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Advice for Trainee Solicitors

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by Faith Kelly | 23 May 2019

Are you a trainee legal professional and on course to qualify this September? Are you wondering what steps you should take next in your legal career? We are here to help. At Sellick Partnership we have a wealth of experience assisting legal professionals secure work throughout their career. In this blog, specialist legal recruiter Faith Kelly looks at what trainee solicitors should be thinking about in the run up to qualifying, and offers her advice on they can secure their dream legal role.

Summer is fast approaching which is always a popular time for trainee solicitors to begin searching for their NQ (newly qualified) position. Many training contracts begin in September so it is a very busy time for trainee legal professionals qualifying and applying for NQ jobs. As a result, at this time of year I regularly answer questions about this, and am constantly helping trainee solicitors decide whether or not they should stay with their current firm or look for opportunities elsewhere.

Here I look at some of the common questions I get asked by candidates, and talk about how trainee solicitors can use a recruitment firm like Sellick Partnership to find their perfect legal job.

Should trainee solicitors stay with their current firm after qualification?

This is totally dependent on whether you are offered an NQ position in the discipline you would like to specialise in. Some candidates may be offered this in their current firm. In my experience trainee solicitors who are offered an NQ position at their training firm tend to perform better in other interviews as it shows other employers you are in demand, and gives you the confidence needed to succeed.

Performing well at interview is essential in any situation

Whatever situation you are in, it is essential that you are fully prepared and are confident during the interview process. Candidates that have been offered an NQ position are likely to be less stressed during the interview process knowing they have a backup option. However, if you are not in this position, please try not to worry. There are plenty of materials online that can help you prepare for an interview.

I regularly speak in great detail with candidates about interview preparation and have a number of documents the will help. If you would like further assistance please get in touch and I will be more than happy to help and share these with you.

Think about where you want to work

The firm you train at may be perfect for you, however it is important to ask yourself a series of questions before accepting an offer. In doing so you can make sure that you are choosing the right firm for you. Some questions I regularly advise my candidates to think about are:

  •  Have you been offered a role in the discipline of your choice?
  • Are you happy with the salary?
  • Do you like the offices/location?
  • Do you get on well with your colleagues?
  • Do you enjoy the social events and all the other little perks?

Your current firm may not tick all of these boxes, but if it ticks most of them then you should consider staying. If the answer to the majority of these questions is no, you might find that looking for a new employer is the best route to take.

It is never detrimental to attend interviews, whether that is for practice or even networking with people in the industry, so it may be worth looking even if you are happy in your current firm. You can use interviews to compare your current offer, and it may put you in a stronger position in terms of negotiating a salary. It is also important to make sure the firm you choose to work for has offered you market rate. If you are unsure about what the market rate currently is, please get in touch.

Reasons to consider making a move

Some candidates that I speak with want to make the move after qualifying as their current firm do not tick many of the factors above, however many also do so to lose the trainee solicitor tag, and be seen as a more senior legal professional. In some firms, if a trainee has been working for some time, more senior employees may still perceive them as a trainee after qualifying. This can understandably be frustrating, and moving to a new firm can remove this perception, and allow a candidate to start afresh. That being said, no future employer likes a ‘jumper’ (a candidate that has moved roles a number of times) so although it is positive to have various roles on your CV, you do not want to be seen to have moved around too much.

Moving to a new firm or being promoted upon qualification is an exciting time and will always be a challenge. Not only is it a new environment with unfamiliar faces and a different way of working, it also means that you are no longer a trainee and you have more responsibility.

I want to move firms, how do I go about it?

First of all it is important to remember there is no harm in looking for new opportunities as you need to make sure you are choosing the right opportunity. But when should you start looking and what do you need to do?

Here are my top tips on ensuring you get the NQ position you really want!

  • Be organised: firstly it is important to be organised, so I would advise you to stay on top of your CV and take your time when creating it. I would add your experience and examples of the cases you have assisted on throughout your training contract as it can be challenging trying to remember everything right at the end. The important thing here is to think about what experience have you gained that may give you a winning edge.
  • Timing is everything: I would advise against approaching firms until 3 or 4 months prior to your qualification date, firms have to consider their internal trainees first.
  • Have a look at firms that sound of interest to you in advance: I would advise you speak to a recruiter who will be able to assess the market and contact firms you are interested in on your behalf. By all means, take a look at job boards and some firms you like the sound of before this but do not bombard law firms with your CV too early. The firms you want to apply to will more than likely have their own trainees and it is very common that law firms cannot consider external candidates until all internal candidates have been considered.
  • Tailor your CV to suit the role: if you are applying for a specific role, tailor your CV and make it clear why you would be a good fit and what value you would add. Ask your recruitment consultant to send this to the firm ahead of time, and follow up a few weeks later. They may not have a position right then, but this may make you stand out as and when one becomes available.
  • Choose your recruiter wisely: it is important to choose a recruiter that knows the market and will be able to help you secure a role. Look at where they work. I would advise working with a firm that has experience in the legal field and look for a recruitment partner that is respected within the market.
  • Talk to your recruiter and be honest: it is important to stay in touch and have a detailed, open and honest conversation with your recruiter about what would be of interest to you and what would not. Be honest with what you are looking for – size of firm, locations, salary etc.
  • Be conscious of the amount of recruiters you work with: I would recommend working with one recruiter as you do not want to duplicate applications at legal firms. Build a relationship with your recruiter and ensure they know exactly what you want. Speaking to more than a one could result in confusion and result in you not getting your dream job.
  • Keep track of where your details have been sent: approaching firms more than once does not look good. Make an excel spreadsheet with each firm you have contacted and through which recruitment agency, it will be very helpful later down the line.

Follow these steps and your recruiter should keep you up-to-date with their progress but it is important to remember you will not secure a role overnight. It can take weeks and sometimes months to secure a role, so be patient.

I focus on permanent recruitment throughout the Home Counties – Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire. To view my latest legal jobs, or the legal roles we currently have available companywide, check out our website, or if you would like to have a confidential chat then please feel free to give me a call on 0203 741 8189, or email faith.kelly@sellickpartnership.co.uk.