So you want a career in law? Alternative ways to train to become a solicitor (or equivalent)

When I started applying for training contracts the thought of training in-house was a relatively unheard of concept to most people.  The reaction I received from those I told?  Is that even possible?  Will you qualify as a solicitor?  In short, the answer was yes, and three years after commencing my in-house training contract, I’m now a qualified solicitor in England and Wales (it feels great to say that after years of hard graft!).

The legal profession is adapting to the socio-economic changes in today’s society.  We’ll see continued change in the years to come, the latest of which is the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) consultation that proposes “a new route to qualification” via “The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE)”.  I’ll save my comment on that for another day…

For many law students, their aspiration is to embark on a training contract at a top 20 law firm.  However, the profession is changing for a reason; competition for these highly-sought-after-opportunities is fierce.  Times are changing; other entry routes are becoming more commonly accepted as equivalent to a training contract, expanding the opportunities available to those aspiring to practice as a solicitor after many years of reading law books at 2am in their university law library.

* for the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to the position of ‘solicitor’.  While this may not technically be the correct qualification role for all qualification routes, for example, those undertaking CILEx qualifications qualify as a ‘Legal Executive’, the role upon qualification for the routes discussed below is broadly similar and therefore there is little need to distinguish these.  The list of opportunities below is by no means an exhaustive list!  Use those research skills you’ve developed at law school and find the right opportunity for you!

In-house training contracts (within a company, the Government or a local authority)

Interested in business or politics?  Passionate about a particular industry?  Perhaps the in-house training contract route is for you.

In-house opportunities come in all shapes and sizes, but at the end of it all you’ll qualify as a solicitor just like you would if you trained in private practice.  The opportunities vary from offering a very structured programme with distinct seat rotations that mirror (as best they can) that of the traditional training contract offered by a law firm; BT is a great example of this (see below).  Others however, perhaps those established in the last year or so, provide a more holistic training experience.  This means you may be based in one team covering a whole range of legal issues from a number of different practice areas.  Fancy working on a commercial deal in the morning and offering employment advice in the afternoon?  This is traditionally how in-house teams operate.

One key distinction between working in-house compared to working in a law firm is your client is also your colleague.  This can have a number of benefits, including collaborating closely with your client (read my thoughts here), and it can help you develop your commercial awareness (one of the key buzzwords in legal recruitment).  However, that’s not to say you can’t have a collaborative relationship with your clients in private practice.  I’m only in month into experiencing life in private practice and I have already seen very collaborative relationships, especially with some of the start-ups we advise.

I am a huge advocate for in-house training programmes.  I had a tremendous three years at BT and it’s set me up well for an exciting career in the technology, media and telecommunications (TMT) space.

Opportunities:

Apprenticeships

Still in school and weighing up the cost of going to university?  The rise in tuition fees to c.£9,000 in recent years has made considering university a greater and more important decision than ever before.  I was fortunate to miss the tuition fee hike so going to university was a no-brainer.  For those on the fence, legal apprenticeships are an attractive prospect, allowing you to ‘train on the job’ and pursue your desire to practice law as a solicitor without studying a traditional law degree and paying c.£9,000 per year!

Taking about the same time as a traditional law degree and subsequent training contract, legal apprenticeships are government backed schemes that focus on developing your legal skills and wider business skills in the legal environment.  You’ll still cover all of the content of a law degree through study outside of work and some providers will even offer an accredited LLB (law degree).  Your employer will pay some of the costs and the rest is paid for by the Government.

As more of these opportunities surface and the Government puts more funding into apprenticeships, we’ll see a rise in popularity of these programmes within the legal profession.  It’s a great way to learn as you earn and gain experience years before your peers studying their law degree at university.  One of the downsides?  You’ll miss out on fresher’s week and the social side of university, so this is perhaps a route of the more studious and career-focussed aspiring solicitors.

Opportunities:

Legal executives

Opportunities to train with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) have been around for a long time.  It was one of the first schemes to offer flexibility outside of the traditional training contract.

By following this route, you’ll choose to specialise in a particular area of law early on in your career.  Your training is then focussed, but equivalent to that of a trainee solicitor.  At the end while you’re not technically a solicitor, you will be a Practising Fellow of CILEx and will be able to carry out many of the same duties as a solicitor.

