not going to repeat everything related to networking here: go to the Recruiting page to learn all about it and get dozens of tips and case studies on breaking into finance.

Everything in there still applies if you’re a lawyer – the key differences are:

  1. Cold-calling won’t work as well – it’s more appropriate for students.
  2. You have more ways to find names and contact information – your law firm’s “alumni network,” current and former Partners, current and former clients, and so on.
  3. You can be more direct – while informational interviews are a fine strategy for students and recent graduates, you don’t have the time to “develop relationships” and move through a slow process if you’re working in law right now. Ask for what you want at the end of the first phone call or meeting.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions on how to go through clients and Partners, and the key principle is simple: only ask people you know well and trust completely.

So if you have firsthand knowledge that a Partner is about to leave the firm, or you’re very close and you know he would help you out, go ahead and ask.

But avoid bringing it up with random people CC’d on emails, other Associates or Partners you don’t know as well, and anyone who could potentially ruin your career.

You’re safest asking former Partners and former clients because the risk is greatly reduced, but there are never any guarantees: it’s a calculated risk.

I’ve mentioned before that you stand a better chance at boutiques (small banks) rather than bulge brackets (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, etc.) if you come from a non-traditional background, and that holds true as a lawyer as well.

But don’t rule out big banks completely – if your law firm is prestigious and well-known for corporate law (Latham & Watkins, Skadden, etc.) chances are that they’ve sent Associates to banks before.

Spinning Your Resume/CV

First, download and use the “Experienced” resume template here.

Focus on your 3-4 best cases and separate them into separate “projects” as you see on that template (label it “Case Experience” or “Client Experience” of course).

The standard advice is to spin what you’ve done and make it sound more quantitative and related to business – that works for engineers and consultants, but it’s harder to pull off as a lawyer because there isn’t much quantitative work.

If you’ve done anything that involves numbers, even remotely – even if it’s just looking at an Excel file or a series of calculations, definitely include that:

“Reviewed flow-of-funds calculation for $500 million purchase price allocation to ensure that sources and uses of funds and individual investor allocations matched up with terms stipulated in definitive agreement.”

That sounds much better than writing about more legal-related aspects of the deal such as reviewing the reps and warranties.

You’ll have to adjust the focus quite a bit and focus on smaller tasks that didn’t take up as much time as the bigger ones if you want to spin your resume successfully.

If you don’t have any examples of quantitative experience like this, use anything that can be related to deals or investments in any way – whether it’s a tax issue, a contractual one in stock purchase or asset purchase agreements, or even something like employee contracts.

Dominating Your Interviews

As a lawyer, you’ll have to answer 2 key questions in interviews:

  1. Can you count?
  2. Are you prepared to throw away your career and investment in law school?

They’ll still ask the usual “fit” questions and your “story” is still critical, but most questions will feature the 2 themes above as the subtext.

To answer #1 successfully, use everything at your disposal: undergraduate courses in finance, self-study, classes outside of work, and anything you learned in law school.

Self-study financial modeling training programs like Breaking Into Wall Street will be helpful, and even the CFA – which I am normally not a fan of – could help prove your aptitude for numbers.

The CFA is not the most efficient use of your time if you’re just preparing for interviews, so stick to self-study and investment banking interview guides unless you have a surplus of free time.

For proving #2, you will make a much more compelling case if you’ve been working for at least a few years in corporate or securities law first – if you’re just out of law school you have an uphill battle.

You need to emphasize how much research (bonus points if you call this “due diligence”) you’ve done on your own, how many bankers/investors you’ve spoken with, and how you’re certain, after working on dozens of cases, that finance is a better fit for you.

You don’t view this career change as “throwing away” anything but rather as a way to apply the skills you’ve gained in a different context, and to learn new ones along the way.

Technical Questions

Anything is fair game when it comes to technical interview questions – and the fact that you don’t have a finance background means that they really want to test how much you’ve learned on your own.

They won’t necessarily focus on a specific type of technical question (with accountants they would obviously lean toward asking more accounting-focused questions), but bankers will expect you to know as much as a new Analyst or Associate fresh out of a finance undergraduate program or MBA.

Check out the free investment banking superday interview guide offered on this site to get an idea of the questions you need to know.

If you’ve had absolutely no finance background, you may need to go beyond the interview guide: while the CFA is good preparation, it also requires hundreds of hours of study.

Since you don’t have that kind of time as a lawyer, think about books such as Investment Banking: Valuation, Leveraged Buyouts, and Mergers and Acquisitions (highly recommended) or the video-based Breaking Into Wall Street Financial Modeling Program.

Don’t bother with other certifications: they’re useless and knowing how to use Bloomberg has no correlation with being able to answer valuation and modeling questions in interviews.

So, Which Field of Finance?

I’ve assumed so far that you’ve been working as a lawyer for a few years and that you’re moving into investment banking.

It’s possible to get into other fields of finance as well, but whether or not they’re viable depends on your background and the firm you’re targeting:

Private Equity

It’s tough because there’s no overlap with the skill sets you use as a PE Associate and the ones you gain as a Law Associate – consultants have operational experience, while bankers know accounting and finance.

Here you’re better off going for a highly specialized firm that only hires people from legal backgrounds, or advancing to the Partner-level and moving in like that (it’s been done before).

Hedge Funds

These are also difficult and you don’t stand a good chance unless they do something that has serious overlap with the law – such as Distressed Investing.

Otherwise, most hedge funds are looking for traders or bankers depending on the fund’s strategy, so you’re not in a great position to move in directly here.

