Jun 08, 2021

Written By Hannah Evans, Law Students

Interning your way to a training contract

Jun 08, 2021

Written By Hannah Evans, Law Students

Wikipedia defines an internship as “a system of on-the-job training for white-collar and professional careers”. E4’s new reality series, The Work Experience, which gives its oblivious participants the “internship from hell”, labels an intern as a desperate graduate who will do anything to secure the distant, glimmering prospect of employment in the economic downturn. However, with students consistently being told that a degree is not enough to get a job nowadays, perhaps E4 is merely painting the painful reality of the situation.

Internships should be distinguished from apprenticeships; the latter being training programmes aiming to develop competency in a trade or a vocational subject. An apprenticeship is paid and, if accredited, promises a nationally-recognised qualification. An internship, on the other hand, may be unpaid and doesn’t leave you with anything ‘on paper’, as such.

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Apprenticeships in the legal sector

Many of those recruited as apprentices get taken on as full-time employees, although this is not always the case. In September, The Evening Standard launched its Ladder for London campaign which aims to get unemployed young Londoners, who now make up a quarter of 16- to 24-year-olds, into the world of work by way of paid apprenticeships. The first ten young Londoners to be recruited to the scheme began working at investment bank Goldman Sachs this month.

You can also ‘apprentice’ your way into the legal sector - just don’t expect to be made a partner, let alone a solicitor. School leavers taken on by firms as apprentices work as legal executives or paralegals, receiving on-the-job training in legal administration alongside nationally-recognised qualifications from CILEx (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives). The likes of Gordons, Kennedys and DWF already offer legal apprenticeship schemes.

The traditional university route

So whilst there may be a way of ‘apprenticing’ your way into the banking stratosphere, the same can’t be said for accessing the dizzying heights of the Magic Circle. The problem with the legal sector is that it requires you to have passed certain exams, a fact that, at least for the moment, remains separate from any notion of ‘on-the-job training’. In order to become a trainee solicitor, LLB graduates must complete the LPC (the Legal Practice Course) and non-law graduates will need to take the GDL (the Graduate Diploma in Law) as well.

Before applying for training contracts, many prospective lawyers choose to complete a vacation scheme and a good number of firms offer the majority of their training contracts to those on their vacation schemes. To apply for a vacation scheme you are generally required to be expected to achieve a minimum of a 2.1. in an undergraduate degree. However some firms, such as Darbys, offer ‘internships’ in lieu of vacation schemes, which is where it gets confusing.

Vacation scheme or internship?

A quick comparison of vacation schemes and law internships reveals, well…not much. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking they’re the same. To apply for the Darbys internship, for example, you will still need to be expected to achieve a 2:1. The internship is paid, but then so are vacation schemes. You will get to do some actual work, but then so will you on a vacation scheme.  But this ‘work’ isn’t equivalent to ‘on-the-job training’. Even after completing the internship, you will still have to go through the same second-round interviews and assessments inherent in a vacation scheme in order to be in with the chance of being offered a training contract with the firm. One has morphed into the other.

Can you really ‘intern’ your way to a training contract? Yes, it’s called a vacation scheme. 

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Finding a Training Contract