– Training Contracts & Qualifying Work Experience
This page will deal with both of the above ways of training. Scroll down for the QWE.
1. Training Contracts (TC)
(officially known as Period of Recognised Training)
This has been the method of training since the 1990s and is, in theory, available until 2032 to anyone who commenced or accepted an offer onto the LLB/GDL before 1st Sept 2021. However, in reality, it is likely that towards the mid 2020’s most training firms/organisations will switch to the QWE as part of the SQE (read below). Many of the large recruiting law firms have confirmed that they will be moving to the QWE from 2023/24. In the meantime, you will find a mix of approaches and some firms will allow you to choose your preferred method (usually those with few trainees at any one time).
If you undertake the LPC pathway to qualification as a solicitor you will need to find a Training Contract which is a 2 year period of on-the-job training. (It is worth mentioning here that, if you take the LPC without having a TC before you start and you subsequently do find a TC you will most likely be able to convert to the SQE pathway. At the time of writing this has not been confirmed but it is thought that you may have to take some/all of the SQE2 to be eligible)
Where can I find out more?
There is a plethora of information on the web about training contracts but I recommend the following as they are specifically targeted at students (with the exception of the last one) and are kept up to date:
- https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/law-firms/getting-a-training-contract – a detailed account
- https://www.allaboutlaw.co.uk/training-contracts – lots of short articles
- https://www.lawcareers.net/Solicitors/TrainingContract – overview.
- https://www.thelawyerportal.com/free-guides/training-contract-overview/ – a short overview + videos
- https://targetjobs.co.uk/career-sectors/law-solicitors – a number of articles
- https://www.sra.org.uk/trainees/period-recognised-training/ – the formal and definitive guide and regulations
Key things to note about training contracts:
- Most are offered by law firms – but not all! It’s very important to remember this. See the information below about finding opportunities in social welfare and in-house.
- Most of the large firms and a number of the regional firms recruit 2 years in advance of the start date. So, if you want to start your training immediately after finishing your study (degree + LPC) you must check this information as you may need to apply in Stage 2 of your law degree or the final year of a non-law degree. But, don’t get anxious about this – the average age of a newly qualified solicitor is now 29. So, you can see that many solicitors have taken a break between study and training contract – either from choice or because it took a while to get the TC. It’s a very competitive market and spending a year or two in other work is common. It is not an indication of failure: it is normal and strengthens your skills and understanding.
- If you are recruited before you take the LPC your future employer may finance the LPC in full or part.
- You must spend time in 3 ‘seats’ (i.e. a different department or practice area of law) during your training contract. Most TC’s are structured as 4 seats of 6 months. Some do 6 seats x 4 months and there is a couple that do 8 seats x 3 months.
- TCs do not have to be full time but you do need to fulfil the equivalent of 2 years of full-time training.
- In-house TCs are often run concurrently with the study of the LPC. This means the TC is 3 years because you take the LPC part-time as you work. It all adds up to the same but you get paid for 3 years instead of 2!
2. Qualifying Work Experience (QWE)
From 2021 the SQE is the new way to qualify as a solicitor. Anyone who is on, or, has been accepted onto a GDL or LLB by 1st Sept 2021 will retain the choice between SQE and LPC+ TC until 2032 (although, it is likely that provision of the LPC will become restricted as we go past 2024/5). Don’t worry that there has been a change. Change happens. And, the qualification pathway to becoming a solicitor has changed several times before.
If you choose to take the SQE pathway to qualification you will need to undertake a 2 year period of QWE. This article talks only about the QWE part of the SQE (for the examinations information see the page dedicated to LPC and SQE).
Where can I find out more?
There is plenty of information on the web about the SQE and the QWE element but I recommend the following as they are kept up to date regularly:
- SQE – Solicitors Qualifying Exam (lawcareers.net)ttps://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/law-firms/getting-a-training-contract – a hub containing lots of information.
- Qualifying work experience (QWE) | The Law Society – the Law Society guide
- SRA | Qualifying work experience | Solicitors Regulation Authority – the formal and definitive guide and regulations
Key things to note about Qualifying Work Experience
- The QWE offers more flexibility than the very formalised and structured TC (see the next 4 bullets)
- Although the QWE must total 2 years you are able to gain experience from up to 4 different settings including in another jurisdiction (but the work still needs to be signed off by a solicitor qualified in England & Wales). There is no specified length of time you need to spend in any one setting.
- There is no prescription that you must cover 3 areas of law. This allows more niche firms/organisations to offer training (previously a niche firm might have to send you on a secondment to another firm in order to cover all of those areas of work). You are now able to spend your entire training in just one area of law.
- You do not need to gain a formal traineeship with a firm. It is enough for you to be working as a paralegal so long as you are fulfilling the requirements of the QWE, recording it and having it signed off. You can read more about this here Qualifying work experience for paralegals | The Law Society It is worth noting that an employer cannot unreasonably refuse to confirm the QWE if it meets the requirements, even if the individual is not on a dedicated training programme. So, you can take control of your qualification.
- A foreign qualified lawyer will be exempt from the need to do the QWE (although, if you have qualified in a jurisdiction that does not require work based experience you may find that the legal qualification alone will not satisfy many law firms and they may ask you to train as if you were not already qualified). Please discuss this with Jayne Instone in the Careers & Employability Service.
- However, I do want to give a word of caution – many firms and organisations have indicated that they will still require a trainee to undertake the entire 2 year training with their firm. Essentially, the structure of the training contract will be retained by these firms – it’ll just have a different name.