Real Estate Finance

Real estate also has more overlap with the law because complex contracts are required to begin construction, and you need legal approval and permits throughout the process.

But it depends on the types of investments they make, and how much real estate you have in your own background – overall this one is still tougher than banking.

Within Investment Banking, More Specifically

Your best bets are M&A or Restructuring – with Restructuring and Distressed M&A there’s a ton of overlap with the legal code, so experience there is almost required.

Plain-vanilla M&A may also work, but again it depends on your background – moving from corporate law to M&A at a bank happens, but going from copyright law to M&A at a bank is wishful thinking.

Venture Capital

This is almost impossible because early-stage companies do not have to deal with complex legal issues, and early-stage investments have very simple contracts.

VCs are usually looking for industry experts or former bankers who have worked in industry groups like technology or healthcare, so you don’t stand a good chance.

Plan B Options

So what should you do if you can’t make the move into finance?

1. Move to a More Prestigious Law Firm or a Different Group

You have the best chance of breaking in at the top law firms in the world – smaller places don’t have the brand-name recognition and don’t have as many contacts at large banks.

If you’re not in corporate or securities law, do whatever you can to transfer into one of those – learn how to land corporate law jobs right here.

2. Go to Business School

This one is controversial because more time in school won’t necessarily help you: especially since you already have a JD, you may also run into a branding problem if you get an MBA as well.

But it is an option, albeit an expensive and time-consuming one, that may or may not help you re-brand yourself.

Master’s in Finance programs are also possible but their usefulness is questionable: they help more if you don’t already have an advanced degree.

3. Accept a Non-IB/PE/HF Field

You could move to a normal company and transition into finance or business development there, for example – but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t want to settle.

Kill All the Lawyers?

Bad idea – we need them for deals to close and for bankers to get paid.

So as much as bankers dislike lawyers, they’ll probably let them live for now.

But if you want to kill your own career in law and move into finance, now you know how.

Series: Career Transitions

About the Author

is the Founder of Mergers & Inquisitions and Breaking Into Wall Street. In his spare time, he enjoys learning obscure Excel functions, editing resumes, obsessing over TV shows, and traveling so much that he's forced to add additional pages to his passport on a regular basis.

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223 Comments to “How to Break Into Finance as a Lawyer”

Comments

  1. Keele says

    I am a former real estate attorney an I am enrolled in a real estate finance program through an MBA program. I have completed multiple MBA courses in corporate finance, real estate finance, and capital marketss. The program is almost entirely quantitative, and I now realize that all of the analysis we do translates into investment banking (DCF analysis, projecting cash flows, valuation equations, lots of modeling in excel, etc). I just learned that my new next door neighbor is a founder and MD of a new boutique investment bank, and also a former attorney.

    After doing lots of research, I think I might want try this as a career. My neighbors bank is hiring an “Associate” but the posting requires an MBA. What is your best advice for getting in? I am worried they will see real estate law all over my resume and trash it. I hate real estate law. Help.

    • says

      Contact him directly, set up a 10-15 minute chat to introduce yourself, ask about his background, and then at the end ask directly about how to interview for his firm. Read everything on this site under Recruiting –> Networking sub-category at the top.

  2. Rob says

    Thank you for this forum. I am entering my first year of education, in the pursuit of an MBA/JD degree from a great institution. I’d like to know how the dual experience is viewed in the P.E./I-Bank world and what areas should I focus on to obtain a position with a PE Firm?

  3. Ed2010 says

    Hi Brian,

    I will be moving to london for 6 months and think this is a great opportunity to network into IB.

    I have question though.

    You say, and rightfully in my opinion, that we should be careful whilst contacting clients.

    How should we approach them? Is it ok to email someone who was just copied in emails in a specific deal? Or to contact people where I was just copied in an email they sent regarding a transaction?

    One of my main concerns is if the partners at the firm I work at find out about me contacting their clients (especially if they don’t know I’m doing it for carear purposes…).

    Thanks in advance

    • says

      Generally only email people you’ve spoken with personally… not just randoms you’ve seen copied on emails. and probably ask for a call rather than sending anything via email (can be easily forwarded etc.).

  4. JLaw says

    Hey M&I, thanks for all the great responses.

    Two questions:
    (1) Can you provide more information on which level of banking a lawyer might transition into? Would the following estimates be broadly accurate (assuming a very high quality CV and/or very good networking):
    (a) 5/6 years experience as a law associate –> beginning of 2nd year IB associate
    (b) 3/4 years experience as a law associate –> beginning of 1st year IB associate
    (c) 2 years experience as a law associate –> beginning of 3rd year analyst?

    (2) When during the year do promotions occur? Is it September or January, or some other time?

    Thanks again

    • says

      Yes those estimates are accurate but with 2 years experience as an associate they would probably make you 1st year IB associate anyway. Promotions for associate positions and up occur in Jan/Feb

      • JLaw says

        Thanks for the input. If possible, could you offer some insight on what time of year, if any, would be best suited to seeking a transition from law (or any other non-traditional background) to IB?

        Intuitively, I would imagine that the worst time of year would be recruiting season and shortly after (say September-January), as the banks are focused on more traditional recruitment processes. This would be especially true for a lawyer seeking to enter as a 1Y associate (so he/she would effectively be competing with MBA students during recruiting season). Accordingly, the best time to seek a transition would be February-August?

        However, perhaps the opposite is true and the best time to transition would be recruiting season, when the banks are actively looking to take on new people?

