Routes to Qualification in the UK
If you are looking to launch a career in law, there are several routes you can take towards qualification. By far the most common way is through obtaining an undergraduate degree, followed by the GDL and/or the LPC. However, alternative pathways have emerged in recent years. As such, in this blog, we will detail the different routes to legal qualification in the UK and the options open to you outside of training in private practice!
The ‘Traditional’ Training Contract Route
Becoming a solicitor in the UK is a rewarding career path, albeit one that requires a significant amount of training and education. One of the most common ways to qualify as a solicitor is through the traditional training contract route, a two-year programme that provides aspiring lawyers with hands-on experience in a law firm. Typically, trainee lawyers receive a mix of structured training and support to develop the practical skills and knowledge necessary for a career in law, but also on-the-job alongside and under experienced solicitors, generally rotating through four six-month seats across different areas of practice.
Before starting a training contract, trainees are often required to complete any necessary qualifications, including the GDL (if a non-law grad) and the LPC, however it should be noted that going forward both have been replaced by the SQE. Additionally, trainees will be required to complete the Professional Skills Course (PSC) once their training contract commences.
Aside from the quality of work, the salary on offer often makes the traditional training contract route more attractive for graduates and students keen to pursue a career in law. Of course, the average salary for trainee solicitors in the UK varies depending on the law firm in question. Indeed, according to the Law Society, the average salary for a trainee lawyer in London is £40,000-£50,000 per year. However, certain US firms, including Weil Gotshal, Kirkland and Morrison & Foerster, exceed this average, offering £60,000-£65,000 to its trainees during their training contracts. The potential NQ salaries also make training at city firms attractive to high-flying students; Akin Gump for instance offers £179,000 to its NQ solicitors, something hard to find on offer at such an early stage in your career if you pursued an alternative route to qualification. However, it should be noted that these firms are also highly competitive, and securing a training contract with them can be incredibly challenging – for instance, US firms in particular tend to offer less training contracts than larger Magic Circle firms, also having much more stringent academic requirements. Nevertheless, whilst salaries may vary, trainee solicitors can largely expect to earn a competitive salary during their two-year programme.
Some law firms also offer their trainee lawyers the opportunity to complete either a client or international secondment, in which they are temporarily assigned to another department or office. This provides trainees the opportunity to gain practical experience in a different area of law and to develop new skills, benefitting from the traditional route, all whilst gaining in-house experience.
An In-House Training Contract
If you are considering a career in law, you may have heard of the term ‘in-house training contract’. This route to qualification is becoming increasingly popular among law graduates and aspiring lawyers but what exactly is an in-house training contract, who offers them, and how do they differ from the ‘traditional’ training contract route?
What is an in-house training contract? An in-house training contract is a training contract offer by an internal organisations legal department as opposed to a law firm. The legal department of a company will typically recruit and train trainees for a set period, usually two years. During this time, trainees will work on a variety of legal matters that are relevant to the organisation, gaining valuable experience and training a real-world setting. In-house training contracts are typically offered by large organisations with in-house legal teams, such as Banks, Corporations, Non-Profits, and government agencies.
Who offers in-house training contracts?
Whilst many companies offer in-house training contracts, and they are potentially a less competitive route into law in comparison to securing a traditional training contract, the availability and the requirements of these contracts can vary by industry, location, and other factors.
Keeping in mind that this is not an exhaustive list, below are some examples of companies that offer in-house training contracts:
The Big Four: Deloitte, PwC, EY & KPMG
Tech companies: Google, Microsoft, IBM, Apple & Spotify
Healthcare Providers: NHS
Banks and financial services companies: JP Morgan, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley & Deutsche Bank
Supermarkets/retail companies: Tesco, Amazon & Aldi
Media and telecoms: BBC, Sky, BT & Vodafone
What are the differences between an in-house and a traditional training contract?
