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

Comments

  1. says

    What a fantastic blog full with top-notch information. I’m an aspiring corporate lawyer/ibanker myself (jr. in college) and the entires here def. answer a good 70% of any of the questions I have. Please keep writing!

  2. Big C says

    Any thoughts on an M&A lawyer trying to bypass IB and go straight to PE? Seems like a corporate lawyer’s skills would be best used at a PE shop but would a PE shop give you a chance to learn modeling, etc. skills the way an IB would? Just trying to figure out if spending a few years at an IB is absolutely necessary. Also, where would a 5th or 6th year associate go in? 2nd-3rd year associate? Thanks for your help.

  3. says

    Big C – you can try it and I’m sure it happens sometimes but I think M&A lawyers going over to PE is more common at the Partner level – I know quite a few Partner-level lawyers who have become MDs at PE firms, for example. If you have a connection to PE somehow, definitely go for it. Otherwise I would say try banking first and then switch.

    As far as 5th or 6th year associate, most likely 2nd or 3rd year associate at a bank like you said.

  4. cbk says

    I really enjoy reading your blog. It contains some indepth knowledge of the scene. My way will be similar, trying to get with an international known corporate law firm. But I’m pretty sure, one will get the network of influence people while working with a top tier law firm! BTW can you name some top tier law firms globally?

  5. bluetrane65 says

    I really am becoming a huge fan of your column! Is there going to be a part three of this informative series for accounting junkies coming out soon? I am going to be graduating with a masters in accountancy and will be able to sit for the CPA exam in roughly a year and would like to be well prepared for directing my career in the investment banking realm by ways of your advise. Secondly, between tax and audit, which branch of accountancy is preferred most by certain investment banking divisions?

    • says

      Hi bluetrane, thanks, glad you are becoming a fan of this site!

      I’ve been trying to continue this series for accounting people, consultants and others for quite some time, but unfortunately I know significantly more about lawyers and engineers getting into banking so I have focused on those for now.

      I do hope to finish up this series or at least add one more this month, no guarantees though.

      As far as tax vs. audit, I don’t know that there’s a preference per se… if I were getting into accounting and wanted to do i-banking, I would try to get into transaction services or anything relating to deals as soon as possible. That’s probably the most relevant division of accounting firms for getting into banking.

  6. IB4life says

    I don’t want to sound repetitive….but this blog rocks!!!
    May I ask you if you’re planning to write a “Breaking into Finance” from Consulting? (differentiating the background by MBB/Big4/Boutiques and Strat/Ops) Cheers!!!

    • says

      Hi there, glad you like the site.

      I’m working on a couple other “Breaking In” articles but they take quite a long time to write since I have to do so much research, so haven’t been able to finish them yet.

  7. k-money says

    Thanks for the solid tips for those of us who are thinking about breaking into banking.

    I have a background in consulting and start-ups but want to shift gears and go into finance. I am starting business school in fall and am doing research on possible careers I should look into. Naturally, banking came up.

    Life as an analyst definitely has its drawbacks, most notably the hours. How would the life of a first-year associate out of a top-10 business school with no prior banking experience differ from the life of an analyst? What do analysts and associates alike think of associates and others with MBAs in general? And based on your experience, are the hours more back-breaking on Wall Street compared to say, London?

    Thanks in advance.

    • says

      First-year Associate out of top 10 b-school would have near-identical hours compared to a 1st year Analyst – banks treat them both the same way. After that it gets a bit better for the Associate, but it’s still pretty painful, to be honest.

      I don’t think there’s one particular view toward those with MBAs, but if you have no prior banking experience you might find a bit of resentment from those who have been doing it for a few years (obviously depends greatly on group/firm).

      London hours are a bit better than those on Wall Street but it’s still not close to a 9-5 job by any means.

  8. AEP says

    Hi, thanks for posting this article – it is very helpful for another corporate lawyer thinking about making the transition to banking.

    I would like to take one of the training courses you mentioned, but would like some advice as to what content the on-line package I buy should contain. One package contains DCF, comps, and LBO training, another covers projecting financial statements, and one includes both DCF, comps, LBO and projections. Also, do you have any information on which company has the best reputation amongst both trainees and banks?

    Thanks so much.

    • says

      I would take the last one that covers the most material.

      Best reputation is somewhat irrelevant as you would not list these programs on your resume anyway (or at least not very prominently) and merely taking them is not going to help you much… the knowledge you gain is more helpful than just being able to list the program.

      On a side note, I am releasing my own courses soon which will be superior to anything else out there. :)

  9. Sardaukar says

    I just came across your site last night, and wow — your blogs are most definitely chock full of useful information about finance. Thanks so much for helping us out!!

    For CPAs (“accounting junkies” as a previous poster called them), in your opinion how best is it for them to break into private equity firms? Do PE firms even hire CPAs from Big 4, or do they mostly just hire analysts from I-banks?

