Jun 08, 2021

Written By Robert Greene

How to accept the offer of a training contract

Jun 08, 2021

Written By Robert Greene

If you are one of the lucky few to get a training contract offer, hats off! Getting a training contract offer is difficult. But that doesn’t mean you should accept straightaway. We’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions on training contract offers so you’re prepared for when it happens to you.

How many people get training contract offers?

The number of people who get a training contract each year is only 6,000 or so. We say “only” because the average number of students qualifying with a law degree each year is about 23,000. That’s about a quarter of law students!

So, if you get a training contract offer, there is certainly cause for celebration. But before you accept your offer, there are a few key considerations you should consider. In particular, you should familiarise yourself with the “Voluntary code of recruitment for trainee solicitors”.

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Voluntary code of recruitment for trainees

As the name suggests, the “voluntary code of recruitment for trainees” is a voluntary policy. Law firms can choose to opt in, though many will.

If you are offered a training contract by a law firm that does follow the code, you will be expected to follow it too. Some law firms may even share the code with you and ask you to read through it before you start working at their firm. The signatories to the code are:

- The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (AGCAS);

- Institute of Student Employers (ISE) (formerly The Association of Graduate Recruiters);

- The Junior Lawyers Division (JLD);

- and The Law Society of England and Wales.

So, what exactly is the code? Essentially, it is a code of best practice. It aims to create a fair and transparent playing field for students, law firms and higher education career advisors in relation to training contract applications and offers.

The code contains a number of obligations for employers and students. To understand how these obligations relate to training contract offers, we’ll take a look at them through the lens of some frequently asked questions (FAQs).

When do law firms make training contract offers?

Law firms can make training contract offers at any point once the application window opens. Some firms recruit on a rolling basis, others recruit exclusively through their vacation schemes.

Firms must set an appropriate deadline for training contract applications, taking into account the academic calendar.

You should be able to find more information on a law firm’s website or by sending an email to the graduate recruitment team.

When do I have to accept my training contract offer?

If you are in your final year of your undergraduate degree, the offer cannot expire or be withdrawn before 15th September of that year or four weeks after the date the offer is made, whichever is later.

If you have already graduated, you must be given four weeks to respond unless the start date is earlier than the four weeks. The offer cannot expire or be withdrawn during that period.

How should I accept a training contract offer?

If you decide to accept the offer, you should confirm in writing before the expiry date.

What if a law firm puts pressure on me to accept?

Law firms should not pressurise or penalise you for waiting until the expiry date to accept the offer. Until that point, you have the right to accept or reject the offer.

Can I accept an offer and still apply for other training contracts?

The short answer is no. If you accept an offer in writing from a law firm, you must write to any other law firms you have received a training contract or vacation scheme offer from to say that you are withdrawing from the recruitment process.

You should also stop making other vacation scheme or training contract applications. The code aims to create a level playing field for law firms and students. This gives other students on the waiting list a chance of getting a training contract at the firm and saves graduate recruitment teams precious time and resources.

Can I hold my offer and still apply for other training contracts?

Yes, you can. You are not obliged to accept a training contract offer straightaway. You should take the time to carefully and seriously consider the offer.

If you have made other training contract applications and have been invited to attend a vacation scheme or interview at another law firm, you are allowed to attend before accepting (or, as the case may be, rejecting) the training contract offer.

However, it is important that you do not miss the deadline for acceptance. If the deadline is four weeks, and you have another vacation scheme in two months, you may need to negotiate an extension.

Can I extend the deadline for acceptance?

If you need more time to consider your options, you can request an extension to the expiry date of the offer. Law firms may grant you an extension if you have a “good reason”. Whilst “good reason” is not defined in the code, an interview or vacation scheme at another law firm may be a good reason.

Most law firms will understand that students have not applied to one firm only and may be sympathetic to the fact that a student has worked hard to secure another vacation scheme or interview and would like to experience this. Training contracts are a two-way process.

The law firm should be right for you, and you should be right for the law firm. If the law firm is keen to train students who will stick with the firm, it should give them every opportunity to make sure that the firm is right for them. And this may include doing a vacation scheme or interview at another law firm.

You should speak to a career advisor about the best way to approach this if it happens to you.

Can I defer my offer after I have accepted?

Training contract offers are often made two or three years in advance. Many law firms will understand that it is hard to plan your life two years down the line. They may be flexible about the start date if you have a compelling reason for deferring.

If you think you will need to defer, it is worth speaking to the graduate recruitment team as early as possible so they have plenty of time to review your circumstances.

What if I cannot attend a training contract interview?

If you can no longer attend an interview for a training contract or vacation scheme, you must inform the law firm at least 48 hours in advance.

What if I do not get a response about a training contract application?

Law firms are obliged to respond to all applicants, whether they are successful or not. If you do not get a response with the outcome, send an email to the graduate recruitment team. Firms should also tell you about any further stages in the selection process if you make it to the interview stage.

What if I accept an offer and then I change my mind?

There is nothing in the code about changing your mind after you have accepted an offer. It is best to speak to a career advisor about how best to handle this situation.

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