- Another warning is that if you do take control of your own qualification and you get work “signed off” outside of a formal traineeship, you can qualify as a solicitor but there is no requirement on the firm you are at (probably in a paralegal position) to change your employed status to “solicitor”. In this circumstance, it would be best to apply elsewhere.
How to find Training Contracts and Qualifying Work Experience
It is firstly, worth noting that the QWE can be a structured traineeship (many of the firms that have previously offered TCs will structure the QWE in the same way) or much more flexibly. The first part of this article relates to structured QWE. The latter part explains the more flexible approach.
TC’s and structured QWE (nb: the use of the form “structured” is for ease of understanding and is not a formally recognised expression/title) are available in a range of organisations including all types of law firms, charities, commercial businesses with substantial legal departments, Government and Local Authorities, law centres. Not all law firms or organisations will offer TC/QWE and sometimes you have to make strategic choices about training elsewhere before making a move into your ideal location. There are a number of listings where you can search TC/QWE (see below). They will save you a lot of time and most firms who regularly train solicitors will be featured (but always remember that if you have a particular firm/organisation in mind (especially if they are niche or small) check their website too or, better still, make personal contact with them and ask – I do know people who have got training contracts on the back of work experience/paralegalling with firms who have never taken a trainee before – always ask! The worst that can happen is they say no. Now, that’s not too painful is it?) I recommend the following listings – note, the terminology on the web link does say “training contract” but formally advertised structured QWE traineeships will also be included in this list and this will increase as we move into 2022+.
You will find that most of the collated listings (as above) will be in private practice. So, the following should be noted if you are interested in social welfare or in-house work:
Training in social welfare law
Many organisations dealing with social welfare matters can not afford to train solicitors. However, the Legal Education Foundation (https://jff.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/about/about-the-fellowship/) sponsors training contracts in social welfare law. Each year a number of organisations/charities etc. will host a trainee. See the current listing on https://jff.thelegaleducationfoundation.org/current-opportunities/ These opportunities normally require you to have already studied the LPC (or, going forward, the SQE parts 1&2).
In-house training contracts.
Although just over 30% of solicitors work in-house they offer less than 10% of training contracts (2019 figures from The Law Society). It is harder to find TCs in-house as there are less of them and they are less widely advertised. Most organisations will advertise on their own websites but the above websites are now capturing a lot of them. The largest employers of in-house lawyers are in commerce and industry. Some in-house departments are not big enough for annual recruitment and you may only see opportunities once every 2 or 3 years (or less often). There is a lot of movement between private and in-house practice so, if you can’t find/wait for the training in your preferred organisation train in private practice (one doing similar areas of law) and move across when qualified.
For more information see the How to Train In-House page on this blog.
Crown Prosecution Service – Legal Trainee Scheme
The CPS trains both solicitors and barristers who are interested in criminal law. Their window of application is usually March-April. Unlike many of the law firms the entry grade is a 2.2. They circulate information on Careers at the CPS | The Crown Prosecution Service but only when they are recruiting. They also use Twitter @CPSCareers and Linked In Crown Prosecution Service. There are some videos about life in the CPS on Life as a prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service | The Crown Prosecution Service (cps.gov.uk)
Government Legal Profession – Legal Trainee Scheme
You can train as either a barrister or a solicitor in a number of Government Departments. The recruitment is two years in advance and requires a 2.2 degree. Take a look at this page for videos and all the information you need: 2021 legal trainee scheme – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
Other features of TC / QWE which may influence your choice of firm/employer:
- Sponsorship of LPC/SQE – many of the big firms will pay in full for your vocational study. Others may pay a proportion + an interest-free loan for the remainder.
- Secondments – these might be with an international office of the same firm/organisation or it might be a client secondment i.e. where you work in the legal department of one of the firm’s clients for one of your seats.
- Pro bono – some firms may allow you to do a pro bono seat. Others may encourage you to give some time each year (typically a day – 25 hours p.yr) to a pro bono cause
- Diversity / affiliations – legal recruitment is playing a big part in changing recruitment practices to be more diverse. But check out what the firm does once you are recruited. Are they part of the lawyer networks; do they have inclusive practices beyond recruitment etc.
- Salary – whilst the large corporate and international firms pay huge salaries there is no set salary level beyond the national minimum wage.
- When to apply – anytime from stage 2 onwards. Training Contract deadlines vary from firm to firm usually between January and July (the majority May- July). However, there are a few firms that will only recruit from the candidates on their Vacation Schemes. In this case, the deadline becomes the same as the Vac Scheme deadline which will, typically, be between October and December. On the other hand, many small firms and those that work in social welfare or rely on legal aid will recruit once you have taken the LPC/QWE.
- Benefits: look out for information on pensions; insurances (i.e. private medical, life, critical illness, income protection, travel, dental); health screening; gym membership; discount shopping schemes; advice lines for things to do with finance, health, family, consumer rights; childcare / elderly care support and childcare vouchers; travel (bike purchase /car leasing schemes / season ticket loan / car hire discount); at large firms the on-site benefits can include subsidised restaurants, gym, dry-cleaning, personal services – beauty / massage, subsidised sports, social and cultural activities from; language training and more.
- Retention Rates: Once your TC ends what is the chance that you will stay with the firm? See here for details of some 2020 retention rates.
I hope the above information has answered your questions. If anything has been missed please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll make sure that the information is added and that you are provided with the answers you seek.