First things first...
Before you start meticulously researching law firms and filling out their application forms, make sure that you're eligible to apply for a training contract. Depending on what academic year you're in, or what kind of degree you're doing, it might not be the right year for you to apply. Don't waste that energy before you know for sure!
The deadline to apply for a training contract will vary, depending on the type of firm you're aiming for. City firms and national firms tend to have their training-contract deadlines on or around July 31. There are exceptions, so make sure you check with each individual law firm. It's a good idea to make a list of deadlines once you know which firms you want to apply to, so you know which applications need to be in first and you don't get caught out.
While the deadlines are usually in the summer months for the larger law firms, applications open months in advance, giving you plenty of time to get your application in. You may even benefit from being an early bird: some law firms recruit on a rolling basis and will begin offering places to candidates as soon as they encounter applications that impress them.
Otherwise, you’ll find training-contract deadlines throughout the year, particularly for smaller regional firms. Still, the summer months tend to be the busiest time for deadlines.
Students doing an LLB can apply from their penultimate year onwards. Most large firms recruit two or three years in advance, meaning second years can apply to them.
Smaller, regional, law firms might only recruit a year in advance, meaning undergraduates can only apply in their final year. Some firms will have two training contracts to choose from with different start dates to apply to, so make sure you pick the right one to suit your timings.
Non-law students tend to start applying for training contracts in their final year (for training contracts starting three years down the line) or during their GDL (for training contracts beginning in two years’ time).
Most law firms accept law and non-law students onto their training contracts.
The vacation scheme
If you're too early to apply for a training contract at the moment, you might want to start researching vacation schemes. For lots of firms, vacation schemes are the main recruitment method for training contracts. Many firms will recruit up to 90% of their trainees from the vacation scheme.
How late is too late?
With training-contract applications, particularly for those with applications that are open from November to July, earlier rather than later is better: the reason is that places on schemes tend to fill up before the deadline.
Starting earlier gives you more time to tailor your applications and improve your application technique, see where you're going wrong in early applications and seek help if you're receiving a string of outright rejections.
It will also give you time to adjust your approach: early rejections from City law firms, for example, might make you realise you're better suited to a smaller firm.
Next article: Training-contract application process explained