It will appeal to those with a passion for a particular practice area and who want to get on and start becoming an expert in their field early on.

Opportunities:

Paralegals

If you’re already a paralegal with a few years’ experience you may not be too far away from qualifying.  A couple of years ago, the SRA opened the doors to qualifying via ‘equivalent means’ through its ‘Training for Tomorrow’ programme.  It recognises that some paralegals are carrying out the same tasks as a trainee solicitor, however, without obtaining a training contract they would not be able to qualify as a solicitor (before these changes came in).

The scheme provides flexibility within the legal profession, but places the onus on the paralegal to provide evidence that their work experience meets the requirements of the SRA and is sufficiently broad enough to be recognised as ‘equivalent’ to that of a trainee solicitor.  You’ll need the backing of your employer who will certify that your training meets the requisite standards.

Opportunities:

  • Private practice or in-house (endless possibilities!)

Other (or a mix of the above)

Perhaps you want some variety in your training, which at the early stages of your career can never be a bad thing.  Soak up everything you experience like a sponge; you never know when something you thought was a little too niche or perhaps irrelevant to your current long term aspirations, might be your saving grace later in your career!

Opportunities:

Legal related (non-qualifying programmes/pre-qualification roles)

If you’re only just embarking on your legal academic career, bear in mind that there are a whole manner of opportunities cropping up that may help you along your way to becoming a solicitor, even if the opportunity itself doesn’t get you onto the roll.

Opportunities:

What does the future hold for our legal profession?

Many within the profession are eagerly awaiting the final outcome of the SRA’s latest consultation on the new route into the profession through the solicitors qualifying exam.  However, I suspect that this won’t be the last we’ll hear of it and there will be further developments to open up access to careers in law.  Different routes suit individuals from a variety of different backgrounds, all with varying passions and interests.  Provided the standards within the legal profession are upheld, I welcome new qualification routes for aspiring solicitors.

– TMTassociate

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Here’s to qualifying and a rebrand

After three fantastic years training in-house at BT, I’ve moved to Kemp Little to broaden my telecoms experience into the world of technology and digital media.  It’s been a whopping 7 years since I started my Law with Management degree at Aston University and after a tremendous amount of hard work I qualified as a solicitor in August.

I started tweeting back in 2014 as the @inhouse_trainee, but as my career grows, it’s time for a rebrand and new Twitter handle.  Join me over on Twitter as the @TMTassociate for updates on everything tech related.

Apologies for the slowdown in advice and mentoring for those embarking on their legal career, it’s been quite the year.  Stay tuned for more updates in the coming months.

– TMTassociate

Life as an in-house trainee

Richard Simmons at Lawyer2B got in touch with me through twitter after he’d read my blog.  He was keen to know about why I chose to train in-house.  Here’s the article I wrote for Lawyer2B which was published today!

It’s now 18 months since I started training in-house at BT. I’m about to begin my third seat in BT’s competition and regulatory law team and I’ve never regretted my decision to train and qualify in-house. This is my story of why I decided to start my legal career in-house, rather than accept an offer to train in private practice.

I first heard about BT’s legal graduate programme when BT attended a graduate recruitment fair at Aston University. There are few corporate in-house opportunities available to legal graduates, so I also applied to private practice firms. I maintain that your success will be driven by your attention to the quality (and not the quantity), of your applications. I managed to secure a vacation scheme at Wragge & Co and thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks working in the firm. I was offered a training contract, and then had a difficult decision to make.

How would my in-house training contract be perceived?

It was a difficult decision to make because the route to qualification has traditionally been through a private practice law firm. However, access to the legal profession is changing rapidly, with more apprenticeships on offer, and an increasing awareness of qualifying through CILEx. After taking everything into consideration, I settled very firmly on training in-house.

So why specifically did I choose to train in-house?

I studied a four year Law with Management degree at Aston University. Since studying Business Studies at GCSE, and continuing through to A level, I’ve always had an interest in business. I was keen to apply my knowledge of business in my future career. I appreciated the need for lawyers to be commercially aware during my degree. It’s a buzzword that is commonplace in graduate recruitment, and there’s good reason for this. Being commercially aware is at the heart of being a good lawyer, and more importantly, a good in-house lawyer.

