“I’m a current SQE prep student and will be taking my Part 1 exams in November. Can I still apply for training contracts (TCs) or should I be gaining my qualifying work experience (QWE) by other means?”
The Solicitors Regulation Authority has put transitional arrangements in place to ensure the eventual abolition of the LPC and training contract is done on a gradual and orderly basis. During this period, many law firms are expected to continue offering ‘traditional’ training contracts. SQE prep students will, in theory, be eligible to apply for such roles because a training contract DOES count as QWE. Also, arguably, completing your QWE with a single employer is likely to enhance your chances of securing that all-important newly qualified solicitor position once you’ve completed your two-year period of on the job training.
However, there are is a significant practical consideration regarding timing. For example, many of the ‘larger’ commercial law firms typically hire trainee solicitors two year’s in advance of their start dates and often from their vacation scheme programmes. Such firms also dictate to their TC offer holders which postgraduate / vocational course(s) they should be taking prior to starting their TC. This is the case because the firms will contribute towards course fees and offer a maintenance grant on top to cover living costs.
As such, larger firms are unlikely to have immediate openings on their trainee solicitor recruitment programmes. SQE prep students are therefore likely to be more successful securing training contracts with smaller, regional and high street firms as well as potentially some inhouse legal departments that recruit their trainee solicitors one year ahead or with an immediate start.
If in doubt you should consider contacting your target firms’ graduate recruitment teams to confirm their ‘current’ position regarding applications from SQE prep students. This will ensure any applications you make are targeted, especially because there are also some cultural factors at play with more conservative firms currently sticking to the status quo and favouring LPC students whilst they decide how they will incorporate the SQE into trainee recruitment programmes. At least in the short-term.