        (Of course, I understand that actually making a transition is likely to be primarily driven by networking and job availability, rather than precise timing, but some insight on this issue would still be appreciated.)

  5. Tim says

    Hi Brian,

    Would studying law + accounting at an undergraduate level increase my chances of landing an entry-level interview at a BB as opposed to studying accounting + finance?

    Thanks

  6. BigLaw Associate says

    I’ve decided after a little over four years at my current law firm that’s it’s time to switch into i-banking. A handful of people have left my firm for banking; one associate got hired by GS. My firm is generally regarded as one of the top two or three firms in NYC and is widely regarded as having the best FIG practice, which is where I work

    1. How much does it matter in terms of compensation and exit opportunities whether you work at the bank generally viewed as one of the most “prestigious” or the bank that’s (to pick an arbitrary number) the tenth most “prestigious”? Although I’m generally a prestige whore, I primarily care about making as much money as possible in as little time as possible in order to retire as soon as possible. In law, the more prestigious firms generally pay their partners more. (Everyone pays his associates more or less the same.) I’m not sure whether the same holds true for i-banks.

    2. I think I’m pretty well qualified to move into banking; I’m senior enough that I basically run M&A deals and I know a substantial amount about banking law, investing in depository institutions, dealing with regulators, etc. to boot. I went to the best law school in the nation and did well. I went to a forgettable university for undergrad but was likely the best student who ever went there, or at least my friends used to joke that I was. I minored in math, so I can count. Do you think I should just call headhunters and get my resume and transcript out there, or do I really need to “network”? I (arrogantly and perhaps wrongly) feel like I shouldn’t have to put much effort in to at least land an interview but I’m a pompous jerk and need a reality check from time to time. Also law spoils you because it’s so, so easy to get an offer at basically any firm in the country if you went to my law school and did reasonably well.

    3. Given my background in FIG – which comprises a substantial amount of advisory and deal work – would I be better off trying to transfer into a FIG group at an i-bank, even if it’s at a less prestigious bank than one that I could get hired at if I didn’t limit myself to FIG departments? As mentioned above, I primarily care about maximizing my earnings. (I promise to be more charitable and less self-centered once I’m extremely wealthy and retired:)

    4. I think the answer is that you don’t do so but – do you give career counseling advice? I’d like to discuss the best way to transition into finance and what to do from there with someone who’s intelligent and knowledgeable about the industry. If you have any recommendations, please let me know.

    I realize you don’t have enough info to give meaningful answers to questions 1-3. I’m more or less just looking for your gut reaction.

    Many thanks

      • BigLaw Associate says

        Thanks for the quick reply.

        1. Ha. Nice article. To be defensive: I don’t think I have any misconceptions about what it takes to make big money. Gunner law associates work just as much as i-bankers (and billable hours are very different from time spent in the office) yet make a fraction of what their peers in banking are making. I once “worked” (ie, I was in the office, but was billing slightly less than all of my time in the office) 110 – 120 hours a week for eight straight weeks, because law firms suck and that’s the way almost all of them roll at the top — lockstep compensation for associates. I received rave reviews for my stamina, effort and work product but did not receive any additional compensation for my hard work. If you’re willing to bear the downside risks of banking, you think law is shit and you have no illusions that a career in banking / PE will be anything but generally terrible, I say you need to make the switch. The shit you take is about equal but your upside is far greater. About prestige: prestige for law firms drives exit opportunities. I should be clear that I mean “prestige” in the sense that such an such [law firm/bank] is “prestigious” if an informed recruiter or hiring partner/MD would view that [law firm/bank] as superior to some other [law firm/bank], not whether some random bum on the street, or hot chick at Pink Elephant, would view it as “prestigious”. Also my GF is super hot and I’m probably not going to do much better than her looks-wise even if I’m pulling in seven figures, so “models and bottles” isn’t a selling point for me. (Not sure why I’m so defensive today, sheesh).

        2. Thanks for the reality check. I have a couple friends, former class mates and a few acquaintances who probably can get me an introduction. I’m also going to check with some recruiters. Banks used to, but appear not to do so much any more, occasionally recruit lawyers.

        3. Makes sense.

        4. Checked it out. I might have them take a look at my resume. It doesn’t seem like there are a lot of good resources. The bright side of law is that unless your firm is doing poorly you’ll never get fired and even if you leave, most firms will give you a standing offer to return, unelss you sucked.

        • BigLaw Associate says

          Somehow “, because law firms suck and that’s the way almost all of them roll at the top — lockstep compensation for associates” ended up at the end of the wrong sentence; it should be at the end of the immediately following sentence. oops

          • lol says

            Wow… are you sure you went to the top law school in the country (I’m assuming you mean Yale). You’d think somewhere in your experience rubbing shoulders with the best and the brightest you would have become less small-minded and shallow. I wonder what your peers at your law firm would think if they could read this post (even if they somehow ignored the part about you wanting to switch careers). Just goes to show, you can’t buy or teach class.

  7. Brian says

    Any experience with lawyers attending top business schools after having practicing corporate/securities law for several years? Is this a good move if you have been accepted into a top school?

    • says

      I have not seen it much before – if you have corporate law experience it is generally easier/cheaper to network your way in rather than paying $150K+ for an MBA.

  8. Ari says

    I have been a practicing tax lawyer for a little over three years (no M&A experience). I graduated second in my class from a top 50 law school (to all the prestige whores, obviously that’s not Yale). I worked for a large, fairly well known firm (not Skadden) doing tax planning and controversy in DC for a little less than two years. I have been at the IRS ever since. I tried cases in Tax Court for my first year at the IRS. Now I work at our National Office and specialize in the taxation of partnerships.

