A training contract is a two-year placement undertaken at a law firm and is the final stepping stone on the way to becoming a qualified solicitor. Doing a training contract is a popular route for graduates of all disciplines, not just law; around 50% of trainee solicitors studied a non-law subject at university.
Couple this with a commercial solicitor being a highly respected and handsomely paid career and then add into the mix the fact that the demand for training contracts outstrips the supply of highly talented graduates, and the reality of the matter is that training contracts are difficult to obtain.
What do the numbers say?
There are around 5,500 training contracts available every year. The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reveal that 33,235 students finished studying a law degree in 2018/19, with this being split as 12,755 being postgraduate and 20,480 being undergraduate. Of course, not every law graduate is going to apply for a training contract. Some may follow the barrister route, and others may pursue a career in other industries, however, some non-law graduates will also apply for training contracts.
Given that you can apply for a training contract from the second year of your degree if you are studying law, and can carry on applying every year if you are not successful in your attempts, mean that there are an estimated 30,000 students applying for 5,500 training contracts. Looking at numbers alone, you have an 18.3% chance of getting a training contract.
What role do vacation schemes play?
You might think that you fancy your chances at 18.3%. You’re on course to get a good degree and have a solid set of A-levels backing you up. Here comes the twist: law firms are increasingly hiring trainee solicitors from their vacation scheme intake. This makes sense for all parties – firms know the student is able to complete trainee level work from their two weeks working at the firm and the student gets to know if the firm is the right fit for them.
This makes getting a vacation scheme extremely important because even firms that don’t wholly hire from their vacation scheme will still take a significant number as it’s a vacation scheme’s entire purpose for the firm: it allows them to find and hire talent before the said talent gets snapped up by their competitors.
It might be a nice idea to use your university summer holidays to go travelling with your friends and sneak in a couple of festivals, but if you’re really set on a career in law, a vacation scheme is absolutely essential.
What are law firms looking for?
As mentioned previously, because the demand for training contracts outstrip supply, it allows law firms to set the bar high when it comes to academic and behavioural requirements for their trainee solicitors. Law firms will want you to be on course to achieve a 2.1 at an absolute minimum, backed up with A and B grades at A-level.
On top of this, they will expect their trainees to have a very good level of commercial awareness. What does this mean? It means that you need to be aware of how a law firm works as a business and how the wider market and economy will impact their business and, importantly, their client’s business. Firms are also looking for good communicators. Law can be very technical and complex, and your clients will expect you to communicate solutions to their problems in a clear and coherent manner. They also want you to be a team player. Trainee solicitors work in departments with other trainees, associates and partners, and across borders and time zones with other firms and clients. Therefore, you are going to meet people from all walks of life and work together on hugely important matters. Focussing on the team goal and working cohesively is, therefore, another absolute necessity for aspiring solicitors.