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What do I do if I have not secured a training contract in my second or third year?

| Career Insights

As soon as you get that letter of acceptance into your law school of choice, you probably constructed a mind map of what the next three years of your life will look like. While an intense and (not so) memorable freshers followed by years of partying and friend-making is guaranteed, your end-goal is to be able to make it to your 9:00AM after a night out, and more importantly: to become a lawyer.   In accomplishing your end-goal, you would expect to get a vacation scheme before your final year, followed by a training contract – your golden ticket into your legal career. If your vision is realised, then congratulations; you have guaranteed yourself a safe and stable kick-start into your career. But what if you don’t secure a training contract in your second or third year? The first thing you need to realise is that it is okay not have one. Do not think less of yourself and you can still go on to be a successful lawyer; you will just have to take an alternative route/path. The important thing is that you are aware of the competition you face and honest about your strengths and weaknesses. 

 
Here are a few suggestions you can consider if you remain serious about your ambition to become a lawyer.  
Commercial experience – Apply to jobs that fall within the area of law you wish to practise. To get a training contract, you need to tick a lot of boxes. Having a flawless application, impeccable interview skills, and solid grades are just some of them. Take time organising work experience. If you are considering being a construction lawyer, apply to a construction company where you will gain experience from a commercial perspective. Ideally, you would want to aim for an administrative role or something that involves supporting an in-house legal team. However, these can be difficult to find and would require having an array of networks. Should the opportunity present itself, such an experience will prove to be very beneficial. You can also always apply to organisations that publishes legal directories or articles such as LexisNexis or Thomson Reuters.
Remember that any experience is good experience!
Pro bono work – Volunteer legal work (without getting paid) might not seem like the most ideal option at first, but the sense of self-fulfilment and experience you will build will make up for the less appealing aspects of the job. Through utilising your legal skills to provide services to those who are unable to otherwise afford or have access to them, you are not only helping the community, but you are also building your curriculum vitae. By providing oversight, guidance, and mentoring, you will be exposed to a vast amount of cases from people with various backgrounds, therefore pushing you to develop your legal and interpersonal skills. Pro bono work will provide the means for you to build networks with other lawyers who are also working for legal aid foundations, therefore opening more doors in the future. 
Legal internship - Like commercial work experience, a legal internship will provide you with insight into what working in the competitive field of law looks like. Whether you intern at a law firm, international or non-governmental organisation, in-house legal department within a large company, or government entities, you will surely be tasked with responsibilities that will help develop an array of skills ranging from legal research, to drafting legal documents and agreements, as well as attending court hearings. Not only will such an experience improve your networking, but it will also demonstrate your ongoing drive and ambition to continue in this career field. As a matter of fact, many firms value other qualities over merely having extraordinary grades, so this can be a great way to attract the attention of such firms.  
Legal Secretary or Personal Assistant (PA) – Lawyers are in need of support to help them carry out their many responsibilities. This is where Legal Secretaries and PAs come into play. The precise work a Legal Secretary has to carry out depends on the department and case being handled at the time. However, generally, the tasks include producing legal documents, typing, answering the telephone, responding to enquiries from new and existing clients, collecting fees upon completion of legal work, and performing everyday secretarial duties. Not only does such a job give you invaluable experience that you will undoubtedly need to use for your future career, but it also allows you to work your way up the ladder into other roles like a Legal PA, Paralegal, or even (with additional training) a Legal Executive. Like Legal Secretaries, Legal PAs conduct the same functions and require the same amount of legal knowledge, but with the additional responsibilities involved with senior administration like marketing or dealing with accounts and budgets. Such an inter-disciplinary job means that you will be appointed with managing personal timetables as well as organising events and making travel arrangements. If this seems like a good option for you, find out more about this this option by checking out our article on What are Legal Secretaries and Legal PAs?  
Paralegal – If you are an LPC graduate, you probably also fell into the allure of the course being designed to provide a bridge between your studies and training at a law firm. Do not fret if you do not have a training contract yet, because you are a perfect candidate for paralegal work. As a paralegal, your role will be similar to a trainee solicitor. You may provide administrative and legal assistance to lawyers in legal research, drafting legal agreements, project management, negotiations, and client-related issues. Excelling in these tasks and impressing important members of the firm could eventually land you a training contract (should that still be your desire), particularly in firms that provide training contracts contingent on the performance of the employee. Again, all work experience adds to your curriculum vitae. Through paralegal work, you will be able to demonstrate the work you have learnt and done, therefore impressing any future employer; employers tend to be attracted to candidates who require less training when joining the firm. Moreover, it is also possible to qualify as a lawyer while working as a paralegal. Because the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) replaced the term “training contract” with “period of recognised training”, you are given more flexibility in choosing how to qualify. Although difficult to achieve, you are therefore no longer required to complete a formal training contract should you be able to demonstrate that you possess the stipulated skills and experience.  
Consider improving your application and interview technique - Check if you match the criteria of the firm you are applying to before you proceed. Ask yourself if you have met the required grades. If not, do explain your extenuating circumstances, should you have any. Moreover, you do not want your application to be your weakness; it is important that you perfect your application. It would be a shame that your hard work does not pay off due to spelling or grammar mistakes, so make sure to carefully check your application before submitting it. Remember to answer the questions asked and reflect the firm’s ethos and values in your answers. To do that you must know the firm, so do your due diligence by thoroughly researching the firm. As for the interview, formulate model answers before going in. Rehearsing the model answers will give you the confidence you need or even indicate if you need to change your approach to the answer. Another point to bear in mind is that you have a far better chance of getting a training contract if you apply for one in firm that specialises in one of your chosen electives. Training contracts are difficult to come across as it is, so do not limit your options by being too selective with firms and areas of law that are too niche. Almost all students applying for training contracts (or any other contract for that matter) look for positions in London, making it the most competitive city; so think smart and contemplate applying to a location you are more familiar with. For example, if you studied in Birmingham, do consider doing your training there; it is less competitive, which means that you have far better chances of securing a training contract. Should you wish to relocate, include in your application an explanation of why you desire to do so, i.e. that you completed your undergraduate degree at Birmingham and are therefore familiar with the city and have close ties to it. Remember, you are not sacrificing your dream, you are facilitating the process. You can always apply to your desired location once you qualify.  
 Still no training contract? You can always apply next year, the year after, or change your course all together. All you can do now is focus on the present and make the most of it! 
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