    Does that translate into banking at all? As anyone who reads the newspaper knows, the government has become a hostile work environment, and I think I just want to try something different.

    Also, do you have to move to NY to work in banking, or can you do it in DC?

    • says

      There’s little banking in DC so moving to NYC is probably necessary. Tax work usually doesn’t translate well to generalist banking positions so I would look for more niche roles like special situations or restructuring groups where knowledge of tax law is more useful.

  9. iBanj says

    Hello Brian,

    I must say I find this site incredible and instructive – I only just stumbled upon it today and have read quite a number of articles.

    I graduated from the Nigerian Law School in 2009, after spending five years at the university studying law; and after a year of compulsory national service — which lasted till last Oct — I’ve been unable to tie down a well paying and rewarding job in legal practice.

    Only recently, I made the acquaintance of an executive of one of Nigeria’s top banks; and during our discussion, he asked about my primary interests. I was specific about Intellectual Property (patents, trademarks, anti-competition and all), corporate law & commercial law practice. I also indicated that I had secured admission for my LL.M (in IP, but I’m now considering Int’l Commercial law) in England this Sept. He offered to help out with securing a position at the bank and promptly asked me to email my c.v, which I have since done.

    However, I intend to email a customised c.v for the banking industry to him. I don’t have any prior banking experience or knowledge (and really little experience in legal practice too), neither did I take finance classes back in school. I’m in my mid-twenties and trying to have an open mind about career paths.

    I intend to take up the bank job if offered one, but I don’t know if I want it long term (then again, I am not making any concrete decisions yet). Can you possibly offer an advice? I have no clue as to what the next line of action should be; the kind of career objective that should be on the c.v, interests and the likes.

    Thank you.

  10. DGrey says

    Great article. Was wondering if you had any opinion on the ease with which a corporate lawyer at a firm could switch to the the in-house counsel of a bank (GS, Citi, etc) and what their compensation is like?

    • says

      In-house counsel is always lower pay than what you make at a law firm but probably still higher than other industries since it’s finance; you definitely have a better shot doing that vs. moving into finance directly

  11. Jason says

    Brian,

    I am a recent law school graduate with a tax LLM. I am currently litigating tax assessments of real estate transactions in circuit court and volunteering at a tax clinic. I am pursuing my CPA with two sections remaining to sit for. I was a finance and accounting double major in undergrad. My interest is mergers and acquisitions. Can you provide any advice on opportunities or experience that could get me into one of the M&A groups at a Big 4 accounting firm or another corporate tax group within the Big 4? My career outlook would be to get experience at the Big 4 in M&A or a related field and then transition over.

    Best regards,

    Jason

    • says

      I’m not sure about law –> Big 4 but generally you would have to focus on groups with direct overlap (i.e. Big 4 ones that do just real estate transactions or TAS groups where taxes are more important, sort of industry-dependent). Beyond the usual co-worker/alumni networking think about joining professional groups for accountants, CPAs, and so on and seeing if those turn up any leads, even ones further astray may help.

      • Jason says

        I read your other article if you can’t get paid work for free, and in particular I’m curious about where you cite increased M & A activity among non-profits. I would like to look into this angle because I can qualify to be paid through a fellowship grant independently of the non-profit org. Are certain types of 501(c)(3)’s utilizing M & A more heavily to focus on cold calling? I would greatly appreciate any further advice you would have on this angle. I have work experience in both tax and law. The biggest barrier to transitioning to a special situations practice will be for me to get experience in capital financing and valuation modeling.

        • says

          Honestly not sure about that one – I don’t remember writing it but then this site was written over many years so I don’t remember every detail. I don’t think non-profit M&A is really that common due to lack of funds. If you already have experience in tax and law I don’t think a nonprofit would add that much, you’re better off getting more relevant experience.

  12. hopeful 3L says

    Thanks a ton for the article, very helpful.

    I’m about to enter a well known law firm’s corporate group in NYC and just graduated near the top of my class from a top ten law school. I’ll be doing capital markets and/or M&A work after starting at my firm. I majored in a quantitative major (think math/physics/etc.) from a ‘target’ undergrad but didn’t have my stuff together and missed the boat on finance out of college.

    After spending a couple summer internships at law firms and working on a dozen or so deals, taking accounting and finance classes during law school, and doing a fair amount of self study on business valuation over the past couple years, I am absolutely sure I would rather do banking than law. I thought law was a good fit for my skill set but now realize I would rather focus on quantitative/sales issues as opposed to contractual ones.

    My question is: what is the minimum amount of time I should spend at my firm before it becomes appropriate to start aggressively networking for a job in finance? I know you say a few years of experience makes it easier to transition in the article above, but does my story make an early transition sound like a reasonable goal or should I just put my head down and focus on editing prospectuses for a couple years?

      • hopeful 3L says

        Thank you for the response, I guess there’s no way out of putting in a couple years. I feel a little bit rushed since I’m a little older than the average law grad. Does transitioning into an associate position at a bank at 32/33 seem possible?

        Also, one other question, would it be easier to transition if I’m willing to live outside the U.S., in Asia for instance?

          • hopeful 3L says

            I’m curious why it would be harder outside the U.S.? Is it just a networking issue or something? Does this hold true even with solid language ability (not bilingual but advanced enough to have no problems interviewing in the target language)?

