Becoming a lawyer is a lengthy process and applying for legal work experience can be extremely daunting. But fear not, a traditional law degree is far from your only option. However, whichever path you choose to take, there is one thing you need to keep in mind: gaining work experience!
The term lawyer is the general description given to anyone who is qualified to give legal advice as a licensed legal practitioner. This includes solicitors and barristers and the process for each differ depending on where you reside.
In UK and Wales, qualifying as a solicitor through the conventional ways, full-time study, usually takes six years – including a three-year law degree (LLB), a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC), and finally a two-year training contract with a law firm or in-house in a large organization. If your background is a non-law degree, you will need to add another year to take your GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) conversion before your LPC bringing the total to seven years. To become a barrister takes five years: a three-year law degree, a one-year Bar course and a one-year pupillage. Same as before, an extra year if your degree was not in law. Other legal roles include paralegals and chartered legal executives, and these usually take four years of part-time study at Level 3 (A-level) and Level 6 (Undergraduate Degree), followed by a three-year work placement.
No matter which direction you choose to go into, it is vital to get your work experience as soon in the process as possible. If you are considering a career as a solicitor and this is the one we will be focusing on today, there are a few options you might take into account. Do not forget, the more experience, the better.
A good start would be to take advantage of the Law Firm Open Days and spend a day in a law firm. This will allow you to get a sense of the work they do, as well as network with the recruitment team.
Both law internships and vacation schemes can play an important role in your future employment as this is a great way to show recruiters you are committed to a legal career. Lasting between one to four weeks, these apprenticeship schemes will give you the opportunity to perform tasks usually done by trainee solicitors. Application deadlines for spring/summer vacation schemes usually tend to be around January time, and for winter vacation schemes around October/November time. But make no mistake, securing your two-year training contract will most likely be the biggest challenge you will face.
What is a law training contract?
A law training contract is the two-year training period in a law firm, and it represents the final step when qualifying as a solicitor. It is also the place where trainee solicitors put into practice the theoretical studies learned at university. The best time to apply for your training contract is either in the penultimate year of your undergraduate degree (May/June) if you are studying law, or the last year if your qualification is something different. This period of recognised training is regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority (SRA).
You will be given a supervisor who will assign you tasks and assess your work at the end. As a trainee solicitor, you will be involved in administrative work such as proofreading documents, preparing for and attending court proceedings, interviews and meetings with clients, as well as drafting and negotiating legal documents and contracts. This is a great opportunity to prove to the law firm and the SRA you have the skills required to practice law. Legal trainees do this through completing a number of ‘seats’, and depending on where you train, they will either consist of six-month stints in four different departments or a larger number of shorter seats.
There has also been an increase in the demand for training contract secondments, which is the ‘seat’ spent with one of your firm’s clients. The last part of your training contract is to pass the compulsory Professional Skills Course, which generally takes 12 days to complete and is paid by your firm. This covers three core sections: financial and business skills, advocacy and communication skills, and client care and professional standards. In addition to this, you will also have to complete 24 hours of elective training. From September 2021, the SRA is set to introduce a new system for aspiring solicitors called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which will no longer be restricted to traditional training contracts.