Oct 15, 2021

Written By Robert Greene

Is a 2:1 essential to get a training contract?

Oct 15, 2021

Written By Robert Greene

When it comes to training contract applications, lots of students fixate on their grades. And it’s easy to see why. Many firms specify that applicants must have a minimum of a 2:1 degree. So, what if you get a 2:2 or less? In this article, we’ll look at whether a 2:1 is essential to get a training contract and what to do if you don’t get a 2:1.

How important is a 2:1 degree?

For many firms, getting a 2:1 is a minimum entry requirement. What’s more, firms often ask for a breakdown of your results for each academic year. Some firms also require a minimum of ABB or higher at A level.

But every year approximately 25% of students achieve a 2:2 or lower. So, what are their chances of getting a training contract?

The good news is that while grades are important, they are not the be-all and end-all. They are just one of the factors that law firms take into account when assessing students’ applications.

We have put together a list of things you can do to improve your chances of getting a training contract if you don’t get a 2:1 degree.


Speak to graduate recruitment

No two law firms are the same, and the assessment criteria for each firm is different. The first thing to do if you are worried about your grades is to speak to the graduate recruitment team or HR team at the firm(s) you are interested in. They can answer any questions you have about the entry requirements and give you some tips on how to make your application sing.

Rebecca Reese, Senior Knowledge, Learning & Development Adviser at Farrer & Co LLP says: “Even though we have minimum grade requirements in place, we understand that sometimes things don’t go according to plan, or some people may have studied quite a few years ago but have had substantial work experience since or even another career.”

The Graduate Recruitment Team at DLA Piper says: “In many cases, such as at DLA Piper, firms have now removed minimum academic requirements with the view of removing any initial barriers to pursuing a career in the legal industry.”

Consider mitigating circumstances

Life is not always smooth sailing, and law firms understand this. That’s why most firms include a section on their application forms for mitigating circumstances. If unforeseen life events have thrown a spanner in the works, impacting your grades, let the graduate recruitment team know.

Samantha Bracey, Future Talent Advisor at TLT LLP, advises students to be “honest” when it comes to talking about mitigating circumstances. She adds: “If you would prefer to talk through your circumstances then that’s absolutely fine too, just give us an email to arrange this.”

Get some work experience

Having great grades is only one side of the picture. If you’ve got some real-life experience under your belt, that can help you stand out from other applicants.

This experience can be both legal and non-legal. The important thing is to demonstrate those all-important transferable skills and a passion for a career in law.

This is particularly true for career changers, who may have completed their studies several years ago. Having a previous career can help you stand out from applicants with little, or no, work experience.

If you’re struggling to get relevant experience, check out our article on work experience ideas.

Attend law firm events

Attending law firm events is a fantastic way to get to know more about law firms and to speak to people working at the firms. By speaking to current trainees and the graduate recruitment team, you can discover what it takes to succeed as a trainee – beyond good grades!

The Graduate Recruitment Team at DLA Piper encourages applicants to “seek opportunities to engage with the firm (for example at a presentation or careers fair) where they will have the opportunity to ask firm representatives questions about the selection criteria”.

One of the silver linings of COVID-19 is that many law firms are now running events for students online. This means it’s easier to attend.

Most firms advertise their upcoming events on social media so make sure to follow any firms you are interested in. Some firms also run Q&A sessions or live chats on their Instagram accounts, which is another great way to interact with firms and ask questions.

Do your research

This point almost goes without saying, but make sure you do your homework! A well-researched application can be the difference between rejection and acceptance. Even a student with first-class honours won’t get through to an interview stage if their application is stuffed with copy-paste answers.

Law firms want to hire students who genuinely want to work for the firm. By doing some thorough research, you can demonstrate your genuine interest.

Most law firms advise against a scattergun approach to applicants. The Graduate Recruitment Team at DLA Piper encourages applicants to submit “highly-tailored, well-researched applications to a select number of firms, rather than submitting many applications to multiple firms”. It adds “this approach can be evident when reviewing applications”.

This is why it is also important to attend events. You can include the insights you gleaned from the events in your applications, and can ask questions that will help you answer some of the tricky sections in the application form.

Get the basics right

Lawyers pride themselves on their attention to detail. So spelling a firm’s name wrong in your application is a big no-no.

Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors in your application. It’s difficult to spot your own typos, so get a friend or family member with a keen eye for detail to have a read over your application form before you submit it.

The Graduate Recruitment Team at TLT LLP says answers should be “detailed but concise”. It adds: “When giving advice to a client, it needs to be really clear and as succinct as possible, your application form should be the same instead of essay style.”

Submitting an impeccably written application will help you stand out, even if you don’t get a 2:1!

Find a mentor

Navigating the route to qualification is not straightforward. But having a formal or informal mentor who has already done it can make it that bit easier.

Many universities run mentoring schemes. Students can apply to be partnered with a solicitor or barrister. You can speak to your university’s careers service to find out how to apply.

There are also networking groups that provide mentoring services or career coaching. Some networks worth checking out are:

- Aspiring Solicitors

- London Young Lawyers Group

- Black Solicitors Network

- Junior Lawyers Division

Of course, there is nothing to stop you from finding an informal mentor. Perhaps you’ve connected with someone at an event or through a mutual contact.

Cast the net wider

It is easy to get caught up on only applying to the most prestigious firms. Unfortunately, these are the ones that often require a minimum of a 2:1 degree. But if you’re willing to broaden your horizons, you may find other interesting opportunities.

Not all law firms have minimum grade requirements. Some firms which do not require a 2:1 include:


- Browne Jacobson

- DLA Piper

- Royds Withy King

Another option is the government legal trainee scheme. The minimum grade requirement is a 2:2 degree.

It may also be worthwhile applying to high-street firms. If your ambition is to work at a national or international firm, there is nothing to stop you from doing so in the future.

It’s also worth remembering that the Solicitors Qualification Exam (SQE) will soon replace the current training contract route. To qualify as a solicitor through the SQE route, you will need to:

- Have a degree or equivalent qualification;

- Pass the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments;

- Complete two years’ of qualifying work experience (QWE);

- and Satisfy the character and suitability requirements set by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA).

There are no minimum grade requirements for the SQE route and the range of work experiences that constitute QWE is much wider than the current training contract route. For instance, pro-bono work, paralegal work and training contracts all count as QWE.

Experience trumps grades A final word of reassurance for anyone fretting over their grades. Having a 2:2 degree is likely to be less important, if at all relevant, in the future. As you progress through your legal career, firms will be more interested in your experience than your grades.


Finding a Training Contract