Over the past few years, we have done several NQ talks and workshops, and each time we have spoken to lawyers in our network about what advice they would give to a soon to qualify trainee solicitor.
This is what they said:
Think about what you want long term. For example, if you want to be a litigator, get a job in litigation even if it isn’t exactly the area in that disciple that you were looking for. You can always move later. Don’t judge a qualified job solely on your seat. The department might be completely different in another firm. Remember that law is a small place, even if you can’t stay in your current firm, try to make a good impression. Firms talk to each other. Hedge your bets, if you haven’t had a qualified job confirmed at your current firm, look around for other options. Don’t take your foot off the gas now, these last six months might make all the difference in getting the job you want.
Defendant Insurance Solicitor – 5 years PQE
I would just say be as prepared as possible and maximise your options. Ascertain as soon as you can the likelihood of retention by your firm - and if that’s likely to be in your desired qualifying area or another law type in which you completed a seat. Would you be happy staying at the firm in a different work type, on the assumption that a qualified role would come up eventually in your preferred area of law?
Look at other firms and ensure your cv is as on point as possible and that your training record/diary has been as fully completed as possible in order that you can talk fully and in detail about the work you’ve completed as a trainee. Think about the bigger picture too - would you like to remain in the same geographic area or would you be happy to relocate for the right role? If your last seat is the one you wish to qualify into, really maximise that experience and learn as much as you can from your training principal and the cases you are given. Have a bottle of champers on standby ready for qualification! Private Client Solicitor – 5 years PQE
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. I think I would advise a trainee that it’s never too early to start preparing for when you qualify - you should ensure your CV is updated and is relevant to the sort of role you wish to obtain. A trainee should carefully think what they what to do post qualification. Whilst not impossible it is more difficult to change specialism after you qualify. If a trainee wants to qualify into an area they haven't had exposure to, this is probably their best opportunity to do so.
Trainees should not under/overestimate their worth to a firm. The trainees I have spoken to have stated that they feel indebted to the firm that provided their training and chose to stay there to "pay them back". Whilst this is admirable, it is sometimes not that right decision for individuals. I would seek advice from a range of sources (colleagues, friends, family and recruiters) when deciding what to do next. Housing Litigation Solicitor – 4 Years PQE
I suppose I would say it’s important to have a clear idea of the direction you want your career to take. Before I qualified I considered taking better paid roles in an area I was far less interested in (matrimonial finances). I made the decision that I want to continue working legal aid and sought out a job (with Thornton Legal’s help!) which allowed me to focus on legal aid work when I was one year qualified. I’m glad I didn’t move as an NQ into an area I was not particularly interested in. Childcare Solicitor – 2 years PQE
I think it's imperative that you make yourself known to the people who make the decisions. Don't believe graduate recruitment too much when they say everyone has the same chances and that it goes off your reviews - I can't imagine anyone hires someone they can't remember - so go and have a chat with them. Be honest and say that you're keen to apply for their team and why. Talk about the work you did in their team and what you would like to do in the next couple of years if you joined that team.
Don't go for a job that you really don't want, that said, be open to the idea that your perfect job might be something you didn't even consider when you were a student.
Don't be too swayed by the team - people change and move on - if you like the type of work that's most important. That said, there are lots of teams in lots of firms and if you don't fit in one that doesn't mean that you can't do that type of work. Look around and don't be scared to move!
Also, one that I witnessed, don't be rude about teams that you really don't want to join. The people in that team are probably proud of what they do and have chosen it as their career so saying "Uh, god no" when people ask if you might apply for their team is not a wise move and makes you look bad. A simple "I don't think it's for me" is fine!! Planning Solicitor – 1 year PQE
It isn’t a race to qualify. In the long term, waiting a few months longer to see what jobs become available is no time at all. You will waste more time qualifying into an area you aren’t sure of and then trying to change years later down the line, than waiting for the role that is right for you at this time. Industrial Disease Solicitor – 2 years PQE
I would say to get a good steer on where (if any) the NQ jobs are likely to be in your firm. If it's in an area you are interested in, then position yourself well with the team. If it's not in an area you are passionate about then get your feelers out early on the state of the market. Property Litigation Solicitor – 3 years PQE
I would advise the trainee to fight for the last seat that they would ideally like to qualify in/gain experience in. I would also advise them not to settle for what’s available. As it’s a long career in a role that you’re not 100% sure on. For example, I qualified in litigation, but I’ve now retrained into wills and probate nearly 5 years later! I hope this helps! Private Client Solicitor – 5 years PQE
I think it would be ‘keep an open mind’. Don’t worry if you don’t get offered a position in your chosen discipline/firm. There’s lots of options out there for good quality NQs. If you are offered a job in an area of law that you don’t have any trainee experience in or don’t think you want to do, don’t dismiss it out of hand. A lot of trainees/NQs pigeon hole themselves too early on and discount disciplines that might work out for them going forward.
