Seen as the final hurdle before qualifying, a training contract gives you the opportunity to put what you've learned into practice
What is a training contract?
Also known as period of recognised training, a training contract is where trainee solicitors put into practice the skills they've learned while studying. If taken full time they take two years to complete. Some firms offer part-time training contracts but these take longer - you should speak to individual firms if this is of interest to you.
You'll do a number of 'seats', which are generally six-month stints in four different departments. Some firms require you to work in a particular department, while others ask you for your preference. You'll be given a supervisor who will answer your questions and assign you tasks.
There is also the opportunity for client secondments, which is where you spend one seat with one of your firm's clients. This allows you to build your confidence by taking on projects of your own, as well as giving you the chance to network and understand what the client wants.
As part of your training contract you need to pass the compulsory Professional Skills Course. Your firm will pay for your first attempt. If studied full time it should take 12 days to complete. It includes three core modules:
- financial and business skills
- advocacy and communication skills
- client care and professional standards.
You will also need to do a total of 24 hours of elective training.
While the coronavirus pandemic resulted in some firms delaying the start of their 2020 training contracts, moving them online or cancelling them completely most firms expect recruitment for 2023 training contracts to go ahead as normal this year. While restrictions are easing some 2021 trainees may still be expected to work from home. Contact the firm you’re training with if you have any questions surrounding COVID-restrictions.
Does the SQE affect training contracts?
In a way, yes. The Solicitors Regulation Authority will introduce the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in September 2021. New entrants will still need to complete two years qualifying work experience, but this will no longer be restricted to traditional training contracts.
You'll be able to complete this period of work experience in up to four different organisations and working as a paralegal, traditional training contracts, a placement as part of a sandwich degree and volunteering in a student law clinic or with Citizens Advice all count.
For example, you could complete a two-year training contract at one law firm or, alternatively, carry out six months of pro bono work at your university law clinic and then work as a paralegal for 18 months.
However, at least to start with many firms will stick with training contracts so if you'd like to complete your qualifying legal work experience this way you can.
How do I find a training contract?
Before applying to a firm you should do some research by visiting its website, speaking to past and present trainee solicitors, taking a look at news stories featuring them and seeing what they do on social media. There are a number of factors to consider including:
- practice areas
- partnership opportunities
- quality of training
- size of the firm
- working culture.
For more advice, take a look at top UK law firms. Application processes differ between firms but generally you'll need to complete an online form detailing your academic record, work experience and skills. You'll also need a personal statement, which among other things will need to say why you're attracted to the firm. An academic reference is also sometimes required. Take a look at an example law CV.
To see what's available, search for training contracts.
When do I apply for a training contract?
Most firms look to fill their training contract placements two years in advance, so aim to apply by May or June of your penultimate year (if you're a law student) or in your final year (if you're a non-law student).
In general, sooner rather than later is the best approach. The earlier you apply, the more time you have to tailor your applications.
When are the application deadlines?
Most training contracts at City and national firms have a 31 July deadline. However, deadlines can occasionally change at the last minute so to be certain check individual websites. A number of firms also set their deadlines a little earlier in May or June.
While some firms recruit for training contracts on a rolling basis, others invite candidates for interview before their official deadline has passed so applying as early as possible is good advice which covers all eventualities.
How much are trainee solicitors paid?
There is technically no minimum, although the Law Society recommends that firms pay £22,794 to trainee solicitors in London, and £20,217 to those training outside London.
The minimum salary under the SRA training regulations is the National Minimum Wage, which is reviewed by the government annually. Many firms pay higher salaries though. For example, Magic Circle law firms offer trainee salaries in the region of £45,000 to £48,000.
For a better idea of salary expectations, see how much do lawyers earn?
Can I get a training contract with a 2:2?
It can be difficult for those with a high 2:1 to secure a training contract, so it is even harder for those with a lower degree classification.
If there are extenuating circumstances for your 2:2 or third and there is a particular firm you want to work for, contact them and explain your situation. Whether over the phone or in your cover letter, tell them about everything you've done outside of the classroom - such as legal work experience, a university club or any pro bono work. Explain what you did and the skills you've gained.
While Magic Circle firms are probably out of the question, turn your attention to medium-sized and high street firms. However, these aren't an easy option and you'll still need to prove you can meet the demands of the job without a 2:1. It's unlikely that these firms will advertise their training contracts so get the name of the recruiter/HR manager and send a speculative application detailing why you want to work at the firm and what you can offer.
Don't be disheartened by your 2:2 or third. While grades are important, they need to be paired with skills such as teamwork, effective communication and commercial awareness. Take a look at 7 essential skills for a successful law career.
How do I improve my chances of getting a training contract?
Employers are looking for you to show that you have done your research, know what the firm does and how you'll fit into its culture. The best way to do this is with a targeted cover letter detailing what particular aspects of the firm interest you. Make sure you can support whatever you write as you may be asked about it at interview.
Hand-in-hand with this is a perfect CV and application form - grammatically correct, no spelling mistakes and with all the requested information. While this won't be a deciding factor in getting a training contract, it will certainly help you get to the interview stage. Make sure you double check everything and get someone else to look over it.
With so many applicants it will come down to what you've done to stand out. If you've carried out a vacation scheme, make sure you detail what you did and the skills you've gained - especially if it's at the same firm you're applying to. If you feel you're lacking knowledge you should look to arrange some work experience.
What happens if I don't get a place?
There's no reason why you can't apply again next year but you need to ensure that you use the time before then to improve your CV. One way of doing this is with a vacation scheme. This gives you the opportunity to see how a law firm works, whether the role is for you and it also gives the firm a chance to see what you're like. Alternatively, you could do pro bono work, which will improve your legal skills and give you real-life examples to draw on in training contract interviews.
It's now possible for students to apply to the SRA on the basis that they have met the requirements of a 'period of recognised training' by equivalent means. So if you have legal work experience that has allowed you to gain experience of three areas of law, has been supervised by solicitors or others with relevant experience, and has enabled you to gain the Practice Skills Standards, then you may be able to seek admission.