Q&A

Networking, teamwork, voluntary work…There’s more to becoming a successful lawyer than passing lots of exams. But fear not, Lawyer 2B’s careers agony aunt Kay Pearson is here to help.

I passed my LPC in 2004 and still don’t have a training contract. What do you think I should do? What are my chances?

Unlike a law degree, the LPC doesn’t expire after a certain date. However, it is a skills-based qualification, so if you’re not using the skills gained they will become stale. Gaining legal or related experience can help you to maintain and add to your skills set, as well as increase your marketability. The bottom line is that your chances of securing a training contract decrease as you get further away from your LPC.

The first thing to do is reassess your job search strategy. If you aren’t getting interviews, your CV may need an overhaul. If you’re getting to first interviews but not the second stage, you’ll need to reassess your interview technique. Alternatively, you could be targeting the wrong employers. So take stock of your experience, your academic qualifications and your skills. Are they a good fit for the employers you’ve been applying to? For example, if you have a 2:2 degree, a mix of B grades and lower at A-level and have worked largely for small and medium-sized firms, you won’t have a strong case to apply to large commercial firms.
The other parts of your strategy that may require some work are use of contacts and how you source vacancies. Don’t wait for vacancies to be advertised. If you’re working in-house with no prospect of a training contract, think about similar organisations that might value your experience (the bigger the better), firms that are on the company’s panel of solicitors (what about a short secondment to get yourself known?) and, if your experience is relevant, government organisations (the Government Legal Service employs more than 2,000 lawyers in 40 separate government departments – see www.gls.gov.uk).

The second thing you should do is make sure you’re getting the best experience possible while you’re looking for a training contract. Paralegal work is best, with the bonus that you can claim up to six months off your training contract in recognition of previous relevant experience. (See www.lawsociety.org.uk/professional/authorisation/download.law for details of ‘time to count’). If you’re interested in crime, you could work towards police station accreditation. This allows non-solicitors to advise and assist suspects being held at police stations and to claim payment from the Legal Services Commission. You need to work for a firm where you can do the training (which lasts between three and 12 months) or to find a supervising solicitor. More information is available at www.legalservices.gov.uk/docs/cds_main/Accrepsi.pdf.

I have a training contract with a well-known law firm and am part way through my LPC. However, I am beginning to realise that I’ve made a big mistake. I don’t want to be a lawyer: I’m not enjoying the course and I don’t like my fellow students. What’s your advice and will I have to pay my firm back?

As soon as possible, you should discuss your concerns with someone in the careers team and/or your personal tutor, as you need to unravel what it is about the course that you’re not enjoying. For example, it could be the transition from studying law as an academic subject to law as a practical discipline. As for your fellow students, it may be that you’re in a group with different interests and career goals, so you don’t have much in common. This may resolve itself when you start your electives, as you will be with students with similar interests.

However, if after further discussion you feel that law is no longer for you, you will need to decide whether or not to complete the LPC and what to do after that. It is possible that a law firm could claim costs against you for breach of contract; check any documentation regarding your training contract offer and the payment of your LPC fees.

However, a firm is less likely to take a hard line if you handle the situation promptly and respectfully. For example, don’t simply write telling the firm that you have decided not to go ahead with the training contract. Instead, seek a meeting with the graduate recruitment or HR manager, or write or phone to say that you’re having major doubts and wish to discuss your options. It may be useful to seek legal advice so that you are clear about your position before you speak to the firm. In any case, the best line to take is to ask the firm to ‘release you’ from your agreement to undertake a training contract.

Firms vary as to how they handle such situations. The key message is to notify it as soon as possible about any change of mind (it will probably wish to find another suitable candidate), to keep it informed and to be open to discussion about possible options. At the end of the day, if you’re clear that you no longer want to qualify as a solicitor, it’s better that the firm knows now rather than during your training contract.

Kay Pearson is a careers consultant at the College of Law. Letters to Kay should be sent to the Lawyer 2B editor Husnara Begum by email (husnara.begum@thelawyer.com). We regret that no correspondance can be entered into.