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On The Up: Training contracts on the rise

Training contract numbers are rising, but you still need tenacity to get one. Law’s as popular a career choice as ever. Nearly 18,000 undergraduates started studying the subject in 2016, according to the Law Society. How optimistic can these students be of bagging a training contract once their degree – and Legal Practice Course (LPC) – is done?

Before the financial crash of 2007-8, there were more than 6000 trainee registrations; post-crash, this dipped to 4784 in the climate of caution that followed. Things are on the up now though; the number of trainee registrations in the year to July 2016 was five per cent higher than in the previous 12 months at 5728 precisely. In fact, this year’s increase the first time that training contract numbers have risen two years in a row since the crisis.

Will the trend continue and what’s the best way to beat the competition to a training contract?

Morette Jackson, Director of Business Development at ULaw, is largely positive while offering a note of caution. “Training contract numbers have been holding steady in recent years and lately have been rising, and my gut feeling is that they’ll continue to hold up well. However, the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is one reason that law firms might decide to adopt a watching brief.”

That may be the case with some firms. Clifford Chance has cut its trainee intake, while Freshfields, Kirkland & Ellis and Weil Gotshal have all had unusually low retention rates this year. However, many other law firms have posted impressive autumn 2017 retention figures of 80% and above.

Brexit isn’t the only factor that might influence law firms when setting their trainee numbers. As Jackson explains: “The impact of apprenticeships and the apprenticeship levy, as well as the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam in 2020, will also be monitored by law firms. There are different ways into legal careers in today’s world, such as the paralegal route — again, law firms will be closely monitoring the likely impact of prospective changes.”

Happily, the growing number of legal apps, thinks Jackson, are unlikely to take over the work of trainees: “You still need someone with legal skills to understand the technology and use it to find solutions for clients. I think the days of law firms jettisoning human input, at the expense of trainees and in favour of machines, are still a long way off.”

That said, being tech savvy can give you the edge when applying for training contracts. Jackson explains: “They don’t need to sign up to coding courses over the summer, but the young lawyers who understand coding will potentially have an edge.”

Demonstrating serious time spent on vacation schemes and other work experience can also place you ahead of the competition. You should also be able to show a real commitment to and interest in the law, as well as legal aptitude, intelligence and communication skills, plus another crucial quality – persistence.

Jackson says: “Training contract numbers have increased, but it remains a tough marketplace. You have to be tenacious and persistent to be successful.”

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