Timetables vary, depending on the type of firm you're aiming for. If you’re hankering after a career with a ‘big fish’, City firms and national firms tend to have their training contract deadlines on the 31 July. There are exceptions, so make sure you check with each individual law firm.
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. Training contracts you can apply to will depend on when they start: 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.
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).
Some firms will have specific training contracts for non-law candidates, which may have a different deadline for the training contract for law students.
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 being 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 go wrong in early applications and seek help if you are receiving a string of outright rejections.
It will also give you time to adjust your approach: early rejections from City law firms might make you realise you were perhaps seduced by glossy brochures and are a better fit for smaller firms.