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.
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 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.
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.
- 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!
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.
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.