The main difference between an in-house training contract and a traditional training contract is the focus of the training! For trainees training in-house as opposed to in private practise, they will work exclusively with the organisations legal team, focusing on the legal matters that are relevant to that particular organisation. This can provide trainees with a deep understanding of the legal issues faced by the organisation and the specific legal skills required to address them. As explored above, trainees pursuing qualification through the ‘traditional’ route rotate through different practice areas within the firm they are training at. Whilst this can provide trainees with a more varied experience, it may not provide the same level of depth and understanding. Additionally, you will likely be required to enrol on the LPC part-time alongside work.
Why is an in-house training contract a good alternative to the traditional training contract route?
There are several reasons why an in-house training contract can be a good alternative to a traditional training contract:
Exposure to real-world legal issues: In-house trainees work on legal issues that are relevant to the organisation, providing a unique insight into the legal challenges faced by the organisation.
Practical experience: In-house trainees work with real clients and stakeholders, gaining practical experience in a real-world setting.
Career opportunities: In-house training contracts can lead to long-term career opportunities within the organisations legal department, providing a clear career path and stability.
Work-life balance: In-house legal departments typically have more predictable workloads and fewer billable hour requirements than private practise law firms, providing a better work-life balance for trainees.
The Government Legal Trainee Scheme (GLTS)
An alternative option to the traditional ‘training contract’ route, be it in private practise or in-house, is the Government Legal Trainee Scheme, also known as the GLTS. The GLTS is an attractive alternative to those who wish to qualify, but have a keen interest in public service and government.
So, what is the GLTS? Run by the Government Legal Department (GLD), The GLTS is a two-year training programme, open to law graduates and those who have completed the GDL, designed to give aspiring lawyers an insight into the legal work carried out by government departments. During the two-year scheme, trainees receive comprehensive formal training and development opportunities all whilst being given the opportunity to learn through high-quality work spanning a range of legal issues, from public law to commercial law and employment law. On completion of the programme, and subject to meeting the necessary requirements, such as passing the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS), successful trainees will be eligible to qualify as solicitors.
Why is the GLTS a good alternative to the traditional training contract route?
There are many factors that position the GLTS as a good alternative to a traditional training contract:
High-quality training: Trainees on the GLTS receive comprehensive training and development opportunities, both through formal training and on-the-job learning. This can help develop a wide range of skills and experiences that can be transferable to other areas of law.
Exposure to a range of legal issues: Trainees on the GLTS have the opportunity to work on a range of legal issues, including public law. This can provide a broad foundation of legal knowledge and experience that can be valuable in a range of legal careers.
Access to diverse work opportunities: Whilst the GLTS is based in London, trainees can be placed in a range of government departments across the UK. This can provide exposure to different areas of the law and give trainees the opportunity to work on a range of interesting and complex legal issues.
The potential for a permanent position: Successful trainees on the GLTS may be offered a permanent position with the GLD at the end of the programme. This can provide a clear career path and stability in a competitive and challenging sector.
What are the differences between the GLTS and a traditional training contract?
There are several differences between the GLTS and a traditional training contract:
Structure: The GLTS is a two-year programme with set rotations, whereas a traditional training contract is typically two years with four six-month seat rotations.
Focus: The GLTS is focused on government legal work, whereas a traditional training contract can be more varied, depending on the law firm.
Location: The GLTS is based in London, but trainees can be placed in a range of government departments across the UK. A traditional training contract is usually based in one location, although it should be noted that some firms offer opportunities such as client and international secondments.
Application process: Traditional training contracts are offered by law firms, and applicants will need to apply directly to each law firm separately. The GLTS on the other hand is offered by the GLD, and applicants instead apply through the Civil Service Jobs website.
The GLTS therefore is a highly regarded training contract programme that provides valuable experience and training in the legal professional. However, it is important to note that the GLTS is competitive, and not all applicants are successful. It is essential to carefully research the GLTS and to prepare your application carefully to increase your chances of success.
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) Training Contract
If you are considering a career as a solicitor in the UK, you may have heard of the CPS training contract. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is the public prosecuting agency responsible for prosecuting criminal cases in England and Wales. Akin to the GLTS, if you have a keen interest in one specific area of law, in this case Criminal law, the CPS Training Contract route may appeal to you more over the traditional training contract route.
