You may well be familiar with the term “training contract”. This referred to a term of training to be a solicitor prior to the new Solicitors Regulation Authority Training Regulations, which came into force on 1 July 2014. The new term for training to be a solicitor will be a “Period of Recognised Training” (PRT) but many law firms and other organisations employing trainee solicitors will still call the period of training a “training contract” as this has been a commonly recognised term and they will continue to use it. Many large corporate/commercial law firms call it a “graduate trainee” position or a “graduate traineeship”.
In this document we look at different areas of law, different types and sizes of law firms and organisations which employ law graduates and how to secure a position, including putting together an effective CV and covering letter.
Legal practice is very broad and encompasses a wide variety of areas of law, including the following. The list below is not an exhaustive one, just an example of the breadth of legal practice areas.
This is where the client is a company, business, partnership, charity or another organisation rather than an individual.
Some law firms offer a full or mixed range of legal services to different industries or work sectors. This means that the industry or work sector is the focus of the law firm’s work and the work may encompass different areas of legal practice. For example, acting on behalf of an organisation on its development and/or purchase of large-scale premises (Commercial Property), advising it on contractual issues and commercial disputes (Commercial Litigation) and advising it on the legal aspects of its recruitment and workplace policies, and contracts of employment (Employment Law.)
This is where the client is a “private client” e.g. an individual. Examples include:
Of course, not all areas of legal work fit neatly into the above categories and some areas of law may be practised on behalf of organisations or individuals. It is worth remembering that wherever there is a legal dispute or contentious action then there are usually two sides, often an organisation on one side and a private client on the other.
There is a very good list of legal practice areas available on the LawCareers.net website. This is also available in hard copy form in the Training Contract & Pupillage Handbook.
Traditionally costs work was undertaken by specialist costs houses/companies but some law firms are taking it “in-house”. Law firms in addition to specialist costs companies are advertising paralegal roles within costs such as “costs paralegals” and “trainee law costs draftsman” and it is possible to complete PRT (training contract) in this area.
Securing a position to train as a solicitor is very competitive. The latest figures from the Law Society’s annual statistical report show that in 2016-17 5,719 training contracts were awarded nationally, whereas many more students will successfully complete the Legal Practice Course each year. From the point of view of the student, there can be a bewilderingly large number of law firms. Firms of solicitors can afford to be choosy and this underlines the importance of making a well-researched, highly targeted application.
In particular, students should consider whether a Period of Recognised Training to be a solicitor is their sole goal. Most LLB and LPC graduates who enter legal practice will initially enter paralegal positions. The term “paralegal” encompasses a wide variety of legal positions and it is expected that in future years, particularly with the liberalisation of the legal services market following implementation of the Legal Services Act, there will be many more paralegal positions available than there will be trainee solicitor positions.
Many senior and experienced paralegals earn medium-high salaries, may well manage or supervise teams and staff and deal with most aspects of a legal case or transaction from beginning to end.
These firms tend to fall into the following categories:
They will have a large number of partners and concentrate on Corporate/Commercial Law & Commercial Property deals. They could be dealing with mergers, take-overs & acquisitions, commercial litigation/disputes (e.g. breach of contract), and other commercial matters, such as intellectual property, banking & finance, commercial lending and the insurance sector.
Clients are likely to be large companies and the deals they are working on are potentially worth millions. They may offer a trainee solicitor the opportunity to work outside the UK, or alternatively spend some time on secondment with a client company. Some of these firms may also deal with some private client matters, for example in the areas of Family Law or Wills/Probate; but these are likely to be wealthy individuals, this work is unlikely to be a large part of the firm’s work and is unlikely to be an area the trainee solicitor will be trained in.
Graduate Trainee/Trainee Solicitor positions. 2 years in advance, usual deadline is within June or July 2020 for entry in September 2022.. Students should apply in the 2nd year of their LLB studies (or final year of a non-law degree for students intending to proceed straight to the Graduate Diploma in Law.) However, it is possible to apply “out of sync”, such as in the final year of an LLB or even on the LPC, as long as you realise that the training contract will usually commence 2 years hence.