    • says

      I would go to TAS at a Big 4 and get into banking like that… and then into PE. Hard to go from anywhere but banking or business school into PE.

  10. Sardaukar says

    What about becoming a CFA charterholder instead of going to business school? How do PE firms perceive the CFA designation?

  11. badeng01 says

    Now that almost all the bulge bracket IB shops have either collapsed or converted to commercial bank status, for the “ultimate goal” of getting into a PE, what types of banking jobs should one aim for nowadays (besides MBA)? Are boutique I-banks the only remaining option?

    • says

      You should still be aiming for large banks (BoA, Citi, JPM, GS, MS, etc.); the difference now is that 3 large banks no longer exist.

      Boutique banks are also a good option.

  12. Curious says

    Great post. I have a bit of an odd story – I got married in and moved to S America during my 2nd to last semester of law school. I finished up and graduated from my school in NYC and am now looking for a job. It appears that there may be an opportunity for me in I-banking down here (Chile) – On the one hand, i am really excited about this possibility – on the other, I worry about 2 things. 1) i ‘m not sure how seriously my i-banking experience (which, should i end up working here woudl only be 1-2 years and probably working as a sales trader) will be taken if i should choose to continue in that area when my hubby and I move back to NYC and 2) if i decide i want to go BACK into law in NYC, not necessarily BIGLAW, will this experience hurt my chances…

    any thoughts?

    • says

      Hmm, given the current state of the economy and all I’d probably still do it.

      It won’t translate directly over to US experience and you won’t gain exactly the same recognition, but it’s still better than nothing.

      I don’t think the experience will hurt your chances of getting into law too much – you can just frame it as a learning experience and say it convinced you that law is more suited for you (depending on what happens of course).

  13. chris says

    Thanks for all the great info. I’m a third year oil and gas lawyer. Half my time is spent working on oil & gas specific legal issues, and half is on oil & gas transactional work (mostly due diligence, but I’m starting to draft agreements/deal with clients). There are a lot of great energy boutique i-banks where I live, and I want to break into i-banking within the next couple of years, specializing in energy. My question is: considering that a lawyer doesn’t have the modelling experience, or experience in general, of someone who has worked as an analyst, what do they bring to the table when it comes to getting an associate position? I can think of a few obvious things, but I’d like to hear your take on it. I do have a finance degree so I’m not completely clueless when it comes to the quant skills, but pretty close. Thanks again!

    • says

      They have a knowledge of how to work with clients, the deal process, working within the legal framework, etc. Lack of finance skills is definitely a weakness, but you can fix that by learning on your own (if you have time).

      Understanding the mindset / how to work with clients and in teams is way more important.

  14. nomorelaw says

    Thanks for the great blog. I currently work at a large commercial finance company assisting their in-house legal department (2 1/2 years). I started straight out of undergrad (non-target/liberal arts degree) with the idea of going to Law School, but. . .yada yada yada. . . You know the story–want to go into banking. My idea was to take the GMAT, apply to top 10 school, etc. . . I’m worried that (a) lack of experience will keep me out of a good b-school and (b) lack of experience/irrelevant undergrad degree will keep me out of finance jobs needed to apply to b-school. I don’t really know what my next step should be. Any thoughts?

    • says

      I would try to do something finance-related outside work right now, maybe think about CFA or other degree, then go to business school in 1-2 years after you have some more time to amass experience. You need to have something to make you stand out above everyone else though, or else your chances at a top b-school are low.

  15. Developer says

    I currently work as a real estate developer for a mid-sized development company in New York heading up development projects. Previously worked as a project manager for the largest general contractor in the country. My real estate experience and overall construction/building industry experience is strong, but I have no real investment background and no MBA. I did about a year of internal, project based financial analysis when working for the contractor on projects from 2mil to 150mil.

    My development position has me doing everything from site aquisition, approvals, design, and financial modeling for financing. I graduated from Northeastern Univ. in Boston, MA. What are my chances at getting a real estate PE position? Is this experience valued in the PE world? What should I do to better my chances…IB?

    Thanks so much!

    • says

      It helps a bit but to be honest you will face an uphill battle getting into any kind of PE without previous IB/PE experience. If you want to go in directly, I would do some networking at small/local real estate PE firms and see if anyone is open to someone with your background.

      A lot of it also depends on how senior you were… if you can pitch yourself as having lots of relationships and such, you’ll also be in a better position as they like people with operational experience and lots of industry relationships.

  16. ebae says

    Not sure how many JD/MBAs are out there but for those of us who will be graduating fresh off of law school/business school with no work experience aside from summer law firm positions, do you think it would be possible ot break directl into IB or PE?
    Any suggestions?

    THANKS!