            Thanks again for your responses and everything else on this site. Even though I was focusing on law at the time the general advice for networking/interviewing you give is way better than anything my school’s office of career services had to say when I was going through recruiting a few years ago.

  13. Kevin says

    I am due to start a Training Contract at a magic circle law firm in London in the next few months. However, I have been working at an investment fund for the past 6 months (during my “gap year” after university) and have developed an interest in private equity.

    My question is: what steps should I be taking at this early stage to guide my career towards working in private equity? More specifically, when it comes to choosing which department in my firm to qualify in to which one to you recommend? Finally, which type of PE firm would a candidate from a legal background be most suited to?

    Thanks for your help

    • says

      “If you’re not in corporate or securities law, you will face a challenge here telling a convincing story: your best bet is to move into one of those, or to focus on a very specific area within finance if you can’t make the transition (e.g. if you do real estate law, focusing on real estate banking groups or real estate investments).

      Other fields like antitrust, civil, copyright, criminal, litigation, and so on are just not that relevant: you need corporate/securities (ideal) or an industry-specific practice (less than ideal).”

      PE firms – smaller and more overlap with your law focus the better

    • Bob says

      I’m sorry, I did not see that I already posted this question. The reason my name came up as “James” is because my husband – James – Also uses this site. His name already appeared on the “name” section, and I did not see that.
      Also, what kind of funds would need someone with a legal background? yes, I do have a track record.

      • M&I - Nicole says

        I am not 100% sure but I’d imagine most funds would need at least one person with some sort of legal background especially if they are starting a new fund. I don’t know of a particular kind of fund that would need someone with a legal background. Perhaps readers may have a better idea.

  14. Stay says

    Hey Brian

    Thanks for writing an amazing article. I just wanted your opinion on my situation. I am currently a 2nd year litigation attorney. However, I’m specifically interested in M&A field. In law school I concentrated in finance transactions. But I did not have much of a choice in where I was placed in my firm. As far as experience, I only did a summer intership in their corporate department. I am about to start my M.S. in Finance program this September and I am contemplating the recruiting season. Would it be better for me to apply to the summer positions at the BB firms or should I try for the Full-time positions? You help is greatly appreciated!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      If you have a summer in b school in which you can apply for internships I’d say go for the summer positions at BB firms. If you’re talking about post grad of course try the full time ones though banks right now might prefer contract workers given the economy. Don’t think your previous experience matters much as to whether you shd apply for summer positions or full time roles; i think banks’ hiring needs determine whether you would be given a full time or contract role/internship

  15. Chad says

    Really love this site, thanks for taking the time to gather all this information.
    I know this is an older post, but I had a question related to this topic. I have an MS in chemistry and I’m currently working at a biotech startup. I have a long term goal of getting into VC in the life sciences and am planning on attending b-school in the near future. I may have an opportunity for a role at an IP-focused law firm as a technology specialist and I wouldn’t need a JD or take the bar. I’m looking to position myself in the best way possible for vc and I’m curious if this route would benefit me for having a better understanding of the IP space/process that startups face. I’m not all that passionate about patent law for the long term, but I’m wondering would having a small amount of patent experience, albeit as a scientific advisor, help in landing a vc job post-mba since I would be that much more well-rounded? Or would you consider it a waste of time (or worse, a hindrance) for that end?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      To be honest, I’m not quite sure either. I think having a small amount of such experience might help though I’d presume your current experience is more important. Have you been networking w VCs in the life science industry? I’d suggest you to do so if you haven’t already. http://www.altapartners.com/index.php

  16. Chad says

    I’ve really started to dig in to networking recently, I have an informational meeting lined up with a local vc in jan and I am curious what his take on it is. I just thought I should get as many perspectives as possible. Thanks for the lead about Alta, I’m in the northeast at the moment, but my goal is b-school out west, so I’ll check them out.
    As an aside, I find it funny, at least from experience, that we’re told to “go to college” and then, especially if you’re in the sciences, to “just go to grad school.” Once you’re off of the trodden path, there’s really no one telling you this is the correct route to take to get to x goal. So thanks for putting this site together, it’s a big help to clarify and organize a career path.

  17. Bolani says

    I am a Kenyan Lawyer and have just enrolled in an MBA program. Currently, i work as a legal officer in a development finance corporation where i deal mostly in conveyancing, security documentation and commercial law. I am looking into majoring in finance. Please advice on my career and employment prospects in finance

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I’d suggest you to speak to finance professionals in your area because they will have a better understanding than we do given we have no background in Kenyan law

  18. spaniard86 says

    Hi Brian,

    Many thanks for this amazing web and for this post. I have been practicing M&A in a Magic Circle law firm for some years now and would like to switch to IB. For this purpose I was thinking about going for an MBA at a top American school, also because I think it’s just an amazing experience. Do you think it’s a feasible option?
    Many thanks in advance!

      • spaniard86 says

        I have been doing corporate law, but thought that the MBA would offset the lack of financial modelling skills. In addition, I read somewhere in your blog that getting into banking through networking is much harder in Europe than in the US. Given that I deal with I-bankers on a daily basis (I-banks and PEs are our main clients…)I thought that networking before leaving to Business School gould be an option…

  19. Anonymous says

    ….again, you are not a lawyer

    there’s an old saying, the lawyers who like law become litigators

    the ones that don’t go into corporate, and wish they had done business

  20. Thai Mint says

    Brian et al,

    Would it be worth it to shoot for a top 5, 3-year Jd/mba if I know I’m interested in restructuring and/or distressed investing? Is this a good strategy for accessing the separate recruiting channels for restructuring groups at places like Blackstone?