As demand for trainee solicitor positions at these firms tends to be particularly high, most firms specify a minimum class 2:1 degree (predicted or obtained) and/or high A level grades e.g. minimum AAA-BBC, or equivalent.
Summer and Easter vacation placements are offered by many of these firms.
Competition for these places is often more intense than for a training contract/graduate trainee position. Some firms assess vacation placement students for a training contract/graduate trainee position as part of the vacation placement and the majority of students who are awarded a training contract will have undertaken a vacation scheme. Strategically it is therefore often wise to apply for a place on the vacation scheme, although it is still eminently possible to apply for the training contract only. Please note that the closing dates for the vacation scheme are earlier and vary from firm to firm, typically between January-April 2020.
Many large corporate/commercial law firms advertise paralegal positions, usually based in one specific department or specialising in one particular area of law. These will advertised on an “ad hoc” or “immediate vacancy” basis i.e. not far in advance but as and when a vacancy arises. Vacancies advertised via legal recruitment agencies will usually require 6-12 months experience but large law firms often advertise positions suitable for new graduates. This will usually be indicated in the job advert or title, so look for wording such as “graduate paralegal”, or “would suit law graduate”, or something along those lines.
It is rare at a large law firm that a paralegal position will lead directly to a trainee solicitor period. However, paralegals may apply for trainee solicitor positions as internal applicants and would compete with external applicants and may well succeed in their applications if they are considered to be a strong internal performer and in particular if a partner encourages their application to be a trainee solicitor.
Experience as a paralegal at a large firm may also help with training contract applications at mid-sized or smaller law firms.
How to Apply: Firms usually have their own online application forms. As demand for training contracts at these firms tends to be particularly high, most firms specify a minimum class 2:1 degree (expected or obtained) and/or high A level grades e.g. minimum AAA-BBC, or equivalent.
There are many “city-centre” firms, which might better be described as “medium-sized”. As a rough guide such a firm might have 5-15 partners, and whilst a mid-sized law firm is likely to practise commercial work, they are likely to offer a mix of both commercial and private client legal services.
Many medium-sized firms may also be based in satellite towns outside the city centre, or have offices spread across a few areas. Some medium-sized firms might also be described as “niche” or “specialist” firms” (see, below). The key here is what areas of law are practised, and in particular the seats that a trainee solicitor will spend time in.
Training Contract/Trainee Solicitor positions: Again, this tends to vary. Some firms will look to compete with the larger, commercial firms and recruit 2 years in advance, more typically medium-sized firms may recruit 12-18 months in advance. Students should check closing dates carefully. Some firms may recruit as and when they have vacancies, typically advertising them on LawCareers.Net jobs section or via the Careers & Employability Service.
Some firms do not advertise and will accept speculative applications.
Many mid-sized law firms do not accept training contract/trainee solicitor applications directly from external applicants and the way into qualifying as a solicitor with these firms is often via a paralegal position. Paralegal positions may be a direct “foot in the door” to a training contract/trainee solicitor position so, for example, if a paralegal is considered to have worked well they might be offered a trainee solicitor position directly, typically after 6 to 24 months with the firm. In other cases, paralegals will compete and apply for trainee solicitor positions internally.
Paralegal work can lead to time off the trainee solicitor period on a like-for-like basis, up to a maximum of 6 months.
These will usually be advertised on an “ad hoc” or “immediate vacancy” basis, as and when positions arise. Depending upon the area of law paralegal job titles will vary, for example legal assistant, legal clerk, litigation assistant, litigation executive, file handler, claims handler, graduate paralegal or just plain old paralegal!
See the Careers and Employability Service guide “Work as a Paralegal”[Insert guide when Published] for further information and a description of typical paralegal work and job titles.
How to apply: CV and covering letter, unless otherwise specified, such as the firm’s own application form.
Students should also consider making speculative applications with a CV and covering letter for paralegal roles and/or work experience. Unpaid work experience can sometimes lead to the offer of a paid job.