    • says

      That would be difficult these days. I would definitely try to do some kind of unpaid internship in finance or something along those lines first – it is really, really hard to get into IB/PE straight out of school. Usually you need to have stayed in corporate law for a few years, though the MBA makes it a bit easier.

      • GS says

        Hi there. I just finished reading this column and then went back to Part I on Engineers. Good stuff — congrats!

        I currently hold an MS in Structural Engineering from Berkeley and am starting law school this fall. In the interval I worked for 2 yrs as an engineer at a top firm. My ultimate goal is to move into PE, but I really like law.

        I am strongly considering applying to Kellogg b-school in order to couple my JD with an MBA. Do you think this would be wise given my quant background? The plan is to work corporate biglaw for 2-3 yrs and then engineer a move into PE, but I would also consider cutting some corners and doing it straight out of school.

        Ultimately, should I go for the dual degree or just stick with the JD?

        Thanks!

        • says

          Law to PE is almost impossible. I would just go for the MBA and drop the JD as it is marginally helpful at best for getting into PE.

        • GS says

          Do you think it is impossible even with corporate law experience, say in M&A, str. finance, etc?

          Or do you mean that it is impossible straight out of law school? And if so, then why?

          Thanks

        • says

          If you have a few years experience, it’s more plausible but IBD is far more likely than PE.

          Keep in mind that PE does 90% of their recruiting from current investment banking analysts – so it’s quite difficult to get in from less “traditional” backgrounds.

          Some partners switch from law to PE, but getting in from lower levels is not easy.

          Directly from law school is even more difficult – because private equity firms simply don’t recruit at law schools for the most part, and they are mostly targeting people in banking / PE currently.

  17. wendy says

    Thanks a lot for all the info, very helpful indeed.

    Here is my situation. Worked in a top New York law firm for two years, doing capital markets and M&A. Now have moved to Hong Kong to work for another top tier law firm, exclusively on private equity deals. As you can imagine being a third year doesn’t get much more interesting than writing pitch books, and after I’ve seen my PE clients I am convinced that I can do their job. So I am thinking about going back to the US to get my MBA (shooting at top 5 B-school) and then get a private equity job when I graduate. Do you think is is a viable plan? My biggest problem is that I started law school a bit later than most people, and I started working as a lawyer when I was 28. So suppose I get into B-school in 2010, by the time I graduate I’d be 34. At that age going to I-bank first would be kinda of ridiculous- I bet most VPs would be younger than I am. What do you think of my chance of directly going to PE after B-school?

    • says

      It’s pretty hard to do that. Age is less of a problem than you having already worked in law pre-MBA and having no finance experience… if you want to go into PE you really need to do something in IB/PE before business school, even if it’s just an informal or unpaid internship or some kind of pre-MBA program.

      • Curious says

        But what about the chances of getting into a top-5 MBA program after working at a top law firm (doing M&A) for 4 years? Does one have a good (or better chance, compared to other candidates) of getting into a top-5 MBA program with that background? Let’s say the candidate has all ivy league education (undergrad and law school) as well. Thanks!

        • says

          I honestly do not know because I’m not an expert on top law firms, but you would at least be in the running for top MBA programs.

  18. wendy says

    Thanks a lot M&I for your response. So do you think going to B-school is a good idea considering my circumstances? Or should I try to switch over direclty? If I do do MBA, and then IB (seems that you think that’s the best way to get to PE), would they hire me as a first year associate or would they take into consideration my previous experiences? How long do you think I need to do IB to get the credential and experiences needed for PE? If I could be a PE VP before 40, I’d give the career change a shot, but otherwise I might as well remain the unhappy lawyer : ).

    • says

      Moving over directly is a better idea in your case, but typically lawyers only do it at the Partner-level… but the bottom line is that an MBA will not help much in your case. You would probably still be a first-year Associate no matter what you did, but you might get promoted more quickly depending on your performance / the economy.

      For IBD experience it really depends but I would say at least 1-2 years if you want to do Law –> IB –> PE.

  19. Franco-American says

    Thanks for all of the incredibly relevant information that I could never learn in books!

    I’ll be gradauting next year (at 21) with an undergrad in international law from the Sorbonne in Paris. I was born and raised in the USA but I have dual citizenship thanks to a French father. I decided to go to school abroad for the language skills and because of how much cheaper it is.

    To become a lawyer in France (I have no intention upon doing so) you need to have a masters in law then take a couple of incredibly competitive exams.

    Would it be a better for me to apply directly to investment banks now or get a graduate degree in finance first? There are no campus recruitment days at the Sorbonne… I’m also trilingual in French, English, and Spanish if that makes a difference.

    • says

      If no one’s recruiting on-campus, then I would try to get some kind of finance degree at a school where banks actually recruit first… it’s very, very difficult unless banks come to your campus.

