training contract

Perfectly positioning yourself to obtain the elusive training contract

It’s no secret that the majority of law graduates, especially those who have completed the LPC are all after the same thing…………. the elusive training contract. And yes it can be quite hard to secure.

Since 2010 (when the UK was in the grips of an economic recession) all five magic circle players have gradually reduced their trainee lawyer intake. Anglo-German firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer saw its UK training contract offering drop from around 95 in 2010, to just 80 this year. Meanwhile, Allen & Overy — which took on around 85 trainees this year — offered in excess of 120 training contracts pre-recession. Linklaters, which currently offers around 110 training contracts annually according to Legal Cheek’s Most List, used to provide almost 140 trainee lawyer positions in 2010. Finally, Slaughter and May, which offered almost 90 training contracts back in 2010, recruited less than 80 trainee lawyers last year. *

These statistics don’t make for easy reading for the ever increasing numbers of law graduates, but fear not, there is hope!

I specialise in Paralegal and Chartered Legal Executive recruitment and have done this for over 8 years. My team and I cover a large geographical region encompassing most of the South of England and we have good news! I can report that many of the regional law firms I work with on a day to day basis are close to returning to pre-recession trainee numbers.

With both solicitor and paralegal roles, we are currently in a job rich, candidate short market and many law firms are realising it is vital for them to grow (and retain) their own talent to maintain a quality work force. I have been working with many clients for the last decade and placed a number of paralegals at firms where they have become trainees.  This has also given me a good insight into the differing approaches some firms take to internal and external trainee applications.

External or internal trainees – what’s your best prospect of success?

As an external applicant the prospect of all those application forms is daunting to say the least. Whether you’re still studying for your LLB, LPC or whether you are working as a paralegal, do you really have time to fill in the onerous (at best!) training contract application forms? As a law graduate myself I know I didn’t! And yes the competition is fierce with so many graduates having top notch qualifications.

One way to avoid these forms but not the whole process (I’ll come back to that later) is to secure a paralegal position at a law firm with a genuine policy on progressing their employees. Not only does this give you invaluable commercial experience, but it also allows you to really understand a firm so you know exactly what they’re looking for when it comes to the application process. Quite often these firms will also bring the intake date forward for employees, so you don’t have to wait 2 years to start your training contract.

Each firm will have their own policy in terms of internal and external applications. Some firms will only open their application process to internal employees which can be a huge draw for candidates. In a candidate short market this approach can really assist law firms attract and retain top paralegals.

The vast majority of law firms however will accept applications from internal and external applicants, and I have to say that it never ceases to amaze me how much more successful external applicants seem to be within certain firms.

There are of course a number of reasons for this and the most common seems to be that employees get complacent. Yes you have got your foot in the door but you should never take the trainee contract process lightly. Some feel that working within a law firm will automatically put them in a better position when applying for training contracts. This can be true as you now have great work experience and hopefully have proved your worth. However, it should never be taken as a given that just because you are employed by a firm and received encouragement to apply for a training contract from supervisors or managers that you will automatically be successful. There are always a number of decision makers involved in the process and just because your manager may be rooting for you, it is vital you still impress every single one of those decision makers.  You do need to invest the time and effort required to ensure you perform at the top of your ability at interviews, assessments and presentations or any part of the process. Quite often it seems that internal applicants are simply out performed by external candidates on the day.

So internal versus external applicants? There is no easy answer but in both cases it is about preparation and performance on the day, as well as hopefully for internal candidates some reference to their track record at the firm.

There are some firms that seem to take a genuine interest in arming their paralegals with all of the tools necessary to succeed in the process.  Some will offer 1-2-1 training contract tuition with members of the recruitment / HR team and you will also be given the opportunity to discuss the process with other trainees who have been successful.

Joining one of these firms as a paralegal means you could end up in the privileged position of only ever applying for one training contract! I know from candidates I have placed at these firms that they wouldn’t have it any other way. They know they are going to be training at a firm they enjoy working at as they already do, and they’re so grateful not to have to wait two years to commence their training contract.

For any specific advice on any of the above or any questions at all please do contact me on 01179 171 874 or email

*source – Legal Cheek

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