What are seats?
If you're hoping to become a solicitor, you've most likely heard of training contracts by now—the two-year placement that follows on from the LPC, and your final hurdle in qualifying as a fully-fledged solicitor. You may also have heard your training contract talked about in terms of "seats". This is not a law-themed game of musical chairs, nor does it mean you'll be spending two years sitting around.
Seat is essentially just the code word for "department" in the training-contract world. As you embark on your training contract, you'll rotate through a number of different departments within the law firm that's training you. Each department you work in is known as a "seat".
You will typically do four six-month seats or six four-month seats over the course of your training contract, depending on the law firm.
What seats can I do in my training contract?
The Solicitors Regulation Authority states that trainees must gain experience in at least three areas of law, and one of these must be contentious. This means legal work that takes place between at least two parties—for example, a court case. This way, you'll get a broad and varied experience out of your seats, and be ready to tackle whatever comes your way once you qualify.
Depending on which of its departments are largest, your firm may have additional requirements—for example, if a law firm has a large real-estate department, they might make all their trainees undertake a seat in property law.
However, it won't all be set in stone and it's likely that you'll get some choice in which seats you do. Many firms will ask you to state your preferences and try to accomodate them as best they can.
What about secondments?
Law firms sometimes choose to send out their trainees on secondment. Secondments take up one of your seats. You'll be based at a client company in their legal department, or even at another law firm. This is a great opportunity to understand how business works and improve your commercial awareness.
It will be a great chance for you to get experience under your belt in more than one office, and perhaps even make some contacts. After all, once you qualify as a solicitor, the more experience you have of the working world, the better!
Can I go abroad?
International seats are also common, especially in firms with a large overseas presence. Getting experience of another culture, understanding foreign markets and working with new people can help you improve as a trainee solicitor. If you've set your sights on working for a big international firm, an international seat could give you an invaluable taste of what international legal life is like.
Next article: What happens after a training contract?