  20. Rory says

    Firstly just like to say what a great site this is and has really given myself and i’m sure many others an insight into the world of IB.

    Ok so let me explain my situation,
    I graduated with a fiance major and have my heart set on eventually working in IB/PE. I have recently been accepted into Princeton Law. I have a strong interest in the corporate law M&A side of things. I was just wondering whether you think it would be more advantageous for me to obtain my law degree and then try to break into the field, or whether it would be better for me to try and enter a firm as a first year analyst and work my way up. As opposed to associate entry with law/finance degrees.

    Thankyou in advance :)

    • says

      If you can get in as an Analyst right now, that is a better option… completely dependent on where you went to school, GPA, networking efforts, etc. You could do law school –> Corporate Law Associate –> IB Associate as well but that takes much longer and is more risky because it’s more difficult to get in as you get older.

  21. MJ says

    I’m finsihing my second year at a large law firm as a coreporate/M&A associate. Want to go into I Banking. Could I go in as an associate? Anyhting I could do to improve my chances? I currently am signed up for the Level 1 of the CFA Exam in December. I have experience in a growing area of law and investment banking and will try to use that as a route into ibanking. Any thoughts?

    • says

      Networking, networking, and more networking… clients, former clients, co-workers, former co-workers, leave no stone unturned.

      You could probably go in as an Associate right now, but again, it really comes down to who you know and how much they like you.

  22. Christopher says

    What a site??!!! This must be what Dorothy felt like when the curtain gets pulled back…

    I hate to do this to you, but you seem to have more insight than anyone I have interacted with about breaking into investment banking. My undergrad was accounting, I have a J.D., and an LL.M. in tax. I worked at a big four accounting firm for just under a year (doing M&A & International tax, tax-related modeling, and return preparation), then at a boutique tax firm (doing transactional tax and tax controversy), and finally tax litigation (involving corporate reorgs, sophisticated partnership tax shelters, etc.) for the past four years. My interest in IBanking is something that has grown over many years through reading, studying, disucssions with people in the industry, and through related work. I have been trying to break into the field through the IB’s tax advisory groups with no success. Any thoughts you could offer on this would be great. Also, I was wondering if it is possible to just start at the bottom as an analyst in an IB division? I do not mind starting at the bottom if that is what it takes to get in. The way I see it, the IB does not have much to lose. They have high turnover anyway, and if I work out, they will in essence get the benefit of my legal/tax/accounting experience for free. I know financial statements and various ratios (i.e., A/R turnover, Current Ratio, Debt/Equity, etc.) in and out, but am not strong on valuation and modeling per se (I have no doubt I could learn these skills). Numbers do not scare me at all, and in fact, I enjoy them. In undergrad I had finance, statistics, strategic management, etc. What steps should I take? What am I missing?

    • says

      I would try to get out of tax law and do something closer to finance… most lawyers who make the move are doing corporate law or restructuring. There’s no way you would start as an analyst, associate would be most likely.

  23. says

    Hi, I think ur blog is great with relation to lawyers getting into investment banking. the information you provide is really helpful. Well
    I am in a major fix, and it would be generous of you to help out….

    I am pursuing a five year law course named BBA. LL.B, the first three years were BBA( business administration) and the last two years with a major in law. I want to make a career in investmnet banking. Due to the BBA course I have sufficient knowledge in Finance and accounting and corporate finance subjects, like ratio anlysis, cost volume profit ratio, time value, annuities, risk analysis.

    I am opting for a MSc in finance or a MS finance from a reputed business school. will this help me to get into investment banking or other banks as an analyst or an associate.

      • says

        What about universities in scotland and England, precisely UK, I have got into University of Stirling in Scotland for the course, MSc Investment Analysis, which shares a partner program status with the CFA and is CFA certified, The course curriculum is good and realistic and covers 70% of the CFA course…….. what do you say, if i do the course in which sectors can I apply….

        I am also awaiting response from Manchester Business School for MSc Finance,

        Can u say which course is better suited for me with regard to my background and future returns , Investment Analysis or Finance.

        • says

          I’m not familiar with that program specifically, but Finance is broader and I think Investment Analysis would be better for wealth management and related fields.

  24. rubee says

    Hi, great blog. I am a law graduate (am 25 with a bachelors and a masters degree in law) and have been offered a job with a boutique PE firm. Eventually I would like to move out of the boutique firm setting after 1-2 years and work in a bigger PE firm or bulge bracket bank.

    would such a transition be possible? If not why not?

    Thanks!

    Rubee.

      • Paula says

        Hey,

        Your blog is awesome. I am about to start in BIGLAW with a V15 firm in the corporate department doing AM. I plan to be there 4-5 years. I would eventually like to transition into PE but know the jump is difficult straight from law. Would you recommend getting an IB cert from a place like Stern which reviews things like modeling, etc. If so, would you think that would allow one to skip the middle step at an Ibank.

