Law Fair FAQs: All Your Training Contract Queries Answered

Law Fair FAQs: All Your Training Contract Queries Answered

Whilst travelling the length and breadth of the country attending law fairs, we noticed that students kept asking us the same few questions. Below, we attempt to address the most common queries.

I’m a non-law student. Can I become a solicitor?

There is still much confusion among non-law students as to how (and even if!) they can become solicitors. The answer is simple: the graduate diploma in law (GDL). The GDL is a year-long law conversion course which allows graduates of any degree discipline to gain a legal qualification. Once you have completed the GDL, you will be on an equal footing with your law graduate counterparts and you will be able to enrol on the legal practice course (LPC). So, if you’re not studying law at undergraduate level – don’t worry! In fact, some firms prefer non-law graduates because they bring fresh knowledge and a different skillset to the role.

I’m a STEM student. Can I become a solicitor?

Law has traditionally been the reserve of arts and humanities graduates so we completely understand why we frequently get asked this question. But times are changing and law firms are keener than ever to recruit candidates from a scientific background. If you are a STEM (science, technology, engineering or maths) student or graduate, our advice would be to watch out from STEM-specific open days and events at law firms. That way you can visit the firm, ask questions and find out if law is a career path to which you might be suited. Of course, you can always ask recruiters the same questions at law fairs, which are held at universities around the country.

I want to practise human rights law/I want to practise IP law/I want to practise [insert practice area here]

Law firms always encourage trainees to go into their training contract with an open mind as to which area they would eventually like to qualify into. But if you’re absolutely certain, or if there is a particular seat you want to make sure is on offer, you can find out which firm is highly regarded in what area. Our sister publication, The Legal 500 ranks law firms all over the country (and indeed the world) in hundreds of different practice and work areas. Search for your desired practice area on The Legal 500 website and, once you have drawn up your shortlist of firms, consult the firm’s Lex 100 profile to learn all about the training experience. The ‘Star Performers’ section of The Lex 100 profile also tells you in which areas a firm is ranked highly.

Do the law firms in your guide offer work placements?

Work placements or work experience are commonly known as vacation schemes in law firm speak. A large proportion of Lex 100 firms offer vacation schemes and these one or two-week programmes are generally a very good way of starting out on the training contract recruitment ladder. To find out which firms offer vacation schemes, consult the firm’s Lex 100 profile and check out their score in the vacation scheme category (that’s the fun, colourful graph which you’ll see at the top of each online profile, or on the first page of a firm’s print profile). We’ve also written extensively about vacation schemes here.

I don’t have any legal work experience

We get it, obtaining legal work experience is difficult. If you don’t have friends or family members who can help you out, you may need to think outside the box. Ask university professors, work colleagues, friends of friends or, if you’re feeling brave, give a local law firm a call and see what they can offer you. You could always send out your CV speculatively too. If none of the above works, remember that any work experience is good experience, even your part-time job in a shop or restaurant. Be sure to emphasise the transferable skills you have learnt in these jobs on your application form. And remember that law firms understand that it can be difficult to get legal work experience!

When should I apply for training contracts?

This completely depends on what stage you are at! As a general rule, if you are in your second year of a law degree or your final (usually third or fourth) year of a non-law degree, you can apply for training contracts. Graduates and career changers can apply whenever, just be sure to check each firm’s application deadline!

I’m only in my first year. Will this guide be useful for me?

The short answer is YES! It’s never too early to start thinking about which firms you might want to apply. More and more firms offer open days, workshops and other opportunities for first-year students, which we have handily summarised in our ‘first year opportunities’ section. Some firms even offer ‘mini vacation schemes’ for first years which could put you well on your way to obtaining a training contract at that firm. More generally, you can start reading firms’ Lex 100 profiles and get a feel for the types of firms they are and whether the culture is one in which you think you could fit in. The more you know about a firm before you apply, the better!