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The lowdown on training contracts

Your training contract: the first step to becoming a solicitor

If you want to become a solicitor you'll need to secure a training contract first. Stay ahead of the competition by finding out about working life in law firms and entry routes for your graduate career in law.
Your role as a trainee solicitor is likely to depend on the size of law firm you work for and the sort of work it does.

Solicitors provide legal advice, find solutions to problems and represent clients in negotiations. They spend a lot of time meeting with clients, researching cases, writing legal documents and liaising with other professionals. It all starts with a training contract (or 'period of recognised training' as it's also known), so if all this sounds like the kind of job you’d like, read on – competition for training contracts is stiff and you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to stay on track.

How do I become a trainee solicitor?

There's a set path you'll need to follow to become a solicitor. If you don’t have a law degree you’ll first need to complete a law conversion course, known as the common professional examination (CPE) or graduate diploma in law (GDL). Both law graduates and conversion course graduates then need to study the legal practice course (LPC), which is a vocational course designed to help you apply law to practical issues. After this you’ll need to complete a training contract, usually with a solicitors’ firm. During this time you’ll be known as a trainee solicitor. Once you’ve completed your training contract successfully you’ll be allowed to call yourself a solicitor. Training contracts usually last for two years but, under the new Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) regulations, they can be completed over a longer period if working or studying part time. 

Isn't the qualification process due to change? 

Yes. The SRA is introducing the Solicitors Qualifying Examination or SQE in 2020. 

Where could I work as a trainee solicitor?

Most training contracts are with law firms, although some other legal organisations – such as the Government Legal Service (GLS),  Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and companies in-house legal departments – also offer them. Law firms vary in size and client base, with some firms taking on mainly corporate and commercial clients and others offering legal services to private individuals. Working cultures vary enormously as a result: legal work experience such as open days and vacation schemes can give you an insight into how different law firms operate. 

How do I get a training contract?

The majority of law firms require candidates to have or be expecting a minimum 2.1 degree. The sector is competitive but if you’ve got the grades and the skills you shouldn’t be discouraged: some City law firms recruit up to 100 graduates every year, so there are plenty of opportunities.
Many firms recruit two years in advance, so law students need to apply in their second year and non-law students should apply in their final year. Most large law firms recruit online, and there’s no denying that competition for training contracts is fierce. But you can keep ahead of the competition by knowing what recruiters want to see in an application and by following their advice when applying – make sure you know each firm’s application deadline, for example, and check your application carefully for typos. You can improve your chances of securing a training contract by researching firms carefully, making good use of recruitment events and matching your skills to those that firms are asking for. Read the advice legal recruiters are offering on this site to make your application the best it can be.

What will my training contract involve? 

Training contracts are regulated by the SRA, the independent regulatory body of the Law Society. Your employer will have to ensure that you experience at least three different legal practice areas under the supervision of more senior lawyers. In most firms this will be through doing ‘seats’ (placements) in different departments. The number of seats varies from firm to firm, but it is typical for trainees to complete four six-month seats (often returning in their last seat to the department they’d like to work in once they qualify). However, some firms opt for a larger number of shorter seats while others, such as Jones Day, choose not to have any but ensure that trainees get involved with different types of work while staying in one place. 

Your role as a trainee solicitor is likely to depend on the size of law firm you work for and the sort of work it does. In large commercial firms you’re likely to be one of many lawyers working on a case or transaction and have responsibility for discrete tasks within it; in smaller firms you may work with just one or two others or even have day-to-day responsibility for particular cases yourself. Wherever you train, though, typical tasks are likely to include drafting agreements, corresponding with clients and other solicitors, conducting research and attending client meetings.

Will I have to do any further formal training courses as a trainee solicitor?

Yes, you must complete the professional skills course (PSC). This covers financial and business skills, advocacy and communication skills, and client care and professional standards, as well as various electives. Some firms will run this in-house but all are obliged to allow you to attend and pay your fees. During your training contract you’ll also have at least three formal appraisals. 

What will happen at the end of my training contract?

Once you have successfully completed your training contract you will be entered on the Law Society’s roll of solicitors and will be known as a newly qualified (NQ) solicitor or assistant solicitor. Most NQs choose to stay with the firm they trained at but you’re not committed to do so (nor is your firm obliged to keep you on). As a qualified solicitor you will continue to take on more responsibility and have more client contact. For many, the ultimate goal is to become a partner. Firms are owned and run by a group of partners who are responsible for bringing in new work, handling clients and managing the firm’s direction. However, partnership isn’t for everyone: many solicitors choose to stay as senior assistants or work as in-house lawyers for large companies or charities.

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