First step on the trainee ladder

Competition for the elusive training contract has never been tougher. The extent to which the student and would-be solicitor must strive to stand out above the deluge of other candidates for any law-related job is a testament to the professions enduring attractions.

While this may have been facilitated by the Law Society's progressive initiatives, there is still some reluctance within the profession to follow suit.

The advent of the Law Society' s policy in assessing out-of-contract legal work has opened the door for many graduates of the Legal Practice Course to gain "quality" legal experience. The individual may be accredited for this work (up to 12 months) and so alleviate the requirement for the full two-year training contract. As this effectively means there is no longer the strict two-year commitment to training, this should make the student solicitor a marketable commodity.

Once the qualifying period is sanctioned by the society a firm may have only to guarantee 12 months of a training contract to gain a newly qualified solicitor.

In spite of this, the take up of this option has been slow, especially in the regions, leaving many eligible paralegals without work. This has not been helped by the cumbersome case-by-case assessment of the paralegal work by the Law Society panel, inevitably leading to uncertainty and confusion among potential employers.

Agencies have seized upon the excess of marketable talent, particularly in London. The Legal Practice Clerks, an agency set up to "serve solicitors", has carved a niche in the temporary employment field, providing regular work for LPC and LSF graduates in top firms in London. Regional law societies have set up rival employment registries where unqualified graduates may be put in contact with local firms seeking assistance.

While this may be a logical step for geographically restricted candidates, experience has shown that many regional law firms receive unsolicited applications by the hundred.

This may mean the vacancy can be filled without it being publicised. Vacancies are few so the benefits of networking at the local law society for potential trainees are self-evident.

The unfortunate reality is such that, in many cases, good potential lawyers are now more than ever having to consider volunteering their services in pursuit of the prized training contract. Without doubt, the Legal Advice Centres and Citizens Advice Bureaux are the bedrock of the profession, peopled by committed lawyers driven by the benefit they bring to the community.

However, actual hands-on experience for trainees is limited by the referral procedure, which sees the client's affairs conducted by qualified solicitors. Nonetheless, each volunteer is valued for what he can give not what he can earn. Practical skills of this sort are invaluable in a modern practice, but invariably their transferability goes unnoticed. This may in fact pinpoint the reluctance of many firms to "try out" potential lawyers in a paralegal capacity.

As a participant not a spectator in the legal process, the aspiring lawyer can add substance to his case for employment and witness at first-hand the tangible appeal of the law as a profession. Perhaps one of the reasons why a student lawyer with the odds of securing a contract not in their favour will try and try again.