You've done it! You've completed your law degree, buckled down during the LPC, secured yourself a training contract, and absolutely worked your socks off throughout it. Qualification day marks a significant accomplishment for many legal professionals and it's of course an absolutely fantastic achievement, but what feels like the end of a process really marks the beginning.
The market for newly qualified solicitor positions is extremely competitive, especially in London. If you’re approaching the completion of your training contract, it’s time to start thinking 'what are my options as a newly qualified solicitor?'
Staying with your current firm
If you're lucky, you will have loved the firm you trained with and you'll be pleased to receive an offer as an NQ solicitor in your preferred specialism. NQ positions are opened to current trainees a few months before the qualification date, so keep your eye out and make sure your application for the position is the best it can be. If you have the opportunity to utilise a mentor, do it!
Please do remember that you’re never guaranteed a position, so it's wise to keep your options open and process applications for other firms where possible.
Offered retention, but in a different area
The most popular areas for trainees to apply for include commercially focused areas such as intellectual property, employment, corporate, litigation and competition. Whilst firms try their best to retain talent, it's not always possible for them to offer all of their trainees positions upon qualification within their preferred department.
If your training firm does not offer you a position in your chosen area, don't be disheartened. There will likely have been lots of applicants for these positions and this isn’t necessarily a reflection of your ability to find a position in this area.
If you're passionate about one area of law but you haven't been offered a position in this department at your firm, it's best to focus your energy on securing a role within this specialism elsewhere. Even if you love the firm you trained with and feel you don’t want to 'let them down', you need to do what's best for you and your career; once you qualify and work in a department for 6 months +, it becomes very difficult to then change your specialism and you may end up feeling stuck (although this isn’t impossible - please see one of my other articles on tips on how to do this.)
Specialising in a completely new area
It is extremely rare to secure an NQ position in an area if you haven't completed a seat in it during your training contract. You might have a small chance of securing a position this way if you worked in the area pre-qualification as a paralegal, but if you have no experience in an area at all (except for perhaps an LPC module), I would strongly advise against pursuing an NQ position in this area.
Either way, if you're going to attempt to do this it's highly unlikely a recruitment consultant will be able to assist you, so make sure you're applying to firms directly.
Moving to another firm
There are several reasons one might move to a new firm upon qualification. You might have disliked the working environment of the firm you trained with, you may want a bigger/higher profile firm (or a smaller one with friendlier hours), you may be relocating, or you may simply have not been offered in your chosen department.
Whatever the reason, make sure that you’re aware of the sorts of roles and firms that will be of most interest to you. Everyone is different, so speak to friends, experienced recruitment consultants, and colleagues to get as much information as possible on your options going forward.
Please note that a lot of firms (particularly the large, top tier City practices) will have very strong trainee candidate pools to choose from. As such, it is even more competitive - but not impossible - to secure roles within these firms upon qualification. Make sure you work hard on your CV and cover letter, tailoring it for each firm to give you the best possible chance.
You may have set your sights on a career in-house upon qualification. In-house options offer you the chance to really get to know the business, and you will often not have to be burdened by constraints like 'time recording' and target hours. However, please remember that salaries will likely be lower than private practice and progression prospects may be limited.
If you have plans to move in-house later in your career, you need to specialise in an area that complements this. You might enjoy family or personal injury law, but to move in-house you will have a better chance of securing a role with a specialism in corporate, corporate/ commercial, or employment
If you do choose to go in-house upon qualification, it's important to note that the longer you're working in-house, the harder it may be to get back into private practice.
Going in to private practice
On the flip side, you may have trained in-house and now you want to move into private practice. This can be difficult, although not impossible. Give yourself the best chance by focusing on firms similar to the practice you completed a secondment with, or even the firm you were seconded to.
Taking a career break
The route to qualification is tough, so you may feel like you want to take a break in-between qualifying and securing an NQ position. If you’re set on doing this, be aware that the process will remain highly competitive and you will be competing with candidates with more recent and relevant experience.
If you would like to have a confidential discussion about your job search in the legal sector please contact Annabel Corcoran at G2 Legal.
G2 Legal is a national and international legal recruitment company. We cover a broad range of legal roles to include both qualified and support staff.
For more information and to view all of our current vacancies, please search here.