If you don’t secure a training contract before you graduate, this doesn’t mean the end of your career plans. Remember that there are far more students graduating with LLBs every year than there are training positions. There same is true for other graduates looking to secure a contract before they begin the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL). If you want to apply again next year, there are ways to gain valuable experience while you wait. There are also alternative routes into the profession and other careers where a law degree is valued.
Work as a paralegal
Working as a paralegal won’t pay as well as a trainee solicitor but it will give solid experience and show your commitment to a legal career. It may also help you decide the area of law you want to pursue. Duties vary widely and some paralegals will undertake more administrative support work than others. As well as large law firms, there are also positions with local solicitors, companies in other industries, charities and the public sector. Paralegals with more than three years’ relevant experience can apply for a license to offer services directly to clients. Paralegal work is worth considering until you reapply and could even open up another route into a career.
Companies, charities and organisations employ graduate interns within their legal teams for up to 12 months. Salaries may be low, but you will gain practical experience and perhaps explore areas of law you have not yet considered.
Work in a different industry
If you are drawn to a particular area of law, non-legal work in a related industry could be useful. For example, experience in construction, technology or life sciences could provide the commercial awareness firms appreciate. Many industries value a law degree and longer-term alternative careers are worth considering. If you are determined to join the corporate world, you could look into financial services or management within FTSE 100 companies.
There are also options in the public sector—for example, civil service graduate training schemes can lead to roles within government departments. Local government, national and local businesses and the voluntary sector also advertise graduate positions.
If you are unable to secure paid work, you could look into volunteering with a charity or law centre. Anything that can show your determination to work in law is helpful. Volunteering can also improve your confidence and knowledge about applying the law.
Carry on studying
Choosing to self-fund the Legal Practice Course (LPC) is not a decision to take lightly. Whether you opt for full-time or part-time study, the course is expensive and time-consuming. Many students take this gamble, so you would not be alone, but gaining the LPC may not set you apart from the competition. If you study part-time, you could combine the LPC with relevant work experience to give your CV a double boost. Combining work, study and applying for training contract positions will require hard work with little leisure time. Graduates who self-fund the GDL also have no guarantee of a contract or funding for the LPC.
You could opt to increase your legal knowledge with a taught LLM or research degree. Extra knowledge is rarely wasted, but an LLM requires significant financial investment and is not likely to improve the chances of a training contract. It could, however, open up other career paths such as in academia.
CILEx offers a route to qualification as a chartered legal executive, with no training contract required. Courses offer study exemptions for law graduates and are available part-time while you work. It is less expensive to study than the LPC, but your knowledge will be more focused on one area of practice and your salary is rarely as high as a law firm solicitor.
If you are interested in corporate governance and the boardroom, the role of company secretary could be a good fit. Not to be confused with legal secretaries, company secretaries advise boards in areas such as regulation, legislation, finance, strategy and shareholder relations. Traditionally associated with the corporate world, where salaries can rise to six figures, they are also employed by public-sector organisations and charities. You could study the ICSA qualifying programme, which leads to chartered status and has exemptions for law graduates.
Facing the future
Without a training contract, it can seem that your way into the legal profession has been blocked. Take reassurance from the fact that the Solicitors Regulation Authority is committed to widening access. The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), now expected in 2021, will bring more flexible ways of gaining the Qualifying Work Experience you need to be a solicitor. The details are not yet clear, but the new arrangements might add even more value to any legal work experience you can gain while waiting to take your next step. You can also look at other professions and industries for alternative ways to turn your law degree into a career.