As the name suggests, these are firms that largely specialise in a particular area of law, for example Personal Injury or Family Law, Human Rights Law or Media Law. They can offer advice and representation to clients in cases within the firm’s particular niche that require particular specialism. For example, a PI niche firm might be able to offer advice and representation in complex areas such as Industrial Disease and Medical Negligence.
Some niche firms may not be able to offer trainee solicitor positions as they do not practise enough areas of law. The Solicitors Regulation Authority requires that trainee solicitors be trained in a minimum of 3 different areas of law. Some niche firms may second a trainee solicitor to another firm of solicitors for a short period so that they can gain the necessary experience in other areas of law.
See the Careers and Employability Service guide “Work as a Paralegal”[Insert Link when Published] for further information and a description of typical paralegal work and job titles.
Although something of an over-generalisation, this description tends to apply to “high street” firms that tend to serve a local area or community, rather than being based in a city centre. They are found in suburbs & satellite towns and as the name suggests, tend to offer a general range of private client legal services e.g. Residential Conveyancing, Wills & Probate, Family Law, Criminal Defence, Personal Injury Law, Employment Law.
See the Careers and Employability Service guide “Work as a Paralegal”[Insert Link when Published] for further information and a description of typical paralegal work and job titles.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012 and removed many areas of legal advice and representation that were previously available under the Legal Aid scheme.
Some firms specialise in providing a service to Legal Aid clients and often specialise in areas such as Criminal Defence, Childcare Law, Mental Health Law and Education Law pertaining to Special Educational Needs Disabilities. Some limited Legal Aid advice and representation remains in areas such as Family Law, Immigration and Asylum Law and Welfare Benefits.
Training Contract/Trainee Solicitor positions: Sometimes law firms undertaking Legal Aid work offer training contracts for direct external application 1 to 2 years in advance, sometimes on an ad hoc immediate vacancy basis i.e. as and when the job is ready to move into, advertised only a little in advance.
However, it is more common for them to recruit trainee solicitors internally via paralegal positions, often called legal clerk or caseworker positions. Training contracts & paralegal roles are also sometimes offered via speculative applications.
Justice First Fellowship Scheme: This scheme funds trainee solicitors positions in areas of social welfare law, with organisations such as law centres, law firms and charities bidding to recruit a trainee solicitor via the scheme. Applications open in August, for a trainee solicitor role to commence the following January.
In addition to firms of solicitors, there is also a network of public law centres that often advertise caseworker positions. A caseworker is another form of paralegal job title.
Firms of solicitors are not the only organisations to offer training contracts and paralegal positions. It is possible to complete a traineeship in a law centre, local government legal department, the Government Legal Service, the Crown Prosecution Service, magistrates’ courts and with the in-house legal department of a private company in industry or commerce, amongst others.
In addition, the implementation of the Legal Services Act has meant that a number of non-law firms have entered the legal services market and offer paralegal positions.
Too many students adopt a “scattergun” approach to making training contract and paralegal job applications, sending out their CVs and covering letters to as many firms as possible, without considering whether or not it is the right type of firm for them and crucially the areas of law that the firm covers. For example, a partner at a small Legal Aid practice that specialises in Family and Childcare Law received scores of applications from LPC students who were not taking any family law-related elective and who were studying commercial law electives exclusively!
In addition to the Training Contract and Pupillage Handbook, the “Find a Solicitor” function on the homepage of the Law Society’s website can be a very useful resource for getting a list of firms together.
There is often a direct link to the firm’s website. In a covering letter, you will need to explain why you are interested in applying to a particular firm. The law firm’s website can aid you in the following ways:
Do not simply copy into a covering letter or application firm a general statement which is on the website and which is intended to advertise a firm to potential clients.
For example, “I am applying for a training contract with Bloggs & Bloggs because you are a dynamic, commercial law firm which understands the ever-changing & diverse markets within which your clients operate.” It will be obvious you have just copied it. Research the firm and put into your own words why they have attracted you.