The CPS training contract is a two-year training programme that provides aspiring solicitors with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in criminal law while studying for a qualification. Trainees work within the CPS, supporting prosecutors in the preparation and presentation of criminal cases. The programme is designed to provide trainees with a comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system and the role of the CPS within it.
What does the CPS training contract offer trainees?
The CPS training contract offers a range of benefits to trainees, including:
Hands-on experience in criminal law: Trainees work alongside experienced prosecutors and gain practical experience in the preparation and presentation of criminal cases.
Comprehensive training programme: The programme includes a variety of training sessions and workshops to develop legal skills and knowledge.
Exposure to a wide range of criminal cases: Trainees work on a variety of criminal cases, from minor offenses to high-profile cases, providing a broad understanding of the criminal justice system.
Competitive salary: The CPS offers a competitive salary to trainees.
Qualification: Trainees are provided with the opportunity to qualify as a solicitor upon completion of the programme.
How to Apply for the CPS Training Contract?
To apply for the CPS training contract, applicants must meet certain eligibility criteria, including:
A minimum of a 2:1 degree in any subject or equivalent.
Completion of the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or equivalent qualification.
A genuine interest in criminal law and the work of the CPS.
Applicants must submit an online application, which includes a personal statement, CV, and academic transcripts. Successful applicants are then invited to an assessment day, which includes a written test, group exercise, and an interview.
Therefore, the CPS training contract provides aspiring solicitors with a unique opportunity to gain practical experience in criminal law and the criminal justice system. The programme offers a comprehensive training programme, exposure to a wide range of criminal cases, and the opportunity to qualify as a solicitor upon completion. If you have a genuine interest in criminal law and the work of the CPS, the CPS training contract could be an excellent alternative.
Legal apprenticeships have also emerged in recent years as a viable alternative route to qualification. They offer a blend of on-the-job training and part-time legal study. Some may argue that qualifying through a legal apprenticeship route often takes longer – typically six years for a solicitor apprenticeship – however, given that these schemes are open to school-leavers, they widen access to careers in law for those who wish to circumvent the university route and avoid incurring student debt. Whilst incredibly competitive, the academic requirements for legal apprenticeships tend to be less stringent than required for traditional training contracts, which, depending on the firm, sometimes require straight A’s at A-Levels and a high 2.1.
Who offers Legal Apprenticeships?
As their popularity have grown, more companies have started to offer legal apprenticeships in the UK, including law firms, corporations, and public sector bodies. Whilst non-exhaustive, below is a list of companies and law firms that offer legal apprenticeships:
Law firms: Eversheds Sutherland, Kennedys, Burges Salmon, Dentons CMS, Ashfords, Addleshaw Goddard, Osborne Clarke, Norton Rose Fulbright, Withers, RPLC, Clyde & CO, Allen & Overy, Mischon de Reya & Pinsent Masons.
Big Four: KPMG, Deloitte
Why are Legal Apprenticeships a good alternative to the traditional training contract route?
Legal Apprenticeships offer several benefits over the traditional training contract route.
On-the-job experience from the get-go combined with academic study: Legal apprenticeships provide aspiring solicitors with paid practical experience in a law firm all whilst providing the opportunity to study towards a qualification. Whilst the salaries may be lower than those offered for training contracts, apprenticeships offer a wage that increases as you progress through the programme. This can be an attractive option for those who wish to avoid taking on student debt.
More affordable: Legal apprenticeships are also a more affordable route to qualification than the training contract route, as the costs are shared between the government and the employer. They also offer a way for individuals who may not have been able to afford the traditional route to qualify as a solicitor. Whilst It is important to note that legal apprentices will be required to complete the SQE in order to qualify, this is fully funded. In stark contrast, LPC fees if you are self-funding can cost between £7,850-£17,950 which is unrealistic for a lot of people interested in a career in law who have not secured training contracts.
Avoids university: As mentioned above, legal apprenticeships provide a route into the legal profession for those who may not have gone to university or do not wish to go to university.