  21. Paul says

    I started undergraduate engineering program at Cornell University (vs. Columbia) and wound up switching majors/schools ending with a degree in Applied Economics Management. Went to 2nd Tier law school and after 1st year was top of class, law review, interviews at Big Firm for summer jobs. Didn’t land one. Wasn’t polished enough. Graduated was unemployed as a full time attorney for about a year until I blindly jumped into working for a small firm, learning to practice on my own, only marketable lateral legal experience was in ID work. Now I work for a mid-sized ID firm but find myself with no opportunity to gain experience within the firm on the types of cases that would be productive for career growth. I took the GMAT and LSAT at the same time, and didn’t find out till later that my law school required that I apply to the dual MBA/JD program at the same time. Considering my friends from Cornell with same degree I kick myself now for wasting the last 5 years pursuing a legal career. Obviously my strengths going into undergrad were in math/science (see Cornell/Columbia engineering school offers). I look at what my friends in finance do now, and although I did take the same courses and graduated with the same degree, it all looks like a foreign language to me. I’ve been contemplating getting an MBA if I can ace the GMAT and get into a 10 ten school. I took the GMAT and LSAT without studying and ended with a 660 and 165 on a whim. I hate the fact that my true strengths are in math and I am now forever shunned from the Big Firm legal jobs and have been struggling with the reality that in order to attain wealth I must one day hang my own shingle. I did not commit myself academically as an undergrad and did not end up with an engineering degree unfortunately. I kicked ass my first year in law school (to see if I still had it) and once I made law review, top 7%, figured all the doors would be open and I’d be a shoe in to be a corporate attorney anywhere. Now I am so far from that goal I find myself wondering how stupid I’ve been along the way. Is there hope for me to get into finance? Should I take the GMAT again and endure 2 years more of schooling? With no experience in business it seems to be a waste of time. I have no experience with corporate work as an attorney so I can’t lateral into a job that offers that type of experience. I almost feel like starting as an undergraduate all over again. Any thoughts into how I can crack into finance or business at this point?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. Assess your strength and weaknesses.
      2. Know why you want to get into finance & which area of finance you are interested in & why from law to finance & how your legal experience can add value
      3. Be able to connect 1 + 2 + how you can add value to the firms
      4. Work your pitch, perfect your story, bankify your resume
      5. Identify firms that interest you & contact them (networking, cold calling, emailing etc would help)
      6. Pitch your story & try obtain informational sessions/interviews

      + An MBA at a target might help you but it depends on how long you want to stay in school for…..perhaps you can work & study at the same time

  22. Leaving Law says

    Hi Brian and co.,

    I have two years legal experience working in banking/ financial restructuring at a UK magic circle law firm and am looking to convert to restructuring/ distressed IB. I’m fairly confident on the generic questions regarding converting etc. but would like to get some further background on the (non-legal) technicals. Given that I hope to move across into restructuring, are there any specific resources that you would recommend or is Breaking Into Wall Street still the best bet for the fundamentals.

    Thanks for your help

  23. Theodore Frankbaum says

    I am about to graduate from Harvard and will enter Yale, pursuing a JD/MBA (I have already been accepted). I have also been accepted into an internship at Ropes & Gray, which is the outside counsel to alternative asset management company Bain Capital. Law is an excellent opportunity for me to combine my gift for writing with m passion for business. I plan to become an associate at R&G, and eventually land a job at BC’s legal team, hopefully becoming in-house counsel. Eventually, I hope this can help me land a job as a VP at BC.
    Questions:
    1. Is this a good plan?
    2. You stated in the article that lawyers will have a tough time entering private equity, venture capital, or hedge funds, but would I increase my chances if I worked in the PE, VE, and/or HF departments in R&G?
    3. I am really interested in asset management. R&G actually as an investment management division, along with an investment management M&A division, which could help, as you stated lawyers could use their skills in M&A. Is this a good idea?

  24. Chinese Brunette in the City says

    Hi Brian

    I am going to become a qualified solicitor in England and Wales next year.I am being trained with a leading international law firm in London, specialised in corporate and finance law. Because of the influence of the significant other, I became very interested in corporate transactions itself rather than sitting in the back, drafting and proofreading legal docs. I was wondering, if I wanted to work in the investment banks as an M&A analyst/associate, should I apply for the analyst programme now and (if I’m lucky enough) join when I qualify as a solicitor next year, or should I wait for another 2 years to get 3 years legal work experience to apply for an MBA and then the associate programme?

    Many thanks for your help.

  25. Theodore Frankbaum says

    I recently learned that if I were to go from in-house councel to a vice president, that would actually be a demotion; the Cheif Legal Officer (Bain Capital’s term for in-house councel)is a top executive position.
    1. If I become CLO, can I eventually rise to CEO?
    2. If I join the legal team at Bain Capital (but do not become CLO), can I eventually break into a Vice-President position?

    • Theodore Frankbaum says

      Also, before I apply to the JD/MBA, should I have some work experiance? What kind should I get?

      • M&I - Nicole says

        Yes. I think readers who have been through JD/MBA track can better answer your question. Paralegal can help I think

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. Don’t usually see this but I think it depends on the person’s luck & situation
      2. Again I can’t craft a clear cut plan for you – this depends on your situation & luck!

  26. lseactuary says

    I have seen several people move from Law to Banking. Why do they do this? Isn’t banking and law practically the same in terms of hours/etc except the work is different? Is it the pay?