LawCareers.Net: This website is particularly valuable. As well as having a Jobs section, it is possible to search for training contracts in the Solicitors section. Students should also register for LCN Weekly, a free regular e-mail bulletin that has articles on topical legal matters and profiling different firms of solicitors. If researching a particular firm, then students can enter the name into the search mechanism on the homepage, as it will produce archived articles on that firm. There is also the extremely useful My LCN feature, which allows you to save and store information on firms that you are interested in applying to. LawCareers.Net’s Jobs Section
If a firm does not mention job vacancies specifically, it may well be that they recruit trainees (and often paralegal staff) directly from speculative applications, or that they advertise vacancies as and when they need staff. Some firms will identify and recruit future paralegals and/or trainee solicitors from students who have undertaken work experience with them.
In addition, the Careers and Employability Service guide “Useful Legal Websites and Blogs” [Insert Link when Published] contains a list of websites that list legal job vacancies.
There is further information on paralegal work in the Careers and Employability Service guide “Work as a Paralegal” [Insert Link when Published]
There is an example CV on the following page and some key hints and tips both below and on the example CV to support you in producing a high quality CV. In addition, refer to the ‘CV and Covering Letter Guide' for further advice.
Address: 19 Woodcock Avenue, Whalley Range, Manchester M16 7PF
Telephone: 0161 258 6199 Mobile: 07945 612557
[Ensure accurate personal details]
[Use clear, easy to define headings and sub-headings to illustrate information.
Be consistent in style through-out.]
2019-2020 Manchester Metropolitan University
Legal Practice Course
[Use reverse chronological order (most recent first) for each section.]
Electives: Corporate Practice, Commercial Litigation,
Employment Law and Practice
2016-2019 Manchester Metropolitan University
LLB (Hons) Law- Class 2:2
Modules included Commercial Law (63%), Employment Law (62%) & Contract (65%).
Final year dissertation: “Recent Developments in Marine Insurance Law” (62%), presented to Baker and Dunn Solicitors in a lunchtime seminar October 2018.
Mooting: Represented the University in the National Mooting Competition, achieving a quarter-final placing. This developed strong advocacy & presentational skills, in addition to the ability to undertake practical legal research & case analysis.
2014-2016 Oadby Sixth Form College, Oadby, Leics.
French (B), German (B), History (C)
2009-2014 King’s High School, Oadby, Leics.
Achieved 8 GCSEs grades A-C including English Language (A) & Mathematics (B).
LEGAL WORK EXPERIENCE
[When describing legal work experience highlight key legal skills such as interviewing, drafting, advocacy, etc.]
July-August 2019 Leicester Law Centre
Voluntary Legal Advisor - 1 Month
[Use specific examples to demonstrate key legal skills to an employer.]
July-August 2018 Cook & Co. Solicitors, Leicester
Work Experience Placement - 1 Month
October 2016-present River Island, Manchester
Team Supervisor - Part-Time
[For non-legal work experience focus on transferrable skills that you have gained or developed rather than giving a list of duties. You should also highlight any positions of responsibility.]
INTERESTS and ACHIEVEMENTS
[Do mention impressive extra-curricular achievements and any interesting hobbies to demonstrate further skills and help your CV stand-out.]
Badminton: Represented Leicestershire U-18 at badminton and represented Manchester Metropolitan University in the national BUCS competition. I have recently joined Chorlton & District Badminton Club and am now part of the planning committee that is organising the Christmas Bash, a social event at which about 100 people are expected to attend, proceeds of which will go to charity.
Debating: I am a keen debater and regularly attend and take a part in debates organised by the University Debating Society. I am also a member of the Student Law Society and, alongside another student, presented an argument opposing the viewpoint “The Legal Services Act: The End of the Legal Profession as We Know It?” at a recent meeting.
Jazz Music: I also enjoy listening to jazz music and collecting jazz records, as well as reading books on the history & development of jazz music from its early days to modern times.
[Memberships of clubs and societies can also demonstrate your ability to build networks and a firm may feel that it will help you bring in business.]
[Language skills should be mentioned as many firms are multi-national or have clients who communicate in a language other than English.]
References available on request.
There is an example covering letter on the following page and some key hints and tips both below and on the example covering letter to support you in producing an excellent covering letter.
