Law is a competitive profession, but it’s one that is open to everyone, regardless of background or degree subject. If you think this is the career for you, don’t let any preconceptions of what the legal profession is like hold you back from becoming a solicitor. However, for the best chance of beating the competition, you should know what strategies other aspiring solicitors are using and plan your own training contract hunt accordingly. To help you along your way, we’ve picked out the key findings from the Graduate Survey 2018 and highlighted four strategies that you should put into action.
The Graduate Survey 2018 was conducted by Trendence UK, a research partner of Group GTI (TARGETjobs’ parent company). This year, a total of 73,517 students took part in the survey and answered questions about their attitudes towards graduate employers; we are focusing on responses from those students who expressed an interest in law firms.
- Find out more about the methodology of the Graduate Survey and see the full top 300 rankings.
- See which solicitor’s firms ranked in the top ten.
What are students doing to help their training contract hunt?
Four top tips for boosting your training contract hunt
1. Work experience is an absolute must for aspiring solicitors
The vast majority of students who expressed an interest in working for law firms had done work experience: 69% of penultimate-year students and 75% of final-year students had some form of experience related to their degree course (and 72% of students who expressed an interest in solicitor careers studied a law-related degree). An even higher proportion of penultimate- and final-year students (86%) had experience unrelated to their course.
Work experience, which is most frequently available through vacation schemes, is a key step in the road to becoming a solicitor. Many firms will use their vacation schemes (which last between one and three weeks in length) as part of the recruitment process for training contracts – students who impress during a vacation placement may, for instance, be invited directly through to an assessment centre for a training contract.
More and more firms are now also offering insight schemes and open days for first-year students, which will allow you to find out more about a firm and show your commitment to law early on in your degree. Clifford Chance have even started to recruit for their training contract through their first-year insight programme, SPARK. To give yourself the best chance of securing a training contract place, make sure you have relevant work experience and try and get it as early as possible.
- Learn more about vacation placements, the benefits of them and when you should apply.
- Find out more about legal work experience options for first-year students.
- Considering becoming a barrister? Here’s everything you need to know about mini-pupillages.
2. Choose law firms and training contracts that suit you
Out of the students interested in law firms, 30% of respondents said that a high starting salary was ‘very important’ to them when choosing an employer. This is significantly higher than the average figure for all students, where only 22% called a high starting salary ‘very important’, and the figure for students interested in careers as a barrister (23%). It’s also worth noting that a further 47% of students interested in law firms ranked a high starting salary as ‘important’.
The survey showed that aspiring solicitors, on average, expected a starting salary of £29,534. This salary expectation is not unfounded. Many law firms offer starting salaries which match this expectation and City law firms' salaries can often exceed this figure by thousands of pounds.
- Our salary survey has information on how much trainees and newly-qualified solicitors can earn at a number of firms.
Similarly, 26% of students said that the status and prestige of the law firm was a ‘very important’ factor for them, compared to 22% for aspiring barristers and 17% across all sectors. A majority of students surveyed that were interested in solicitor’s firms said that a good work/life balance (54%) was very important to them. However, this is still lower than the average figure for all surveyed student (58%). Certainly, at City and commercial firms, life as a solicitor is likely to involve long hours compensated by higher levels of remuneration – and so the findings that the students interested in law firms put more value on high salaries and prestige, and place less value on work/life balance than the average student, suggests that they have realistic expectations of work life.
You should choose a law firm and a training contract that suits you. If factors such as high starting salary and the employer’s status aren’t high on your priority list when choosing an employer, it’s worthwhile expanding your search outside of the highest paying or most prestigious firms in the City. Create a list ranking the factors that are most important to you in an employer. These could be: the training on offer, the level of responsibility trainees have, the areas of practice the firm specialises in, the type of client the firm works with, the location of the firm, the culture of the firm and so on. When you’re looking at potential law firms to apply to, compare them with your list. You’re more likely to enjoy working, and do well, at a firm with values that are close to your own. By creating a shortlist of employers that match your criteria, you can prioritise applying for these and make your training contract hunt more manageable too.
- Read more about the factors that you should be thinking about when choosing a training contract.
- To help you put together your shortlist, read our Inside Buzz reviews to see how current trainee solicitors rated their firms’ culture, training, hours, offices – and more.
3. Start interacting with employers through careers fairs and more
Law firms regularly work with universities and law societies to organise opportunities for students to connect with the firms through events such as careers fairs, guest talks and lectures, and networking events. Many firms may use these events as a first step of sorts for their recruitment process, so it’s crucial that aspiring solicitors make the most of these opportunities.
The most popular method for the surveyed aspiring solicitors to engage with law firms was through careers fairs, with 59% of students indicating a preference for this. Furthermore, 83% of aspiring solicitors said that they had attended a careers fair at their university, with 14% saying that they’d attended a fair at another university. The second most popular way for students to interact with law firms was through networking evenings/dinners (57%).
If you’ve not already, join your university’s law society. Sign up for any upcoming law fairs or events. When attending fairs, do you research to find out which firms will be attending beforehand and come prepared with tailored questions. Firms will be on the lookout for, and will remember, impressive candidates. You may want to come prepared with copies of your CV or a link to an up-to-date LinkedIn profile you can direct recruiters to. When attending networking events, get talking to the legal professionals and start to build a relationship with them. As well as being a valuable source of advice, when it comes to training contract applications, having an existing relationship with a lawyer at the firm who can endorse your skills cannot hurt.
- Six ways that attending a law fair can help pave the way to a training contract.
- TARGETjobs runs a number of events to help students gain an insight into City law careers. Pre-register to attend these events now.
- Read top networking tips for aspiring lawyers here.
4. Make the most of LinkedIn and other social networks for your training contract search
Social networks can be valuable tools for securing training contract offers: they can help you to showcase yourself and connect with lawyers and law firms. 77% of students interested in careers at law firms said they are already using LinkedIn for careers purposes, while 26% used Facebook and 25% used Twitter for careers purposes.
If you’re not already on the professional networking site LinkedIn, sign up and be a part of the 77% who are using LinkedIn to showcase their skills and achievements, network with legal professionals and join relevant groups to find out more about the areas of law they are interested in. If you’ve already got a LinkedIn profile, make sure it’s up to date and puts forward the best possible picture of you (both in terms of the image you use and the skills and experiences you choose to highlight) – a polished profile page could be your introduction to law firms at careers fairs. You can also follow lawyers’, law firms’ and legal publications’ accounts on Twitter and Facebook to keep up to date with developments in the profession. Social media is also a way to keep in touch with legal professionals you might meet at careers fairs and networking events. By connecting with or following these professionals, you can interact with them and build valuable relationships.