First things first: all trainees, regardless of education route, need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). This is an absolute must and can’t be bypassed, circumnavigated or avoided in any other way whatsoever. However, you can apply for a training contract in advance of completing your LPC. In fact, many law firms recruit two years in advance, giving future trainees ample time to complete the LPC. So you might find yourself in the lucky position of completing your LPC knowing that you've already got your training-contract place.
That being said, if you're just starting your law studies you'll need to keep an eye on the developments happening with the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This new "super-exam" is currently in the early stages of being introduced. It's not possible to do the SQE yet, but once it is good to go, you'll be able to do the SQE instead of the LPC, and instead of the GDL.
If you're already bound to do the LPC, don't worry. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has said that there will be a lengthy transition period when it will be possible to qualify via the LPC/GDL route or the SQE route.
If you’re doing a law degree, you’re eligible to apply for a training contract in your penultimate year of university. Bearing in mind that you’ll have to complete the LPC in a year, the penultimate year of your undergraduate degree is the time to apply for training contracts. You can’t start the training contract until you have completed the LPC, of course, but many law firms will fund the LPC if they offer you a training contract before you've done it.
As long as your law degree is a qualifying law degree—i.e. an LLB—you'll be eligible to apply for training contracts straight away, without leaving time to study for the GDL.
Training-contract offers can now be made to law students from the beginning of their second year of university. So the earlier you get involved in first-year schemes and insight days, the higher your chances of getting an offer.
Law firms are aware that good lawyers don’t always do a law degree, which is why a law career is available to those doing non-law degrees. There are no degrees that make law out of bounds: whether you're a biology undergraduate or an engineering student, you have a chance of becoming a solicitor.
However, in order to be eligible for a training contract, you need a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Graduate LLB. These provide you with the same knowledge and skills as an undergraduate law degree but in a shorter amount of time, usually one or two years.
After your GDL or Graduate LLB (use this article to help you decide which course is more suited to you), you need to do the LPC. Bearing this in mind and the fact that firms recruit two years in advance, you need to apply for a training contract in your final year of university.
Historically, only university graduates were eligible for training contracts. However, with the introduction of measures by the SRA, paralegals who can demonstrate “other assessed learning and work-based learning” through “equivalent means” and who have also completed the LPC can be eligible for a training contract. This is by no means an easier route to a training contract and simply means the pool of competition is much wider.
Individual eligibility requirements
In general, these are the eligibility requirements for training contracts. But it's important to note that the graduate-recruitment team at each firm will have specific criteria they are looking for in their trainees. Applying at the right time for your academic path is just the start. You'll need to have strong grades, excellent commercial awareness and as much relevant work experience as you can muster.
Next article: When should I apply for a training contract?