        • says

          Honestly most certifications are useless and no substitute for real banking experience, so generally I think it’s not a great idea.

  25. Paula says

    Okat that sounds good. Thanks for the advice. Now other than working in the firm in the M&A or Fund Practice, what would you recommend in order to help a lawyer make a transition into banking ( financial sponsors group) if the MBA is not possible. In that case, would an institute (e.g. ibtraining, training the street, etc.) be helpful to demonstrate finance background needed to get the position?

    • says

      It helps but work experience trumps everything. Oh, and obviously I have to say that BIWS is a better choice than all of those in the interest of being completely biased…

  26. biglawyer says

    Thanks for all the great advice!! I’m definitely recommending this site to friends and colleagues…

    I’m a junior attorney trying to decide which practice group to commit to (for the next few years) — securities or M&A. Which is more useful for exit options in Finance generally? I-banking in particular?

  27. Ngome says

    I’m glad I came across your blog today as it will now be part of my daily reading.

    I am a junior finance major and always thought about Bschool but now have an interest in Lschool. I guess its because of the 2008 financial crisis and I have the ‘desire to know.’ I have an interest to work as an analyst in M&I. What would be the best route, I would like your input on some options:

    1. Finance degree, IB training school (www.ibtraining.com) and go to law school.

    2. MBA

    3. JD

    4. JD/MBA

    Thanks

    • says

      Um, the best option is to get into M&A right out of school by doing an internship this year… so I would say none of the above. Avoid law school as it’s almost useless for finance. Either get in now, or do an MBA and get in later on.

  28. alex says

    Hey – Great site. I’m a third year lawyer, doing a mix of M&A and other corporate work. I keep hearing that I-bankers make more money than we do, but the compensation numbers I’ve seen on your site are less than I make. I’m interested in banking/finance and am interested in moving that direction, but three years of law school was expensive. If I could get a job as an a) analyst or b) associate, with a i) major investment bank or ii) a smaller shop, at what point would the move begin to pay off? (As you probably know, “BIGLAW” attorneys start at $160/year and go up ~$10K/year, with small bonuses these days…)

    • says

      That is more than Analysts, but investment banking Associates make more than $160K. $200K first year if you include base salary + bonus and then it goes up by more than $10K per year. They would not hire you as an analyst, so the best option would be start as an associate at a large bank if you can, otherwise go somewhere smaller.

  29. DW says

    Hi, awesome site you have here. I’m a third year lawyer in a leading law firm with experience mostly in funds work and M&As, and I am also a CFA level 1 holder. My work experience in funds involves advising asset managers on a range of matters relating to fund formation including setting up of funds, advising on the structure of funds and licensing requirements for fund managers. I’m keen on becoming a portfolio/fund manager in one of the asset management houses. What do you think are my odds of making the switch given my background? If you think my chances are low, what do you think I should do next to improve my odds of making the switch? Would moving on to get CFA level 2 and 3 improve my odds into making the transition, and would continuing to work in legal as a funds lawyer until I become partner make the switch easier? Thanks!

    • says

      I am not a big fan of the CFA, so that will not help much… best thing you can do right now is start networking with clients / former clients and leveraging that to break in. Switching over as a Partner could be a good option but it depends on how close you are right now, if it’s still 4-5 years away I would make the move now

  30. Nick Naylor says

    Great site, great insights….

    My situation is as follows:

    -Business undergrad degree from good northeast regional non-ivy graduated top 10 percent of class
    -Lousy law school in northeast but very top of class (2%) and heavy course work regarding corporate finance and transaction; graduating early in Dec.
    -Big 4 Finance/tax post-merger structuring summer gig lined up also small regional I-bank internship in line for fall semester.
    -Well versed in corp. finance and modeling (the latter more so from personal reading and practice)

    What are the odds of, in Beginning of 2011:

    -breaking into that Big 4’s corporate finance group?; or
    -breaking into I-banking elsewhere?

    Note: I have good contacts with major banks but coming in as an associate with no work experience was a difficult feat even for the very well connected. Thanks in advance.

    • says

      Big 4 corporate finance has much better odds than i-banking, but you could potentially do either one. To have a good shot at banking you’ll probably have to target smaller firms and network very aggressively whereas it won’t be quite as difficult with Big 4 corporate finance.

  31. Lawkid says

    I am a first year associate working at a Vault 15 law firm. I know that I eventually would either like to end up in either HF or PE and I will do this through an Ibanking route (attempting to go into ibanking after a few years at the firm).
    What practice group do you think would be better to accomplish this. M&A or a fund group (asset management). I have heard from many M&A is the best but I wanted to see your perspective. Thanks for the great advice.