    I’m an undergrad at the moment studying finance (entering my final year) but I’m not sure if I’m really interested in the financial markets (although I like reading about deals/business transactions – just no the S&P 500 etc) and so was considering Law. How can I find out if Law is for me? Ive been speaking to loads of people and they say I can do anything I want and therefore I’m finding it really hard to make up my mind. Any ideas?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Probably the pay. Some may even find the work in banking more interesting.

      Have you taken any classes in law? I’d suggest you to do so. When I took my first Business Law class in college, I knew it wasn’t for me.

  27. Bob says

    Is it possible for a midlevel (5th year) restructuring attorney in a top restructuring group to switch over to one of the top restructuring practices (blackstone, lazard, hl, etc.) as a vp or does the transition always involve starting as an associate?

    Thanks.

  28. LD2106 says

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for publishing this article, it has been very informative. I know the articles are a bit old, but if you still somehow check this, any advice on my situation would be greatly appreciated:

    I’m currently a 3rd year associate doing M&A work for a Vault 10 law firm. I did my undergrad in finance at a target school, received my JD from a top 5 school and finished all 3 levels of the CFA exam (even though I know you don’t recommend taking it). But I am really tired of legal work, and had always planned to go back into finance after gaining some good legal experience.

    I’ve been targeting I-Banks and PE firms (both bulge and boutique) by asking for informational interviews with alumni of my schools. While people are kind enough to offer advice and submit my resume, I’m apparently too non-traditional for them to hire over an undergraduate or an MBA graduate. I’ve been hitting the pavement for over a year now, talked to a lot of people, but still can’t seem to gain any traction. So, what would you advise as to the next step?

    Thanks.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      What about expanding your search and network and cold calling banks you haven’t contacted? Contact people who have the direct power to hire you (other than your alums) and convince them to hire you? Perhaps you might want to look at bios on websites and check out people who have a background similar to yours.

      • LD2106 says

        Hi Nicole,

        Thank you for response. I have begun to cold call and cold email Principals and MDs at those firms that I have not yet contacted, but those people usually just tell me to either a) get some experience in the industry and call them back or b) go to B-school. Any advice on convincing someone to hire you when they know that you do not have any “real-world” financial modeling skills? Thanks!

        • M&I - Nicole says

          Can you intern for them? If they ask you to get some experience in the industry, can they take you on and give you the chance? Keep in touch with them. I’d also try to figure out what they need and see if you can fill that need.

  29. Marc says

    I’ve been a hedge fund lawyer for about three years. Do I have enough experience to start my own hedge fund? If not, what should I do to gain experience?

  30. Bob says

    I have been a PE lawyer for a decade. I made partner about three years ago. If I break into Private Equity, would I be a partner? I am 37.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      It is hard to say. I’m not 100% sure but I think your chances are 50/50 because you will be competing against other PE partners who have had experience in the industry and experience in raising money from investors. Some funds may need someone with your legal background but I am not sure if they will make you partner right away, unless you have some sort of track record.

      • Dave says

        I am also a PE lawyer looking to switch. If I won’t be a partner right away, what would I be? Would there be a good chance of eventually advancing to partner?

        • M&I - Nicole says

          I am not 100% sure because it varies based on the fund and the people you interview with – how they perceive you and your achievements. I’d imagine you may be eligible for “Vice President” roles though I am not quite sure if you’ll make partner right away. I’d imagine if you perform well you may be able to advance to partner though I’ve heard it can be difficult these days unless you can generate solid returns for the fund and source deals.

          • M&I - Nicole says

            Honestly, I don’t know. I would speak with the team at Bain and other people in the industry regarding your background. They may have better insights because I’ve never met you before. I’d also suggest you to check out http://www.baincapitalprivateequity.com/team and look through the team. Some may have experience similar to yours and you can use them as a benchmark

  31. James says

    I’ve been a PE lawyer for a decade at a prestigious law firm. I made partner three years ago. I am 37 years old. If I break into PE now, what would my position be?

  32. alex says

    do you think it is possible to get interviews/offers at a BB i-bank without networking, on sheer academic skill?
    I’m graduating from a very high ranking ***tech (think big bang theory) with a triple major in chemistry, chemical engineering, and economics.
    I haven’t done much extra curriculars, nor much networking, but so far i have a 4.0 gpa and im not sure if recruiters care but i had perfect SAT’s as well
    do i need to network or are my academic credentials enough?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      Your academic credentials are great, but you’ll also be competing with people who have had great credentials, IB experience and solid networking skills. So to answer your question, no I don’t think academic credentials alone can get you a job at an IB. You’ll still need relevant work experience and networking skills to get an interview. Then you’ll have to have a solid pitch in order to land yourself the job.

  33. Anu says

    Dear Brian,

    I have done my MS Finance and Law. And I have no prior experience so I am having difficulty in getting a job in India where I can leverage upon both my qualifications. Any suggestions? What you have written in your article are absolutely true.

  34. David says

    Is there any type of private equity firm or aspect of the private equity business that utilizes the skills of a labor and employment attorney?

    • M&I - Nicole says

      I think this is relatively challenging but readers may have better insights. You may want to network with some GPs to gain a better understanding

  35. ahboy says

    I managed to get an internship at a boutique legal firm, before my masters in finance entry next year. Do you think the legal internship experience would be helpful for restructuring/distressed investing positions?

    or

    Do you think I should focus only on the finance-related roles?