The main question I remember asking myself was do I want to work in a non-contentious or contentious area? If you keep this in mind, you may find that even if you don’t go into your preferred area of law you could cross discipline with a couple of years PQE under your belt as you will gain transferable skills you can use in any sector. Family Solicitor – 10 years PQE
The best advice I could offer is do take the time to do your homework about the NQ positions you are applying for. Look at the firm you are applying to and the type of work they are carrying out and decide if that is for you. Being a NQ solicitor is demanding and you need to be realistic about the commitment you can make, whether this is travelling or sacrificing a larger salary for what will ultimately be a better experience and career progression in the future. Property Solicitor – 4 year PQE
Don’t be put off applying for an NQ job in an area of law where you haven’t necessarily done a seat/don’t have experience. Skills are transferable!! Think about the firm you’re applying for as well as the job itself. Once you’re in the door it’s easier to move about within the firm. Don’t panic and rush to accept a job that you’re not sure about. It’s easy to get pigeon holed once you’ve worked in a certain area of law for a couple of years. Consult with recruiters!! Catastrophic Injury Solicitor – 7 years PQE
The piece of advice I would give is to consider what you want out of your wider lives, not just your careers and then match the two. The lifestyle you want to live in five or ten years’ time should be kept in mind when choosing which area of law you go for. There is a wide range of legal careers, some of which allow for regular 9-5 hours, others can be high adrenaline but unpredictable. As a trainee the focus tends to be on the next step, but it is hard to change the kind of law you do, so don’t go for glamour, money or the sure bet for a qualification role. Go for what will help build your long-term future. Commercial Property Solicitor – 10 years PQE
Get yourself out there and known for the right reasons, be confident but modest, be kind to all you meet and attend as many events as you can with other lawyers to make the connections needed to progress your career. A recommendation or good word said by someone you have met at an event or out and about, to a firm looking for potential trainees goes a long way when you’re submitting applications. Family Solicitor – 3 years PQE
My main piece of advice would be to tailor your CV and cover letter to the role and organisation you are applying for. We can tell if it's a generic application. Use your cover letter as an opportunity to show what you know about their business and tailor your CV so the skills required for the role are most prevalent. There's no point having a whole page dedicated to your litigation experience if you're applying for a non-contentious role. Commercial Solicitor (In House) – 7 years PQE
I would advise them to seek a position in the area they want to practice in and not settle. I had many offers to go into conveyancing but stuck to my guns and gambled and pursued wills and probate. It paid off as I enjoy it. Staying put in the same firm isn't always the best move. I believe you do gain more respect if you move firms as you are viewed as a solicitor rather than just a trainee etc. I should have moved with hindsight when I qualified. Private Client Solicitor – 2 years PQE
Leading up to qualifying, I would advise any trainee to think carefully about not only what area of law they want to focus in, but whether their current firm matches their ambitions, expertise and work load. If not, don't be scared to look for a new role and to expand your search to an area where you aren't familiar with, even if that means having to learn a new area of law. Firms will appreciate that an NQ solicitor still has much to learn and it's never too late to learn something different. (done) Be proactive with your search and, regardless of whether seeking the help of a recruiter, be sure to keep your own records of what roles you are applying for, when you applied and who is handling your application. This will allow you to keep a track of how your search is progressing and, importantly, show the recruiter and firm that you're taking your job search seriously. (done) In House Solicitor – 2 years PQE
The advice I would give would be to be prepared. Start by updating your CV early so that you have time to add to it without the time pressure. Rushing your CV is not going to end well. Whilst updating your CV think of all the questions that could come up in interview in relation to each aspect of your CV and make a note of them as you go along. I think then it’s important to make a list of exactly what firm you’re looking for in terms of areas of expertise and location. Get in touch with a recruiter and let them know exactly what it is you’re looking for. Private Client Solicitor – NQ 2018
Attitude is everything. Chances are the people they are competing with will have similar academics, so attitude is what will set you apart. Being polite, trustworthy and keen will usually take you far. Employment Solicitor – 7 years PQE
My honest advice would be “play the long game”, by which I mean any trainee has already shown themselves a capable and proactive individual given how precious training contracts are but making the decision about where to qualify and what in, really does shape their entire career. Don’t be tempted to go for what is easy, best paid or have a sense of loyalty (as awful as that sounds) this decision is pivotal in the rest of your life. It may be necessary to take £10k less but if it’s a foot in the door at a career that you can grow in and see yourself fulfilled in, it’s honestly worth it in my opinion.
Equally it’s difficult not to accept an offer from a current employer out of gratitude and loyalty for the chance to get to NQ status, but if it’s not what you want to do in 2 years’ time let alone ten it is going to really make things difficult for you to switch later on (they will get over it and so will you). Commercial Litigation Solicitor – 8 years PQE
Stay calm! Focus on what area of law you want to specialise in, don't be blind sighted by wanting to stay at the firm you trained at. If they can't offer you a job in the area you want now, there's nothing to stop you returning to the firm after a couple of years when they're might be a position for you. It's more important to find a job in the practice area you want to specialise in. Private Client Solicitor – 1 year PQE
Get your CV updated and in order and meet with recruiters (like Thornton Legal of course) early doors, even if you think you will get a job, because you might not, and it is better to have more options. Also, if you get offered a job elsewhere, your current firm may then make more of an effort to keep you and offer you a job you want (if for example they are undecided, they have after all invested time and money in you). If you are moving, consider joining a larger full-service law firm, even if it is a job you don’t particularly want. There are internal opportunities to move elsewhere. Lastly, don’t burn any bridges with your old firm! Defendant Industrial Disease Solicitor – 5 years PQE
I would advise that every NQ should treat everything that they do as an opportunity. There are occasions that I look back on where good things have come out of situations that don’t present themselves as obvious opportunities. An example being when I helped a friend’s neighbour by swearing some papers that led to over £30k of work for my company.
I would also advise that you will learn best by trying and making mistakes. You shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes as that is where you learn the most. You are not expected to know everything just because you have qualified. In fact, it is only just the beginning of your path to learning more about your area of expertise. Private Client Solicitor - 8 years PQE