• Sian Crichton

Qualifying in 2020?!: Guidance and Advice for Those with NQ Offers and Those Without


This month we have seen law firms’ starting to announce their NQ retention rates and quite predictably the results vary from organisation to organisation as they grapple with the unprecedented commercial uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought. According to LawCareers.Net some organisations are able to commit to retaining 100% of their trainees, whereas other legal publications such as RollOnFriday have indicated that retention rates at certain organisations have dropped to around 66%. Similarly, publications are reporting a drop in NQ salaries being offered to September qualifiers. This is in no way a surprise given the well-publicised drop in associate salaries being imposed by most firms and the likelihood that bonus pay-outs are likely to be either deferred or carefully considered this year by most firms. Today’s article provides advice to September qualifiers with NQ offers and those without.

Qualifiers with NQ Offers

For those September qualifiers with NQ offers, firstly congratulations. To those of you qualifying into their preferred seat, then the advice is of course a no-brainer, "Take the money and run!!! ". However, for those of you with offers in a practice area that would be a second or third choice, who would normally consider looking around for a different role, our advice would be to take the position and stay for at least a year. Being a newly qualified solicitor is a valuable commodity and you will find that most employers are willing to take on solicitors at other private practice firms or in in-house roles despite a lack of direct experience in that practice area for at least two years based on the transferrable skills that you have acquired and your legal training. However, if you are considering moving following qualification into a different practice area then it’s important that: (i) you keep your CV up-to-date; (ii) you are pro-active in looking for work opportunities and training in that specific arena, so as to strengthen your application prospects at a later date; and (iii) that you do speak to recruiters in that market regularly to understand the current state of play.

Qualifiers without NQ Offers

For those September qualifiers without a NQ offer, then please don’t be too disheartened. A regular browse on LinkedIn will regularly show stories of individuals who are now counsel/partner/head of in-house talking about how they too were once in such a position. Whilst its undeniable that COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and temporarily forced companies to introduce hiring freezes, this too will pass and the world will slowly find its footing again.

Once it does, these are options to consider:


(a) Consider applying to Alternative Legal Service Providers (such as Axiom, Integreon, UnitedLex, Konexo, or Simmons and Simmons Adaptive to name just a few) for short term contracts. This would particularly suit individuals with experience in any of the following practice areas: (i) Financial Markets; (ii) Corporate and Commercial; (iii) Employment or (iv) Dispute Resolution.


(b) Consider relocating to secure better opportunities:


  • In light of the Conservatives win and their commitment to “North Shoring” (moving work from the South to the North in order to promote growth in those areas), we may see an influx of growth in infrastructure, technology and development outside the M25. As such, candidates may wish to set their “location” filter on their job applications more broadly.

  • Candidates interested in the science and technology sector may also wish to consider areas outside of London such as Cambridge, which offers not only competitive salaries but also arguably a better work-life-balance than some London offerings.

  • Candidates with experience in corporate funds, finance and commercial litigation may also want to consider speaking to recruiters who offer roles in the Channel Islands, the Caribbean, the Middle East or Asia.


(c) Consider if there is additional training that you could self-fund: With the increased demand for GDPR lawyers, candidates wishing to move into an in-house role may wish to consider self-funding a training course in Privacy (such as the IAPP’s Privacy Certification) or undertaking a Compliance course if they decide that they would like to apply their legal skills in a slightly different way.

Whilst it is undeniable that COVID-19 has resulted in a slowdown in the recruitment market, most firms are hopeful that the back end of 2020 will be more positive and therefore, NQs without a position should actively be pursuing the opportunities that are out there.

Should candidates be interested in having a confidential chat with one of our specialist legal recruiters about the contents of this article/ your CV, then please do send it through to hello@lunariapartners.com with the email subject “Qualifying in 2020?!:” and we will happily arrange a time to talk through your experience and provide advice on how to structure your CV to give you the best chance of securing an interview.

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