Your application timeline: key dates for getting hired as a trainee solicitor

Commercial law firms tend to recruit trainee solicitors up to two years in advance, so you'll need to plan ahead to get a training contract and launch your graduate career in law.

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The timetable for when you need to apply for different stages of the solicitor qualification process (the legal practice course, LPC, and the solicitors qualifying examination, SQE) is less fixed than it was, but it is still important to do certain things at certain times of year. Be aware that deadlines for training contract applications vary and many of the larger firms no longer stick to the traditional 31 July cut-off date, with some falling as early as the previous December. Some firms, meanwhile, have always had a rolling application deadline – particularly smaller and high street firms.

Search for training contracts, vacation schemes and law open days on targetjobs.

Application checklist: second-year law or final-year non-law students

Autumn

  • Research, research, research! Where do you want to work? What areas of law would you like to practise?
  • Draft a CV and get it checked by a careers adviser at your university careers service.
  • Attend your university campus law fair ( read our tips on how to impress ) and employer events, which can be made available direct from law firms, through your careers services or via companies such as targetjobs .
  • Non-law students: apply for a conversion course – the GDL/CPE/PGDL or a combined conversion and SQE preparation course – if you choose to undertake one (it is advised but not mandatory).
  • Non-law students: apply for winter vacation schemes or placements (most deadlines fall in October and November).
  • Law students: research Easter and summer vacation placements.

Winter, Christmas vacation and spring

  • Apply for summer vacation placements – some firms' deadlines are in December; many are in January.
  • Investigate open days – another excellent way to gain an insight into law firms. Deadlines are often in January and February. Read our tips on making the most of open days .
  • Start applying for training contracts or periods of qualifying work experience if you’re on the SQE (some firms set deadlines as early as December, January and March).

Summer

  • Continue applying for training contracts (some law firms have a 31 July application deadline, while others go earlier in the summer)
  • Apply for vacation placements with smaller firms.
  • Take part in vacation placements. If you haven’t been fortunate in securing one, try contacting smaller firms or start enquiring about Christmas placements and undertake other work experience in commercial environments.
  • Be available for training contract assessment centres and interviews .

Application checklist: final-year law students or conversion course students

Autumn

  • Finalise your funding options and be clear about closing dates for funding applications.
  • Be available for interviews . Don’t forget to reread your applications beforehand.
  • Apply for the legal practice course (LPC) if you accepted a place on a conversion course before September 2021.
  • Consider revisiting law fairs or applying for legal work experience if you were not successful in your training contract applications the first time around.

Spring

  • Enrol with the Law Society. You must be a student member to do the LPC.
  • Get organised for your exams. Legal practice requires a sharp intellect and graduate recruiters in law firms expect to see evidence of a consistently strong academic record on your training contract application. If there are or have been genuine mitigating circumstances affecting your exam results, make sure you mention these on your application.

Summer

  • Acceptance deadline for an LPC place.
  • If you are choosing to undertake the SQE independently rather than as part of a training contract, you can apply in June or July, but many SQE preparation courses will have multiple start dates and deadlines to apply.
  • Make the most of any opportunities to gain relevant experience or expand your legal knowledge: from volunteering with Citizens Advice through to seeking out learning resources, such as Clifford Chance’s virtual internships.

Gap years for graduates who want training contracts

Many firms are happy for you to take a gap year before starting your training contract and a number offer training contracts beginning in March as well as September, but if you do want time out you'll want to plan for it in advance and use it well, as having unexpected time on your hands can put pressure on your finances as well as creating a potentially awkward gap in your CV. Attending recruiters’ events and law fairs will help you keep on top of deadlines as you’ll be able to ask questions and check application deadlines in recruitment literature.

Making your own bespoke application calendar is one way to keep track of what you need to do and when. Discuss your ideas with a careers adviser and consider mapping out your plans on a project planning app (such as Trello or MS Planner) or on a big pieces of paper.

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