Becoming a solicitor is a popular career path for graduates, but with so many different types of law firms out there how do you choose which one is right for you? We take a look at some of the training contracts on offer.
Deciding whether you want to become a solicitor rather than a barrister can be difficult, especially now the distinction between the two professions has become so blurred. However, many more opportunities are available to solicitors. Each year, according to the Law Society, almost 6,000 trainees enter training contracts with the aim of qualifying as a solicitor, whereas for would-be barristers there are only 600 or so pupillages.
When applying for training contracts, one of the biggest choices you’ll face is deciding what type of law firm will suit you – and note, they are "firms", not companies. They start with the small "high street" firms, whose work centres on conveyancing, family law and criminal matters. At the other end of the spectrum are huge, multinational firms that deal with a broad range of corporate and commercial work. (In addition, a few training contracts are available for "in-house" lawyers with companies; for details of opportunities, see www.lawsociety.org.uk.) To get an idea of which firms have good reputations. take a look at a law firm directory, such as www.legal500.com. Broadly speaking, law firms can be categorised as follows:
High street/legal aid
Found up and down the country, these small firms deal with private client matters, and sometimes act for local businesses. Given the size of the practices, not all can offer training contracts. Salaries here are lower than elsewhere, but they must pay trainees the Law Society minimum – £17,110 in central London and £15,332 outside London.
Larger than their high street counterparts, these have full-service commercial practices, but operate from a single or several sites in a region. Typically, their clients are also based in that region. Take a look at our case studies with Dickinson Dees and Mills & Reeve trainees.
Often regional firms merge to create a single network of firms throughout the country – such as Eversheds and DLA Piper. Their clients are largely UK public and private companies, and work will be done on a national basis, drawing on resources across the offices.
These London-based firms undertake high-quality work for major companies, including FTSE 100 clients. Rather than run offices abroad, they typically have "best friends" agreements with law firms across the globe. Trainees are paid well, but may have to work long hours.
These firms handle work across multiple jurisdictions, and will have offices spanning the world. The appeal for trainees is that overseas secondments are sometimes available. White & Case, for example, guarantees an overseas posting during training contracts.
The "magic circle"
These are the crème de la crème: Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Linklaters, and Slaughter and May. (There is an ongoing debate as to whether Herbert Smith should be added.) Training contracts for these firms are highly sought-after.
As part of the Law Society requirements, trainees must gain exposure to three different types of law during their training contract, so they will spend time in various departments. (Jones Day is an exception, as it offers trainees a non-rotational training contract.) To find out more about the type of work trainees do in different seats, take a look at our case studies on the following pages.
The best way to find out which type of firm will suit you is to undertake placements at a variety of firms. Competition is high, so get your application in early. Typically, deadlines for summer schemes are at the end of January. However, law firms advise against booking back-to-back vacation schemes – instead, boost your CV by doing a variety of activities.
Most law firms offer their training contracts two years before they are due to start. So law undergraduates should apply at the end of their penultimate year, while non-law students should apply in their final year before they start the GDL. Most of the major firms will require you to fill in online application forms. For advice on completing application forms, see our "Killer applications" feature.