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Finding the right legal internship: Tips from the legal recruiter Jonathan Lea

Jonathan Lea studied the GDL and LPC at our Guildford campus, completing his studies in 2004. Since then, he’s gone on to become the Founder, Managing Director and Senior Corporate and Commercial Solicitor of the Jonathan Lea Network. As well as an on-site team of paralegals, trainee solicitors, solicitors and administrators, the network also includes self-employed consultant solicitors working remotely worldwide. We caught up with Jonathan to discuss legal internships and get his top tips on finding and securing the right legal internship for you.

By Cara Fielder. Published 25 April.

When I founded the Jonathan Lea Network, I was attracted by the freedom and flexibility of working on a self-employed basis as well as the ability to take control of my own career development. I enjoy the responsibility and challenge of running and growing a business.

I felt confident in my own judgment and wanted to adopt ways of doing things that I thought would work well in developing a successful business. As well as my own ideas, I have tried to take the best things I learned from both large and small firms and apply them, in practice, to our business.

In particular, I wanted to have the job security that comes with owning a company, while having my hard work not only provide a decent income each year but also create a valuable asset in the long-term. The aim of the Network is to provide a great place to work where people can successfully develop their careers and, in the process, provide superior legal services to clients.

We intend to continue to be a fast-growing business and be seen increasingly as the leading law firm based in Sussex while growing a client base throughout the UK and around the world.

We are a hybrid law firm; in that we are made up of both a close-knit team of employed solicitors who mostly operate from our Haywards Heath office plus a dispersed network of consultant solicitors. For our employees, we offer the opportunity of a more affordable and enjoyable lifestyle of living in Sussex and earning a comparatively high local salary. For consultant solicitors, we provide a great way for experienced solicitors to work on a self-employed basis, earn more, work remotely, and grow their own client base and practice.

For our accounts year ended 30 November 2023 we aim to have an annual turnover of around £2.5m. Five years from now, we intend to have an annual turnover of about £10m.

Each year we offer between 10 and 15 two-week paid placement opportunities at the firm’s Haywards Heath office. These are open to those who are close to finishing or have finished their academic studies and who are interested in securing an entry-level legal position with us as a paralegal.

If students have yet to complete the LPC or SQE we are nonetheless happy to offer a full-time role with us as a paralegal. If certain performance targets are met, we will pay for a paralegal to study the SQE on a part-time basis alongside a full-time position with us. We have a strong track record for recruiting paralegals who have already done a work experience placement with us. Paralegals can expect to be offered a training contract within a year of joining us.

As of January 2023, our paralegal salaries start at £22k (or more if you already have experience), our training contract salaries are £28.5k for the first year and £32k for the second year, and NQ salaries are up to £50k.

The University of Law has promoted our summer intern placement scheme for the last few years and, as a result, we have had several students who have undertaken a placement with us.

We look for a combination of a very well-drafted cover letter and a standout CV that shows both very good academic grades as well as a range of extra-curricular achievements, experiences, and interests. We particularly like candidates who have combined studying with different paid jobs.

When applying for placements, make sure you demonstrate in your cover letter why you would like to work at the firm you are applying to. Ensure that both your CV and cover letter stand out in terms of being perfectly drafted and well designed. Try making speculative applications that are sent directly to partners at both small and large firms that you are interested in working with.

We look for people who have a connection with, and/or a desire to live in Sussex, and who live a short commutable distance from our office. We know that these candidates are far more likely to want to join us and then stay with the firm. Also, we like it when people have already gained experience that relates to the legal work we do and can demonstrate a well-informed enthusiasm for developing a career with us.

We have had lots of positive feedback from The University of Law students who did placements with us, although all of them so far have, for various reasons, gone on to join other firms. However, the general consensus was that they found their placement with us insightful and enjoyable and that the experience helped them eventually secure their first full-time law job.

We are still a young firm and have only had six trainee solicitors so far, although from now on we plan to offer at least two training contracts each year. We prefer recruiting people who have done a work experience placement with us first and it is only a matter of time before we employ a student from the University.

For those struggling to secure a placement, research and approach firms who do not publicly offer internships and send a well written application to the senior partner, or any other partner or senior solicitor you would like to work with. In your cover letter, mention the dates you are available, why you are applying to that firm and that you are happy to carry out the internship on an unpaid basis. A personal approach will always be well received.


Discover more about the recruiters we work with and get tips on how to land the perfect role on our recruiters webpage.