  32. says

    Great site. Thanks for all of the posts so far.

    My situation is:

    -Went to a top 5 law school directly after college
    -Worked at a top 5 law firm doing transactional, non-M&A work for 2.5 yrs
    -Lateraled over to a top 25 law firm and did M&A / PE work for 4.5 yrs
    -Economy tanked and partnership prospects went from great to zero
    -Law firms and banks were both firing, not hiring, so enrolled in a top 10 MBA program
    -Recently accepted a summer internship at a bulge bracket I-bank

    When I finish the MBA program next year, what are the odds of going into an I-bank as something more than a 1st year associate? Pre-crash, someone with my experience could have lateraled into banking (without getting an MBA) as somewhere between a 2nd year associate and a VP. Where do things stand now and what’s the best way to play my hand? Thanks in advance.

    • says

      You can ask them about it but I don’t think you could go much beyond a 2nd year Associate. I would just bring it up at the end of your internship when you hopefully get an offer, and indicate that you want to be considered for a 2nd year position.

  33. says

    Great site and advice.

    Spent 3/4 years practicing M&A in a top law firm and I am seriously thinking about the switch to finance. Market unfortunately still kinda sucks… but I am happy to hear if you think things will get better anytime soon or if there are any places you would try rather than others.

    From reading prior posts I gather that going straight into PE/HF is virtually impossible without an experience in Ibanking. I have some contacts in NYC at large banks but things seem to going pretty slowly. However, I have some friends in top banks in Brazil. Would an experience in Brazil be transportable back to NYC (for ibanking or PE/HF jobs) once the market picks up in the US?

    Thanks a lot!

  34. James says

    Hey Brian,

    I’m going to be starting as a FT analyst at a BB this summer and I’m considering what higher education path I want to pursue in a few years. If i decided to pursue a JD/MBA following 2-3 years in banking and a couple years in PE(hopefully), would I be able to return to finance assuming I practiced law for a little while? Thanks in advance for your response.

    • says

      You could do that, but they might question why you did law and are now trying to move back into finance. But as long as you do pre-MBA banking it should be ok

  35. John A. says

    Amazing site, just had a quick question:

    I was finance undergrad (ivy) and went straight to JD-MBA (ivy) with no work exp. I’m leaning towards going into corp law, but I’ve always had a strong interest in finance, particularly banking, and I did a summer of wealth management junior year (cool but too slow for me).

    Ultimately I want HF/PE, but would consider working through IBD ranks. What are my chances of just going straight into IBD as an associate? And what’s the best way to make this happen? I could go into biglaw and try to make the switch, but I’d rather go straight into banking, especially since I’m doing the MBA now.

    Thoughts?

    Thanks so much-

    • says

      It will be almost impossible to get in as an Associate with no work experience. Your best best is to do a few years of corporate law and get in like that – otherwise banks will be very skeptical. You pretty much need 3-5 years of work experience to be competitive at the Associate level.

      • John A. says

        I agree that it would be tough to come in as an Associate. But I’m still going to have an MBA, and I have access to IBD recruiting. I wouldn’t come in as a first year analyst, would I?

        • says

          They wouldn’t know where to put you, which is the problem. Banks are very rigid and bankers are creatures of habit. They hire people fresh out of university to be analysts, and they hire people with 3-5 years of experience from MBA programs to be associates. If you’re in between, you’re in limbo – which is the problem.

  36. Gbanking says

    My questions relates to the previous questions. I too would like to go into PE or HF (BTW I will be using your course to help). No Finance experience, currently practice M&A law in top NY firm. I went straight from undergrad (top state school) to law school (T-14). I have many contacts at one of the elite BBs and was told that I would enter as an analyst. I am hoping not a first year. Two questions do you know the salaries all in for analysts in IBD or S&T? Do you think this is something I could negotiate since I would have about 1 to 1.5 years corp law experience and a J.D. Second, what should I be doing to get myself in a senior analyst position at least? I have been told by bankers that for IBD the switch should be made within two years so you dont get branded as a lawyer. Thanks.

    • says

      Look at the bonus and salary articles on the site for that information… usually 1st years are $70K base and increase by $10K per year. Salaries are not negotiable but you might be able to start as a 2nd year analyst instead. To enter as a 2nd year instead try to show some evidence of independent finance study, working directly with clients, and so on. A lot of it comes down to the bank, large firms are usually less open to skipping analyst years than smaller banks.

  37. gargi purandare says

    Hi,
    I am a penultimate year law student at the National Law School of India University Bangalore, India, and I wish to take up investment banking as my career… I wanted to know about the banks which recruit undergraduate law students.
    Thanks!
    Cheers!

    • says

      Hardly anyone recruits undergraduate law students – that is why I recommend moving into corporate law first / possibly doing an MBA as stated in the article

  38. Vincent says

    Extremely informative site, tremendously helpful. I’m very grateful.

