Your training contract: a 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.

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A training contract at a law firm is one step on the path to becoming a solicitor. Stay ahead of the competition by finding out what training contracts are and how and when to apply.

Solicitors provide legal advice and represent their clients’ interests. They spend a lot of time researching cases, writing legal documents and liaising with other professionals. The role brings together legal knowledge and people skills; to build these, you’ll need to undertake a period of legal work experience, which can be in the form of a training contract, as well as completing legal studies.

How do I become a trainee solicitor?

A new qualification pathway introduced in 2021 means that the route to becoming a solicitor has more flexibility than it did previously. The path combines exams – the solicitors’ qualifying examination parts 1 and 2, for which a range of preparation courses has been developed – and a period of ‘qualifying work experience’ in which you start to apply your legal knowledge to resolve clients’ problems.

Training contracts are one of the ways you can choose to complete this work experience, and if you take up a training contract, you’ll be known as a trainee solicitor.

Where could I get a training contract?

Most training contracts are with law firms. However, some other organisations offer them too: for example, the Government Legal Profession (GLP) and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), whose training contracts are known as legal trainee schemes. You may also find training contracts with companies’ in-house legal departments.

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: make the most of vacation schemes, open days and student events to gain insights 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. Many firms will look at A level grades or UCAS points too, as competition is fierce: some firms receive thousands of applications for a handful of trainee roles. On the other hand, large City firms recruit for up to hundred trainees at a time, so there are opportunities for candidates with the right skills and academic success, and the ability to demonstrate these.

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.

When should I apply for a training contract?

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.

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’s 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. You’ll have a supervisor for each seat, who’ll guide you in your work and answer questions.

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 for your first attempt. 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. Many 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: plenty of solicitors choose to stay as senior assistants or work as in-house lawyers for large companies or charities.

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