A law training contract is where you put all your theoretical knowledge and skills into practice working at a law firm. It's also the final step on the path to becoming a solicitor

What is a training contract?

Also known as period of recognised training, a training contract is where you put into practice the skills you learned while studying. If taken full time it lasts two years. Some firms do offer part-time training contracts but these will obviously take longer to complete - you should speak to individual firms if this is of interest to you.

Normally you do a number of 'seats', which are generally six-month stints in four different departments. Some firms may require you to work in a particular department while others will ask you for your preference. You will be given a supervisor who will answer your questions and assign you tasks.

There has also been an increase in 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.

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 any news stories featuring them and seeing what they do on social media. There are a number of factors to consider including:

  • clients
  • location
  • practice areas
  • partnership opportunities
  • quality of training
  • salaries
  • size of the firm
  • working culture.

For more advice, take a look at top UK law firms. Application processes may 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. Verbal reasoning tests are often used in conjunction with application forms and those who are successful may face an assessment centre before an offer is made.

To see what's available, search for training contracts.

When do I apply for a training contract?

Lots of 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). Most training contracts at City and national firms have a 31 July deadline.

In general, sooner rather than later is the best approach. The earlier you apply, the more time you have to tailor your applications.

How much are trainee solicitors paid?

Previously, law training contracts had a mandatory minimum wage of £16,000, but this was abolished by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) in 2014. Now there is technically no minimum, although the Law Society recommends that firms pay £20,913 to trainee solicitors in London, and £18,547 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 much high salaries though. For example, most major City firms offer training salaries between £40,000 and £45,000. 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, then the first thing to do is them and explain your situation. Whether over the phone or in your cover letter, you should tell them about everything you've done outside of the classroom - such as 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, you should turn your attention to medium-sized and high street firms. However, these certainly 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 you'll need to 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.

You shouldn't get too disheartened by your 2:2 or third. While grades are important, they mean nothing if they're not 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.

Find out how to write a legal CV and cover letter.

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 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 an opportunity 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.

Are there any future developments?

The SRA is currently consulting on a proposal to introduce a national professional examination for all intending solicitors. This is called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE).

In order to qualify as a solicitor, the SRA would also require candidates to have a degree or equivalent qualification and complete a substantial period of practical legal work experience. However, this experience could include working as a paralegal or in a student law clinic, meaning that a training contract will no longer be a necessity.

The SRA has said the SQE will not be introduced before September 2020, and anyone who starts a Qualifying Law Degree (QLD), Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), Legal Practice Course (LPC) or period of recognised training before then will have the choice of qualifying under the current regulations or under the proposed new regulations.

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