The covering letter introduces the CV, gives you the opportunity to sell yourself, bringing in aspects of the CV that you feel are impressive and which back up the points that you want to make. It also gives you the chance to discuss your skills and personal qualities. As far as possible, it should be tailored to the individual firm that you are applying to. You should try to cover the following points:
In order to illustrate these points, you may wish to discuss your studies at degree and/or LPC level, your final year dissertation and in particular, any legally-related work experience that you may have. This could also include volunteer work done at a Citizen’s Advice Bureau or a law centre, or volunteering for a charity. Mature students may have previous work experience that is not necessarily legal, but could be helpful in a future legal career. For example, someone who has worked as a social worker may have a thorough knowledge of social services and the legal framework within which Criminal Law operates, and may have already prepared cases for court proceedings.
When discussing skills and personal qualities, always back up what you say with evidence. For example, a student wanted to talk about her ability to rise to a challenge and her problem-solving abilities. She gave an excellent example of having been on a canoeing trek where she had to work in a team to navigate across various rivers and streams!
Emphasise any particular achievements that you are proud of and also the skills that you feel you have developed. If you have any interests which are a bit different, it may be worth mentioning them. Firms are currently inundated with applications from hopeful law students; impressive achievements and unusual interests may just help your application to stick in the mind of the person reading it and thus help you to get an interview. It can also provide a good point for discussion at the interview.
Finally, don’t waffle. Concentrate on writing “bite-sized” paragraphs and you should try to make your points concisely. You are writing a covering letter, not an essay or dissertation!
Have a look at the example, below. It relates to the Joseph Kaplinsky CV.
Mr Robert Grimble
Grimble & Grimble Solicitors
247 High Street
[Include full details of the address and where possible address to a specific person, both when applying for a vacancy and when applying speculatively.]
Dear Mr Grimble,
I am writing to you to apply for a training contract commencing in September 2020. I am currently studying for the Legal Practice Course at Manchester Metropolitan University, which I will complete in June 2020.
[Make it clear which role you are applying for and why you are the best candidate.]
I believe that I am a good candidate for this position as I have work experience (both legal and commercial) which has given me the skills and experience to effectively deal with clients and other professionals and to manage files.
I am particularly attracted to Grimble & Grimble because of the variety of litigation work that you undertake and the range of clients that you clearly attract and my areas of chosen academic study align with the key areas delivered by your firm. My success in reaching the quarter-finals of the National Mooting Competition, allied to my experience of participating in university debates, indicates that I would enjoy success as a solicitor-advocate. The fact that your firm regularly represents clients at employment tribunals and encourages fee-earners to do their own advocacy is another reason why I feel that I would be able to make a successful contribution to Grimble & Grimble.
[Demonstrate why you are appropriate for this law firm and how your skills align with their values.]
The challenge of manoeuvring a client through the litigation process is one that particularly appeals to me. Furthermore, I believe that I possess the ability to think strategically and commercially, a vital quality when attempting to achieve a practical outcome for a client. My understanding of commercial imperatives is evidenced by my continued success as a team supervisor at River Island, operating as I do within a highly competitive and target-driven sales environment.
[Highlight appropriate transferrable skills from work experience or hobbies.]
In addition to the above, I feel that my non-academic achievements, particularly in the field of badminton, are evidence of my energy, commitment and determination to succeed.
I enclose my CV for your consideration. I am available for interview at any time and I look forward to hearing from you.
Leave enough space for your signature
Find Opportunities: We advertise hundreds of part time, graduate and internship roles through My Career Hub.
JobsHub Drop-In: Every afternoon from 1pm-4pm. Review your CVs, covering letters and application forms with our team of Careers and Employment Assistants.
Ask a Careers Question Online: Get online advice through My Career Hub. This service allows you to ask your question at any time and receive support via email.
Careers Consultant Appointments: Book a 30 minute appointment to discuss any career query you may have.
For more information visit mmu.ac.uk/careers
We offer range of support services to Manchester Met students and graduates:
The online careers centre you can access 24/7 to view career resources, advice and tips, career quizzes and information tailored to your sector.
Get online advice through My Career Hub, ask your question at any time and receive support via email.
Book an appointment with one of our Careers Advisors through My Career Hub or call 0161 247 3483.