    I’m an undergraduate student who has just graduated not long ago in law (first degree). I’ve only had law related work experience up until this point – internships at international law firms, and have not yet had any finance experience. I only just realized that I truly wanted to be in finance and should have picked finance and/or mathematics at degree level.

    After reading the advice around the site, applying to investment banks – boutique and bulge bracket – for analyst positions, seems to be the best option in any case, and especially since I eventually want to end up in VC/PE/HF.

    Being worried, what backup option should I have should there be a lack of analyst openings due to my not having had finance experience? Are there any positions helpful for investment banking analyst positions that I could pursue in the meantime, like perhaps assistants to analysts?

    Many thanks.

    • says

      Think about other finance positions that might be easier to get into, such as wealth management. Lawyers are at an advantage when applying for restructuring / distressed jobs in banking or investing because there is a lot of overlap with the law as well.

  39. Raef says

    Very interesting post – definitely provides some context and a reality check.

    Understanding you receive tons of these types of comments, I was curious if you have any thoughts on whether I am a credible candidate for a PE shop. My story:

    1. Quantitative undergrad background, near-1600 SAT scores, etc.
    2. JD from a top 3 law school, near the top of my class
    3. Work at a top 5 law firm doing tax – about two years in, I’ve worked on at least 4-5 PE M&A deals in which I’ve had some client contact. In one case I helped a couple of analysts and in-house people model the tax impact of an acquisition and found that although I don’t have the excel shortcut skills of the analysts, I’m pretty strong on numbers and had no trouble understanding their model and IRR calculations.
    4. Enthusiast-level interest in finance/investing. I’ve read most of the classics, read through Brealey/Myers on my own, and frequent activist investor blogs and sometimes read 10-K’s for fun.

    Is there any way I could be taken seriously by PE funds? Is there anything I can and should be doing? Should I be taking classes? Trying to network like crazy? Apply to HBS or Wharton (frankly though, I’m 29 already and tired of spending $50k a year on school)? All of or some of the above? Certainly, I don’t have a traditional finance resume; I don’t even have the traditional law to finance resume, but I definitely believe I have the intellectual ability, drive, and interest to provide major value to the right shop. Is this world basically closed off to me?

    • says

      Maybe, it’s hard to say because PE still hires banking analysts 99% of the time. I would try to network with some of your clients / former clients first and see where that leads, if that does not work maybe business school is the better option.

  40. Kenneth says

    Hello Brian:

    I have asked this question before but in the VC Blog. I have an Engineering background in Manufacturing. I had some steel industry experience but mostly in maintenance & reliability. I am currently employed at a Municipal government doing a similiar job. I’d like to break into Merger & Acquisition or Portfolio Management. I am planning to do the MBA this Fall or Winter 2011. I am not from the US. I am from Canada. Is it similiar to the VC industry that M&A is relatively small in Canada? Which MBA school is the best for this industry Where can I network my way up? and How? Should I go for some Finance courses instead? Would that be value-added? Or business skills are more important? Thanks.

    Reply

  41. Mike2010 says

    One of my dreams that I always had was to get into investment banking or M&A. I hope I am not too late. I am 26 now with a BSBA from Suffolk University in Boston in International Business. Currently working towards taking the GMAT and an MBA program.

    My work experience is varied. Six months accounting at a major fund accounting firm in Boston, followed by a one year stint as a finance/operations manager at one of my family’s firms in Eastern Europe in charge of around 25 people (dry-cleaning) and after returning, real-estate for the past year+ in Boston.
    For me it is extremely easy to communicate with people and has always been. Background wise I have been around rich business-men since I was a child, so I know and understand the environment of international travel and business. I have no issue with working 80-100 hours+ a week as I know the money compensates that.

    Currently looking at BU/BC/Bentley/Babson as schools, although I am also shooting for Harvard/MIT but that may be far fetched.

    My question is, is it too late? If not, what is the usual path one takes, is there a basic direction to go about doing it?

    Thank you!

    • says

      That’s fine but you really need to aim for top MBA programs to have a shot at breaking in… think Wharton / Harvard / Stanford / MIT, maybe a few top state schools as well.

      • Mike2010 says

        Thank you for the response! Is this a general requirement of smaller investment banks and M&A firms as well (non-bulge-bracket) to go to Ivy League? I was thinking that if it is this hard to break in, maybe start smaller and grow over time.

  42. Hope says

    I am an Indian qualified lawyer working with a law firm specialising in PE. i want to go for an MBA after 4-5 years of wrk experience.

    whar are my chances of being recruited by a PE company after doing my MBA. Also what other scope of recruitment i will have after my mBA

  43. Rumin says

    Brian,

    Great website–it has been very helpful in teaching me how to network.

