Basically, a training contract is the step between your academic life and your life as a qualified solicitor.
Most training contracts are taken on a full-time basis and last two years. Part-time options are much rarer. The part-time-study training contract lasts between three and four years, allowing you to learn while you earn, balancing the LPC and/or GDL with part-time training at a firm. The part-time training contract is an option for those who have already completed their LPC. It involves working a minimum of two-and-a-half days per week for up to four years.
Training contracts must comply with SRA guidelines. The most important of these are:
- It’s a training contract, not an employment contract. This means it is nearly impossible for you to be sacked. For a training contract to be terminated there must be mutual agreement between the firm and trainee, a cancellation clause (like failing the GDL or LPC), or a formal application to the SRA when issues cannot be resolved internally. Instances of trainees being fired are extremely rare.
- Trainees must gain practical experience in at least three areas of English law and develop skills in both contentious and non-contentious areas. Some firms send trainees on litigation courses that fulfil the contentious requirement without them having to do a full contentious seat. Firms can also arrange secondments for trainees to gain contentious experience.
- Trainees must complete the Professional Skills Course. The firm has to allow trainees paid study-leave to attend these courses and has to pay the course fees.
“Trainees should view the training contract as an opportunity to be a sponge and soak up all the right ways to be the lawyer they want to be. A degree of open-mindedness about your career is imperative.”
The norm is to spend time in four departments over the two years (six months in each). Each stint is called a seat. At some firms you’ll find yourself doing six four-month seats or some other more bespoke arrangement. At very small firms it’s likely that your training won’t be as structured. Sometimes trainees repeat a seat, especially during six-seat schemes. Typically, repeat seats are in either the firm’s largest department or the department in which you hope to qualify.
Besides the SRA’s contentious/non-contentious requirement, some firms may require that you do a seat in one or more particular departments over the course of your training. For the other seats, firms usually ask you to identify your preferred departments and try to best accommodate your wishes. However, seat allocation isn't always a simple task, and you might not get what you want. It usually depends on the needs of departments and trainee seniority.
You will be allocated a supervisor in each seat who will be responsible for giving you assignments and (hopefully) helping out with any questions you have. Supervisors are typically mid-level to senior associates/assistants or partners. Usually you will share an office with your supervisor or sit near them in an open-plan setting. You may also have the opportunity to spend a seat (or part of one) seconded to one of your firm’s clients or one of its overseas offices. Appraisals are important, and most firms will arrange a formal meeting between trainee and supervisor/HR at the end of each seat and probably also midway through.
What the experience entails
- Long hours are almost a given; however, they are more likely when you work at a large, international or corporate/finance-focused firm. They are less likely at litigation-led firms and smaller domestic advisory or boutique firms.
- There is a hierarchical structure to law firms, and while this is felt more strongly at some firms than others, trainees should be prepared to start at the bottom. Salaries usually follow the hierarchy too, rising with seniority rather than being based on performance.
Trainee groups tend to be close-knit and most firms provide some sort of budget for trainee socialising. Larger firms with larger intakes of trainees tend to have more active social scenes.
- You’re not guaranteed a job at the end of it. If you’ve done well, the firm will retain you on qualification, finding you a job in a department that you’ve come to love… or in a department that needs new junior lawyers. The firm that trained you is not obligated to keep you; your contract with the firm is for the period of your training only. Our research into the firms featured on this website shows that 81.1% of qualifying trainees stayed at their firms in 2014; the rest either elected to look elsewhere or were forced to. You should regard your training contract as a two-year job interview.
The main thing to remember is that the purpose of training is to learn about several areas of practice and find your spot in the profession.
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