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The Qualification Season 2017: Frequently Asked Questions

16th May 2017

After years of working with trainees qualifying as solicitors, we have seen various questions asked and certain issues raised time and again.  In an attempt to pre-empt the same questions this year, we composed responses to the following as part of our Qualification Season series of blogs.

  1. My firm has offered me a position but it is in the wrong discipline. Should I take it anyway?

It depends which discipline you want to qualify into.  If you want to qualify into Real Estate, Corporate, Banking, Construction or, to a lesser degree, Commercial Contracts, we think you would generally be capable of obtaining a desired role elsewhere as there will be a number of roles out there.

 

If you are looking at a more competitive or less busy discipline such as employment (as it currently stands) or litigation, you could be waiting for some time before securing a role externally (if at all!).  Unfortunately, at present, outside of the transactional areas above, you cannot bank on that security and our advice would be to accept a role that you have been offered by your firm.

Your firm should give you time to decide whether you want to accept the role, so you can hope that the ideal position becomes available in the interim and, failing that, you always have the option of looking for the ideal role even after acceptance.  That said, the longer you practise in an area, the harder it will be to move to another firm into a different discipline.

  1. Can I qualify into one discipline and change later?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this was more of an option in a different market, especially a retrain into a discipline with a skill shortage.  Whilst it is not impossible, it is tougher now with more available solicitors looking for a new role, particularly at the junior level.

That said, corporate and real estate teams may be open to re-trainers from disciplines such as projects and you should speak to us about any desire to do this.

  1. I have a choice of seat changes. What are the best tactics?

Try to get seat you want when you can!  Some people believe your third seat (in a traditional four seat training contract) is your statement of intent and puts you in the best position to qualify in that department, some people believe the fourth seat is best as you are under the noses of decision-makers.  Too many people work to these different tactics that they miss out on their desired seat move completely.

  1. Are there any possibilities of moving in-house at this stage?

In-house opportunities at NQ level are rare, but come up very occasionally, especially as all businesses are still trying to save some money!  Private practice is still the more realistic sector to qualify into.

  1. What are the best disciplines for an in-house move at a later date?

Commercial contracts is still the discipline favoured by companies seeking to appoint an in-house solicitor, however it is not unheard of for lawyers in construction, corporate and to a lesser extent, employment, property or litigation to move in-house.  The key is qualifying into the area where you enjoy the work most, not doing something you do not enjoy because of an idea you may want to work in-house in the future.

  1. Can I apply to the same firm in different areas of law?

You can, but do not just apply for any seat you have completed on your training contract.  Most firms appreciate that trainee solicitors will generally have two or even three disciplines they would like to consider qualifying into, as opposed to a burning desire to focus on one.  This is how CapeClarke can assist you in the application process as we can manage that process appropriately because of our relationships with key people in each firm.

  1. Can I apply to the same firm in different locations?

Again, you can generally apply to the same firm in different locations.  Some firms want to see a particular connection to a location, but most of the national firms (with multiple offices) normally just want the best solicitor they can get.  The key point to bear in mind is not to make more than one application to the same firm.  Each of the national firms have a central recruitment database and it would look unprofessional to make duplicate applications, regardless of whether it is to a different office.  Again, this is where CapeClarke can help as we can make key people aware that you can consider a role in numerous locations.

  1. How do I control the process of finding a role in September 2017?

Start as soon as you can!  Roles may not appear for some months, but contact us we can register you, then help get your CV into an order that can be submitted for positions as and when they arise and we can also discuss a more proactive approach to make certain firms aware of your availability.  It is all about communication and making sure we co-ordinate your applications to various firms appropriately.

  1. What are the chances of a temporary / locum / paralegal role on qualification?

This was more prevalent in the downturn but it still happens occasionally.  Very rarely, will firms offer other NQs a paralegal role as they are aware they will leave as soon as they secure a qualified solicitor position.  If you have no offers on the table, it is worth taking the paralegal role as it is additional experience working in the law and by the time next years NQ solicitor roles come around, you will have 12 months more experience than other applicants. That said, if you take a paralegal role, do not halt the search for a qualified solicitor role in the hope your firm will make you a NQ offer.

  1. When will firms make their decisions about September 2017?

It depends on the firm but is usually any time from April all the way through to September / October that said, we placed our first NQ in February last year!  A couple of firms have stated they are going to get the process moving earlier this year.

We would advise that you do not wait and see if your firm offer you a role if they are leaving the decision until very late, so that you do not miss out on good opportunities in the meantime.

  1. When should I start looking?

Get the ball rolling now!  We can make sure that your CV is in the condition that will sell you best to a firm, as well as discussing any options in the market.  Even if the NQ market does not move for a short time, at least you will be in a position to apply for interesting roles as and when they arise, rather than having to make hasty amendments to your CV at the last minute!

If you want to qualify into an area such as corporate, real estate, commercial or banking, you should consider getting your CV to key firms sooner rather than later.

  1. Should I use an agency?

No surprise to hear that we would extol the benefits of using a recruitment consultant!  What we can offer is tailored advice on your CV and a multitude of contacts across Yorkshire and the North West.  We know where the vacancies are as soon as they are offered externally and we can manage the application process so that you are making yourself stand out to the recruiting partners.  We will also be able to advise where a targeted approach may be worth making and where your personality and skill-set will be best matched.

 

If you have been thinking about a move or would just like some general advice about options in the market, please feel free to contact one of our dedicated consultants on 0113 2385965 or 0161 3000750.

CapeClarke is a leading niche legal recruitment consultancy operating across Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle, Liverpool and London. Please feel free to check out our priority legal vacancies by clicking here.  Please note these legal vacancies are only a small selection of those we have been instructed on, so please get in touch if you do not see a role which looks suitable.