The training contract
What's a TC?
Am I eligible for one?
Using my experience
When to apply
Paralegals can apply for a training contract. And you know what? They’ve got a pretty good chance of landing one too.
So, can a paralegal become a solicitor? This question is pretty easy to answer: yes! Increasingly, starting out as a paralegal is part and parcel of the meandering route to the big time; it has almost become the norm for training contract candidates to have spent at least some time as a paralegal, gaining invaluable knowledge and priceless experiences of the legal world.
In short, it’s now possible to transition seamlessly from paralegal to solicitor, in some cases, even without a training contract (I’ll get into this later). But first, let’s get back to basics.
What is a training contract?
A training contract is a two-year period that trainee-solicitors embark on, following the completion of their Legal Practice Course (LPC). It’s like an apprenticeship: the aim of the game is to help you transfer your academic knowledge of the law into practical use. This is an important process, so you’ll be overseen by senior solicitors, who’ll help guide you on your way.
Let’s not be under any illusions though, these contracts are super competitive. But it’s definitely worth applying: this is the fast track route after all.
It’s no secret that there are more would-be solicitors than there are training contracts.
To distinguish yourself from the crowd, it’s crucial that you not only apply to several firms but that you research them and tailor your application to each.
But most importantly, before applying it’s worth checking out if you’re eligible: no matter how breathtaking your application is, if you haven’t jumped through the right hoops, you can kiss goodbye to your chances of success.
Am I eligible for a training contract?
There are 3 well-trodden pathways here:
1. You’re doing a law undergraduate degree – If you’re studying law, you’re eligible to apply for a training contract in your penultimate year of university. You’ll need to get an LPC under your belt when you finish, but most firms will help to fund this.
- You’re studying a non-law undergraduate degree – Lucky you! You’re just as likely as any law student to secure a training contract: from Astro-Physics to English Lit, it really doesn’t matter which degree you’re doing.
But here’s the catch. In order to be eligible, you need a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or Graduate LLB. These are effectively conversion courses that allow you to pick up the same academic know-how as your law student chums.
When you’ve finished your GDL or Graduate LLB, you’ll also need to complete the LPC. Bearing this in mind, you should apply for training contracts in your final year of uni.
- The Paralegal Path – Many people tend to overlook this route, but it is definitely an option. It used to be the case that only graduates could apply for training contracts, but now thanks to new guidelines introduced by the SRA, paralegals can apply too.
The rule acknowledges that, more often than not, there is very little difference between paralegals and associates. So, if you complete the LPC there’s nothing stopping you from applying.
Can a paralegal job really lead to a training contract?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Training contracts play hard to get! With so many brilliant and accomplished candidates applying, you’ll have to really distinguish yourself, not only as a hard worker but as having a ‘legal mind’.
You might be thinking that this is easier said than done. But that’s where paralegal work comes in. It offers you a great entry point into the legal world; it gives you a taste of law-firm life while boosting your legal knowledge no-end. For this very reason, many graduates will often work as paralegals before applying to the all-important training contract.
So, for some people paralegal work leads to a very successful career in its own right, while for others, it’s an excellent stepping stone between a degree and a training contract.
There are some real advantages of the paralegal route too! For starters, if you decide that you want to apply for a training contract at a specific firm, having experience in their office can stand you in great stead: not only will you have great legal knowledge, but you’ll know the firm and their values inside-out.
Or maybe you’re after a fresh adventure? Even if you apply to another firm, your experience as a paralegal will prove invaluable and inevitably bolster your application.
But remember, while legal experience definitely helps, it doesn’t guarantee you a training contract by any stretch of the imagination: it still boils down to how capable you are.
How do I know whether my paralegal experience will lead to a training contract?
Presumably, you want to know whether your hard graft as a paralegal will be rewarded? Join the club! Often you can feel like you’ve been left in the dark, unsure whether you’ll have the opportunity to develop your career and realise your ambition. This problem has a pretty simple solution. Just ask!
Most law firms will be frank and honest with you: either yes, or no.
If it’s a yes, you’re in luck! If it’s a no, don’t sweat, there’s plenty of other firms out there and your paralegal experience can only be a good thing.
Is there a way to become a solicitor without a training contract?
Yes (but it’s tricky).
In law, we’ve had a big problem. Namely, each year there are more brilliant potential solicitors than there are training contracts.
In 2014, the SRA introduced the Equivalent Means system, which recognised the objective truth: many paralegals carry out exactly the same work as trainees, the only difference is that they don’t have a lucrative training contract.
Simply put, the system rewards paralegals who complete work which requires legal knowledge that is equivalent to, and sometimes far beyond that of a legal trainee. These paralegals are now able to present their experience as a means to gain promotion.
So if you’re an LPC graduate with excellent (emphasis on the excellent here) legal knowledge that you’ve acquired during your time as a paralegal, the Equivalent Means system may be at your service.
But that’s not to say it’s a short-cut! The process is rigorous, demanding and it does cost money.
Before you decide to ditch the training contract in favour of this route, it’s worth checking out if you’re eligible first. As you’ll remember from our previous discussion, ‘What’s a Paralegal’, being a paralegal doesn’t mean just one thing; it’s a label that encompasses a broad array of disparate roles at different organisations.
The Equivalent Means process is only offered to senior paralegals, with at least two years experience and those that have great knowledge of three practice areas (this really is the bare minimum).
The Equivalent Means system really is a welcome change: finally, paralegal work is getting the kudos it deserves! But do make sure that you fit the bill before applying, as a training contract may be your best bet instead.
Is there a way to become a solicitor without a training contract?
LNot to sound like a broken record, but if you’re set on applying for a training contract you’ll need to be really organised and proactive.
This can be a bit tricky though. Whether you’re still at uni or grinding out a 9-5 as a paralegal, it can be difficult to know exactly what you should be doing and when it needs to be done by.
Don’t worry, there are some easy places to start! Why not put together a list of the application deadline dates for each firm – this way you’ll be able to stay one step ahead of the competition. And while you definitely can apply on the deadline, most firms offer training contracts on a rolling basis: essentially the earlier you apply, the better chance you give yourself.
All pretty straightforward, right?
Predictably, application deadline dates vary, depending on the size and location of the law firm.
- Deadlines for large firms in big cities tend to fall at the end of the summer, around 31 August.
- Smaller, regional firms may have different deadlines, which can occur throughout the year.
Applying for a training contract also depends on who you are:
- If you’re a law student – you can apply in your penultimate year of your undergraduate studies. Remember that larger law firms will probably be recruiting for 2 or 3 years in advance.
- You might be a non-law student – Apply in your final year of university. This gives you plenty of time to do your GDL.
- If you’re a paralegal – it’s open season! As long as you’re eligible for a training contract, there’s nothing stopping you from applying. You may want to build up your legal experience or you may just want to get started now.
- If you’re too early – why not apply for a vac scheme? There’s nothing like work experience to boost your chances of success!
So, if you’re gunning for a training contract it’s pretty crucial that you start your preparation ASAP; start researching firms, build up your knowledge of various practice areas and get to know your deadlines. All About Law has some great extra info on training contracts.
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