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The bulk of aspiring lawyers may still be taking the traditional training contract route, but working in-house has become an attractive alternative.
Not only does the in-house environment offer an alluring work-life balance and closer contact with decision-making in the business, but a growing number of FTSE 100 companies are now offering training contracts or are keen to formalise their programmes.
BT, for example, is increasing its presence on the graduate recruitment circuit by visiting campuses and promoting its training scheme. The telecommunications company revived its trainee programme only last year after axing the scheme in 2010 due to poor market conditions. Three law graduates began the three-year training contract in September 2011.
But how does training in-house differ to the traditional training contract? Similar to private practice, an in-house training contract must comply with SRA rules, therefore trainees at BT must still undertake three seats to qualify as a lawyer. In most cases the choice of seats will be more restricted than in a law firm as they must suit business needs.
BT, for example, requires aspiring lawyers to complete commercial and litigation seats in the first two years, with the option of corporate, employment or competition for the third.
That said, work is often passed between teams more freely within a company making it very likely that the trainee will cover a broader range of topics within that field.
For most in-house training programmes, the trainees will be required to complete three years to allow them to simultaneously study their Legal Practice Course (LPC) part-time. It is also worth noting that many companies will not accept applications from people who have already completed their LPC.
One such company is BT, which only accepts applications from law students, or non-law students if they have completed the Graduate Diploma in Law. It also offers full sponsorship for the LPC with the College of Law.
Some in-house training schemes are only offered on an ad hoc basis. Live events company the NEC Group, for example, has developed an in-house training contract for paralegals that show promise. This is not unusual for in-house legal departments, with ITV initially offering its training contracts to reward legal executives.
Some in-house programmes will also offer a secondment into a law firm to ensure the training equates to that in a law firm, as well as comply with the SRA.
ITV has offered training contracts for around seven years, with its trainees completing two six-month seats with the broadcast giant, and two six-month seats on placement with its panel law firms by way of swap arrangements. The firms include DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, Olswang and Slaughter and May.
Of course, a budding lawyer could choose to complete their whole legal career in-house, avoiding the private practice route entirely.
One myth of training in-house is that it could damage the chance to work in private practice in the future. However, although it is less common to take the ‘reverse-route’, it is not unheard of. Moreover, with the vast exposure and inside knowledge gained by working at the heart of a business, you may find that you are better equipped with the skills and legal acumen to have a successful career in a law firm.
Indeed, the legal issues faced by in-house trainees are for the most part the same as in private practice. However, they relate to the company you work for, not a third-party client, which enables the in-house trainee to develop a strong commercial awareness. In-house trainees will also often be given a lot more responsibility in a shorter amount of time compared to a law firm.
Often the hardest part of training in-house is finding out about the opportunities available. A list of companies that have in-house legal departments is available on the Legal 500, but students must be prepared to put in enquiries about training programmes and speculative applications, which will take a lot more time and effort than a standard private practice application.