What’s a seat? Why do I need to do two years of training after 4 years of study? We’ll explain all you need to know about training contracts.
What are training contracts?
Following completion of the Legal Practice Course, as budding solicitors, you must now successfully undertake a training contract with a law firm. Training contracts provide you with on-the-job training and paid work that prepares you for life after qualification as a solicitor.
A training contract is essentially an interview that lasts for two years, as the firm is not required to take you on once you have completed the training contract. However, it should be noted that your chances of not being kept on are slim if you have performed well during your training contract and done everything that is expected of you. This is because the firm is unlikely to let go of someone who they have already invested huge amounts of time, effort, and money into.
During your training contract you will be entrusted with real work for clients of the firm. Some firms will ease you into this quite gently, whereas others will have you making telephone calls to clients who you have never met and have no idea how to advise! A common question many city firms hear is: ‘how long are the hours?’ Whatever the answer you are given, do not expect to be working a nine-to-five job every week. Areas such as mergers and acquisitions can involve incredibly unsociable hours when working on a deal, whereas real estate can be a more relaxed area. However, even if you undertake a training contract with a regional firm or high street firm, it should be emphasised that you do not finish working once you leave the office.
It will come as no surprise that there are not enough training contracts offered by law firms to provide everyone with a job. There is currently an oversupply of law graduates seeking training contracts. Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms receive thousands of applications each year for training contracts and vacation schemes, whilst only offering in the region of sixty training contract places a year. The situation is worse with the White Shoe firms (American law firms who have come and set up shop in London), who may only offer four training contracts each year.
At the end of a vacation scheme, some firms will interview candidates who have impressed them for training contracts already. Thus, it is possible for law students who have completed their second year of study at university to begin their third year with a training contract already secured. This illustrates the value of vacation schemes and why they are also highly sought after.
What is a ‘seat’?
During these two years, depending on the firm, you will be exposed to a number of ‘seats’. These seats typically last six months and usually span four different practice areas of the firm. Prior to beginning your training contract you will be able to choose the seats you would like to spend your two years in. Large international firms may offer the opportunity of going on secondment for six months. This could involve living in another country and working in the firm’s offices in Asia or the United States.
During your time spent in a particular practice area, you will be taught the basics of the area and how to manage clients. As time goes by, trainees can be given more responsibility and become comfortable in the seat they are in. But, after the six months is up, you will move onto your next seat.
Trainees often remark that this is like starting a new job, as it is often necessary to learn about the new area and make new contacts within the firm.
Should you be stuck on a piece of work, don’t panic; simply ask other trainees, your supervisor, or someone within the firm. Like any new job, you are not expected to know the ins and outs of how work should be completed or what certain documents mean. Asking questions and ensuring you understand the work before you do it is more likely to impress your supervisor or other members of the firm than simply getting on with the work and having to address where you went wrong afterwards.
Below is a long list of the various areas of law you may gain practical experience in during your training contract:
- Administrative and Public Law
- Agricultural Law
- Aviation Law
- Banking Law
- Business Affairs
- Charity Law
- Children Law
- Insurance and Reinsurance
- Civil Liberties/Human Rights
- Commercial Law
- Commercial Property
- Company Law
- Computer and IT Law
- Construction/Civil Engineering
- Consumer Problems
- Conveyancing – Residential
- Corporate Finance
- Crime – General, Motoring, Juvenile
- Debt and Money Advice
- Education Law
- Employment Law
- Energy and Natural Resources
- Environmental Law
- European Community Law
- Family Law
- Immigration Law
- Insolvency and Bankruptcy
- International Law (non-EC)
- Landlord and Tenant – Residential
- Libel and Defamation
- Liquor Licensing/Gaming
- Mediation – Civil/Commercial
- Mediation – Family
- Medical Negligence
- Mental Health
- Mergers and Acquisitions
- Military Law
- Neighbourhood Disputes
- Pension Law
- Personal Injury
- Planning Law
- Professional Negligence
- Transport – Road and Rail
- Travel and Tourism
- Welfare Benefits
The seats offered will vary from firm to firm. When researching firms, pay attention to the areas they claim to specialise in. Not only will this help your application, it will also give you an indication of whether you want to complete a training contract with a particular firm.
Salary and funding
Many become attracted to the legal profession because of the salaries offered. However, this should not be the single factor determining the firms you apply to.
As of 1 August 2014, law firms are required to pay trainees in accordance with the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which is currently £6.08 an hour.
However, some of the large city firms pay their trainees as much as £40,000 or £50,000 a year. This can rise to over £70,000 upon completion of the training contract. If you are someone who is motivated by the financial rewards arising from practising law in the city, White Shoe firms can offer a salary of up to £100,000 once qualified. The trade-off is that at these firms, more is expected of you as a trainee.
If you have previous work experience from the last three years, you can ask your supervisor to count it towards your two years. However, this can only be a maximum of one year of experience, which your supervisor is to count at ‘half equivalence’ giving you only 6 months of previous experience.
While undertaking your training contract the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) may decide to check how you are doing. In which case you need a record of the work you have been doing, skills you have gained and what you have learnt. Personal reflections on learning are encouraged, and it is also important to record any professional conduct issues or breaches that may have arisen during the contract.
You should also have at least three appraisals, which may be informal, from your supervisor or trainer. These appraisals help the firm assess your performance and progression as a trainee.
The company that is employing you must ensure that you have a desk to do your work, appropriate secretarial support, as well as access to a library and relevant research facilities.
You can have a maximum of twenty uncertified days of sick leave within the two years of the your training period. This includes any industrial action that may take place.
When you have eight weeks to go of your training you can submit your applications to: become a solicitor, attend an admission ceremony, apply for your first practising certificate, and apply for membership of the SRA.