So what is a training contract?
A training contract is a two-year placement that is undertaken by trainee solicitors after they finish their year-long Legal Practice Course (LPC). The final step before qualification, it can be likened to an apprenticeship: an opportunity to put all your academic knowledge to vocational use. Trainees spend two years getting a practical legal education overseen by senior solicitors in law firms.
How does a trainee qualify as a solicitor?
During the training contract, aspiring solicitors will progress through at least three areas of work at the law firm, but there's the opportunity to experience up to eight at some the larger law firms.
The time spent working in each area is known as a seat. Each seat gives trainees the chance to sample a different sphere of law in order to decide which area they want to qualify in.
Trainees must complete a contentious and non-contentious seat. Contentious areas of law involve disputes between parties that result in court cases, while non-contentious law doesn't focus on conflict or involve the courts.
During the training contract, trainees undertake a Professional Skills Course (PSC) that will enable them to become fully qualified solicitors. This is split into three core modules: advocacy and communication skills; client care and professional standards; and financial and business skills.
In addition to the core modules, trainee solicitors will need to undertake around 24 hours of elective modules.
What happens after a training contract?
Successful completion of a training contract doesn't necessarily guarantee a job offer, although the majority of trainee solicitors do stay on at the firms with which they did their training contract.
Training contracts are designed to give trainees a broad experience of the law. Most trainees will have a clear idea of the areas of practice that interested them most on their training contract and will aim to qualify into that department. For this reason, it's important for trainees to build connections with associates and partners in each seat, so they can get exposure to as much work that interests them as possible.
Ideally, on completing a training contract, the former trainee will move into a practice area that interests them and begin working as an associate.
Will I get paid?
All trainee solicitors receive a salary, but this varies depending on the firm and location.
From August 2014, the SRA announced that firms were only required to pay trainees the national minimum wage. However, many trainee solicitors do receive more than this, with most City firms offering between £39,000 and £42,000 in the first year of a training contract. The wage can jump to between £69,000 and £78,000 upon qualification. At US firms, this figure can be as high as £100,000!
Some law firms—particularly the larger ones—offer to cover the cost of the LPC and/or GDL tuition fees, with some even providing support for living costs.
How hard is it to find a training contract?
There are roughly 5,500 training contracts available in the UK, and far more LPC students than there are spaces. We estimate that there are around 30,000 people vying for these limited places each year: that's a one in six chance of securing your place.
Thousands miss out every year and have to re-apply the following year. Competition is fierce, especially for those at the large London firms. You need to do everything you can to get into the top 18% bracket.
It’s important to start your preparation early: research law firms, get some work experience over the summer and get involved with extra-curricular activities at university.
Next article: Am I eligible for a training contract?