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The training contract lottery
‘How do I find a training contract?’ ‘Well, a good academic record is essential, as is attention to detail and communication skills. Show your commitment to a career in law, and that you have a life outside law. Be personable.’
I can check off all these boxes. So what now? What else must I prove before a firm will offer me a training contract?
Current economic pressures are exacerbating serious flaws in the system of allocating legal graduate jobs. Some of the lawyers I consulted tried to put me off a legal career, but I really want a training contract more than anything in the world. After saying kind things about the modest accomplishments listed in my CV, Ronnie Fox (an employment and partnership lawyer) let me down gently. ‘In 40 years of practice I have never known a time when it has been so difficult for graduates to find training contracts and for newly qualified solicitors to find permanent jobs,’ he said.
On 5 July, two days before I graduated, the Guardian warned graduates that there were 70 applicants for every job open to new graduates. My experience suggests that the odds against a recent graduate finding a job in law are more like 300-1. It is ludicrous and terribly unfair that there are no jobs for people who are genuinely driven to work hard, career-minded and ambitious. With thousands of law graduates trying to secure training contracts and fewer jobs on offer than ever before, the system of allocating training contracts urgently needs shaking up.
I graduated with a 2:1 LLB (Hons) this summer from Newcastle University. I am now 21 and have just begun the Legal Practice Course. For the past year I have been trying to find a training contract. From the age of 16 I have completed no fewer than eight legal work experience placements without earning a penny and have actually spent more than £1,000 of my own money in the hope of gaining appropriate experience to further my legal career. It is a scandal that law firms exploit students and interns by not paying them for their work.
I have cold-called firms and systematically networked my way through all my parents’ friends, friends’ parents, acquaintances and my own connections to try and find a way into a legal career. Completing application forms, sitting tests and attending interviews seems futile. I am depressed by the sheer hopelessness of the process. The numbers of applicants are going up while the number of available jobs continues to fall.
So, why do I want a training contract? First, I have taken out a loan to pay for the LPC, on top of my student loan, and want to work to be able to pay that back. Second, I want to put into practice all the skills and knowledge I have accumulated. Third, I want to put an end to all the stresses of gaining a trainee post.
If I had known what I know now when I naively applied to do law at university, would I still have read law? Absolutely not. I would have probably taken a humanities degree, not worked half as hard as I did in law and then applied to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law. Annoyingly, I have discovered that many firms seem to prefer trainees who have studied a non-law undergraduate degree.
What can be done to address this issue? Perhaps universities and pools of firms could work together to provide a guarantee of a training contract to students who achieve a 2:1 degree or above, complete a placement with a firm within their university’s pool and demonstrate their commitment and practical application. Students would strive to meet known standards with a reasonable expectation of obtaining a training contract to further a career in law.
My friends and I are sick at the prospect of another year of filling out application forms. We dread those horrid ‘I’m sorry, but the others were just so much better’ emails which cut like a knife. All we seek is an opportunity to show colleagues and clients what we can do and to qualify as solicitors.
Carly Moore-Martin is a law graduate who is currently undertaking the Legal Practice Course
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