During my degree I had the opportunity to work for a year in UBS Global Asset Management’s in-house legal team. This was my first taste of what life could be like in-house. Within six months I was very set on working in-house at some point in my future legal career; I just didn’t think at the time, it would be possible so early on.

At UBS I felt my advice was really valued by my business colleagues (who were my client), and that I was an integral part of their team. Though I don’t have a great deal of experience working in private practice, my perception was that – compared to in-house – the relationship with the client might be a more “them and us” scenario; with a separation between the client and the solicitor.

Now that I’ve had more experience in-house, I feel increasingly more included within the teams I support. My clients are not looking solely for my legal advice; there have been occasions when I have been asked for my commercial opinion.

BT’s in-house training contract was particularly appealing because of the opportunity (and challenge) of studying the Legal Practice Course part-time over the first two years of the three-year training contract. I was enticed by the opportunity of training in-house for three years and experiencing five seat rotations under the supervision of experienced and specialist lawyers, all of whom would have different backgrounds and private practice experience.

For me, it presented a valuable learning environment and a chance to develop personally into a great lawyer. BT’s legal graduates are part of the wider business and technology graduate programme. Another draw to train in-house with BT was that I would develop not only as a lawyer, but as a business advisor, by having access to commercial training and personal development opportunities.

What I hadn’t fully appreciated…

In hindsight, I had not fully appreciated the potential for a better work-life balance while working in-house. I had heard that it is one of the main reasons for those who make the decision to work in-house after training in private practice. I feel very much in control of the hours I work the majority of the time. Of course, in-house you’re still expected to be very willing to work late into the night where that’s necessary to meet the client’s needs. However, that tends to come and go with business requirements – it’s not consistently the norm. By being incredibly close to your client, it helps to build that all important rapport. You and your client share the company’s common purpose, goals, strategy and values; meaning there’s a better chance of a more effective and productive working relationship between the in-house lawyer and the client.

And from a personal perspective, I find I have the time to enjoy my life outside of work; from seeing my friends and partner (who lives in Birmingham – the flexibility of being in-house makes this easier!) to tweeting, blogging and training for my next race; in this case, Brighton Marathon in April 2015.

A few final thoughts

In-house training opportunities are few and far between. I can name a handful of companies that offer training contracts to external candidates, and a few more that provide training opportunities to their existing employees. Training in-house has enabled me to sharpen my commercial acumen and develop my legal skills, and I’ve had regular exposure to my clients; not least because they could be sitting in the same office building as me!

Chris Benn is a trainee solicitor at BT. He provides advice and mentoring to law students via Twitter and his blog.

Tweets in 2014 – the series

2014 was the year I started tweeting; I decided I wanted to provide advice and mentoring to law students and prospective trainees (I’m guessing that’s you!).  Breaking into the legal profession isn’t easy.  If you’re switched on and know where to find the right guidance and advice you’ll be onto a good start.  But life gets hectic when you’re studying law; I’ve been there and I’m glad I got through it unscathed.  So I started tweeting small nuggets of advice that I thought would be useful to you; pulling everything I read into one place.  There’s a wealth of information out there – I hope you find my ‘Tweets in 2014’ series as a good aid, whatever point you’re at in your academic or legal career.

– inhouse_trainee

Tweets in 2014 – first thoughts, getting into law and essential legal skills

Are you just starting out?  You’ll find some useful information about; what you should be thinking of before embarking on a career in law and how to ultimately break into the profession.  In this ‘Tweets in 2014’ article, you’ll also find out about the skills you’ll need to develop to become a great lawyer.

First thoughts and getting into law:

Essential legal skills:

– inhouse_trainee

Tweets in 2014 – university life (and post-university life) and commercial awareness

It’s not easy being a law student.  In this ‘Tweets in 2014’ article, for those currently in university, you’ll find guidance and advice on: (i) how to get through your degree; (ii) how you can become more involved in university life; and (iii) commercial awareness.  Finally, for those who are finishing university – a few articles that will hopefully spur you on to be successful.

University life and studying opportunities:

Events and competitions:

Unsure about commercial awareness?

Graduates:

– inhouse_trainee

Tweets in 2014 – news: legal profession and industry

In 2014 I tweeted and re-tweeted many news stories.  I covered the legal profession and what was happening in industry generally.  Check out what happened in 2014 in this ‘Tweets in 2014’ article.

Legal profession:

Industry:

– inhouse_trainee