  36. Shane says

    Dear Brian,

    First of all, this article is great; my interest in Finance has definitely increased, and I am curious to know more!
    I’m currently a first year commerce/law undergraduate student at a Go8 university (Australia mate!), and right now I have a huge dilemma as to whether I should major in finance or economics (commerce/law only lets me choose one commerce major). I am equally interested in law, economics and finance. The greatest thing I’ve learned with Economics is the amount of time required to work as a gov’t economist for the income earned and job difficulty/stress compared to Finance and Law (we’re talking maximum full-time hours = 36-40hrs/week here at reasonable pay)

    My question is:
    1. How many hours per week would an Investment Banker be expected to work?
    2. What are your thoughts/take on working long hours? Should I just suck it up and comprehend that my future will involve 60-100 hour work days?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m prepared to burn the midnight oil (I worked my **** to get into my course, have a 4.0gpa + work and networking experience), but I need some down time too! I still want to have a family + kids, travel etc.. I hope this doesn’t sound too naive! I read no similar comments above, so I thought I’d give posting here a shot.

    • says

      1. http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/why-you-actually-work-so-much-as-an-investment-banker-yes-even-in-a-recession/

      2. http://www.mergersandinquisitions.com/investment-banker-life/

      I can’t answer those questions for you because it depends on what you value. Some people don’t want to work more than 40 hours per week no matter what – if that’s you, stay far away from the finance industry. Other people care more about work than friends/family/hobbies and don’t care about killing themselves for decades and never doing anything else. If that’s you, finance is a better fit.

      • Shane says

        Hi Brian,

        I read a lot more into these links and your website, it turns out that what I’ve been looking for is the ‘magic bullet’ solution. It makes much more sense that, whatever it is I’m looking for is a matter of personal preference – I need to sought out what I want, by myself, and really no one else can tell me what’s best for me. People keep telling me this, but I guess I need the same message from more than one source to really grasp that.. The fact that I went online for help clearly shows how desperate I am :P Thank you for helping me gain a direction as to what I want in life.

  37. Maria says

    Hi Brian,

    I am currently completing my law degree at McGill in Montréal (it’s my first degree, something you can do in Québec, which means I will have passed the bar by the time I’m 22) but am exploring the possibility of switching into finance once i’m done articling at BigLaw. Another thing to note is that the cost of law school here is very minimal.

    (1) Would you say that the same considerations apply to my situation?

    I was considering doing a CFA level I or level II before I article because I have some free time on my hands (I would be working at Big Law simultaneously), want to demonstrate my interest in finance in a real way, and because a master’s in finance would take longer and cause me to incur more opportunity costs since I couldn’t be working.

    (2) Do you think doing the CFA is a good idea?

    Thanks a lot!

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. If you want to work on the buy-side, asset management, yes I’d say go for the CFA. CFA isn’t as useful for IB roles.

      2. In your case yes it can demonstrate your interest and knowledge of the industry

  38. Ollie says

    This article is extremely informative. I am a recent grad of a HYP college, going to a HYS law school next year. I don’t have much background in finance from College, as I was gung ho about law school (my true passion is con law, but the Supreme Court isn’t hiring) and after getting a closer look at what the practice of law entails, I am getting more excited about finance or business in general (I’d rather be driving the deals than handling the paperwork, etc. etc.). I don’t think I am competitive for an MBA right now due to insufficient work experience, but I am going to take a shot at applying to the joint JD-MBA in the hopes that the law school does in fact serve as a back door (even if I don’t get it, there are ample opportunities to cross register with the b-school). Assuming I don’t get into the JD-MBA program:

    1. What are the best steps I can take now and in law school to maximize my chances to make that transition from law to finance as early as possible? Specifically, since I can take several (but not infinite) courses at the b-school as a cross-registrant, which should I prioritize as the most helpful?

    2. There are several law & business groups (within the law school) that have sparked my interest, including a business law review. I’d imagine it would be useful for networking, but I’d be networking with other law school students. Will becoming involved with these groups aid the transition, or is that a waste of time?

    3. For various personal reasons, I’m not crazy about working in NYC after graduation. I was looking at Boston firms, specifically Ropes & Gray. As someone noted above, they have a relationship with Bain Capital, and, more generally, other Boston financial institutions. If I worked in corporate at Ropes, either in M&A or PE, is it feasible to move into a Boston financial group? I’m hoping that since Boston is generally a smaller market and Ropes is the top law firm in town, I can plausibly lateral out while facing less stiff competition from (1) college kids who want to go to NY and (2) other lawyers looking to make the transition. I understand that Boston opportunities will surely be less lucrative than NY opportunities.

    4. It seems that while lawyers could very reasonably be able to lateral into finance pre-Recession, as hiring contracts post-Recession it has gotten a lot more competitive; as noted above financial institutions prefer to promote from within than hire lawyers. This is a purely subjective, speculative question, but…since I won’t graduate for a few more years, do you foresee the trend of contracted hiring continuing? Or as the economy improves, is the finance industry going to return to its pre-Recession hiring tactics? In other words, will it be better for a lawyer to break into finance several years down the line, or have the good times ended?

    5. If I do want to break into finance, which do you think would be better: Harvard or Stanford Law? There is relatively equal opportunity to cross-register at both their b-schools.

    • M&I - Nicole says

      1. Yes you can do that
      2. Networking can potentially help though I’d focus on finance related groups to save time
      3. Yes it is possible to move to a Boston financial group and I think you’re on the right track
      4. I wouldn’t time it like that. It is hard to predict the economy and I think you should network and if the opportunity comes up then you can move
      5. Both are great. It depends on whether you want to work on East or West coast, but either one is great

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