    Here’s my story:
    – graduated in 2008 from a top 3 ivy league with a 3.7 (I’m young – just turned 23)
    – was a varsity athlete
    – no previous internships in finance. internships have been in marketing and merchandizing
    – currently work as a paralegal at at big 10
    – looking to break into ib

    What are my chances? Should I continue to pursue via networking, or am I better off applying to business school? I worry I am too far out of college to be considered for analyst positions, but also worry b-school won’t help as I’m still up against the kids that were analysts/associates prior to b-school. If the answer is networking, should I be cold emailing/calling with the “building a relationship, e.g. I’d like to hear about your experience” approach or should I flat out ask if they are looking for interns/ entry level analysts? Also, what are your thoughts on taking a financial training course such as AnEx?

    • says

      I would reach out to boutiques for a few months and see what the reaction is… use a combination of info. interviews and cold-calling but be more direct since you’re already working. If that doesn’t work, think about business school in 1-2 years. For training programs, I have my own (see side of the page) so I am obviously biased there.

  44. Colin says

    Brian,

    The tips you provide are fantastic.

    I’m a recent graduate of a very good but not quite T14 law school in NYC. I went to school directly from undergrad at the University of Michigan where I majored in economics. I had a 3.3ish GPA at Michigan but a 3.6ish GPA in my economics concentration. At law school, after a rough first year GPA of 2.8 I managed to finish with a 3.45 and a fairly high ranking.

    I’ve been considering switching into finance while in school and the legal market pretty much collapsed right during my second year and has yet to recover. So it looks like I would have a hard time getting a position as a lawyer at a big enough firm to do corporate work to use to lateral to investment banking. In addition, I’m really in way too much debt to really consider going back to school again at any really pricey program (and thus most highly regarded programs).

    Practically, can I even network my way into IB out of law school? I don’t have any real experience in finance and the associate/analyst classification problem you illustrated seems to work against me. I would be more than willing to do a number of things such as: 1. try for an IB internship, but are they even available to post graduates outside of their structured junior year recruiting? 2. Go to a recruiter for IB jobs/internships but do IB firms even use recruiters the way PE firms do? 3. Go back to school on the cheap, possibly even to the Michigan BBA program for another undergrad degree in a target environment because it would be cheap for me, but is that too extreme?

    I’m really torn on the direction to take right now because it seems like most options discussed really will not be options for me, mostly because of the bad legal market, my debt, my experience, ect.

    • says

      You could do that but it’s quite tough / you would have to convince banks to take you rather than cheaper undergraduates for internships. Recruiters are useless unless you’ve had extensive full-time work experience. I would not do an MBA without 3-5 years of full-time work experience.

      I would stick with networking at this point and focus on smaller firms where your legal background may be an advantage (e.g. in restructuring or distressed M&A) – getting an internship is still your best bet out of those options.

  45. Ed2010 says

    Hi!

    Amazing blog.

    I am 24 years old.

    I have a law degree from a top university in Portugal. I have, at the moment 1,5 years experience at a top law firm here and will have to stay here for another 2/2,5 years. I’m at the M&A and Banking/Finance group where many of our clients are BB. I also did a secondment at a bb (in London), in private banking however.

    The way I see it, is that the only chance I have at breaking into IB (in the US preferentially) is through a MBA at a top US Bschool, right?

    Is there anything you suggest I do to improve my odds?

    My first year at the firm, I was part-time (because I was taking a LLM), how do I count that as work experience? As one year or as nothing?

    Thank you in advance

    Eduardo

    • says

      Not really, you could network with banks and former clients after you’ve been in law for another 1-2 years… lots of lawyers actually move in directly without an MBA, though it would definitely help if you got it. Working in the US is almost impossible due to visa restrictions, so you should either do a US MBA to get there or start at a European office and then transfer to the US. I would still count the first year as work experience in terms of the dates but just indicate on your CV that it was part time.

  46. Warren says

    If i did an LL.B. from a well known Canadian Law School and have a good 3-4 years of Corporate Law under my belt, do i have a good shot on Investment Banking ?

    I heard some banks had Mini-MBA Programs for the non-traditionnal applicants, is that true ?

    I did a Business degree ( Finance ) in undergrad and went to Law School straight out B-School, will that help me out during the application process ?

    Thanks in advance.

    • says

      You have a decent shot, it’s very dependent on networking though. Not sure about the mini-MBA programs. The business degree will help.

  47. Kelvin says

    This is such an awesome blog! So informative and practical!

    I have a question about graduate studies. I am planning on my further study and I think it is good to learn a different skill set. Would it be a hindrance to a career in sales & trading if I study a Graduate Diploma in Law(a conversion course for 1 year for non-law graduates) after finishing my Economics degree? Do you recommend taking a finance related Master’s degree instead?

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