The advent of the SQE has made it easier to train within an in-house legal department. Will more aspiring solicitors eschew the private practice route to qualification? Catherine Baksi reports

The low down

The chance to train and qualify as a solicitor in-house is not new. But opportunities for doing so have been turbocharged by the introduction of apprenticeships and the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). Aspiring solicitors can now earn while they learn in an environment where client contact comes much sooner than in private practice. The benefits claimed for employers and solicitors alike are the development of lawyers with close sector knowledge and skills that help them in their careers. And as lawyers seeking to leave private practice find increasing competition for in-house roles, solicitors who have trained in-house have stolen a march. In-house is not for everyone, but the sector is welcoming opportunities to ‘grow’ its own lawyers.

The past decade has seen a growing number of solicitors working in-house and the view of in-house roles has changed as businesses expand their legal functions.

Just over a quarter (26%) of all solicitors in England and Wales work in-house, according to the Law Society’s most recent statistics. The Solicitors Regulation Authority’s in-house thematic review, published in March 2023, said there were 34,500 in-house lawyers in 6,000 organisations. But although it is an increasingly popular destination, only one in 10 trains at in-house departments.

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) in 2021 created a more flexible path to qualification. As a result, the number of businesses – FTSE 100 companies included – offering training or looking to formalise training programmes is growing.

That growth is by design. These companies are increasing their presence in the graduate recruitment market and often attend university law fairs to promote training schemes.

The BBC, Bank of England and Metro Bank are among the household names that offer training in conjunction with law schools to prepare students for the two-part SQE. Central and local government provide similar schemes – though the economic environment has reduced the number of places at councils.

Case for in-house

Funke Abimbola qualified as a solicitor in-house in 2000. She has worked for companies including pharmaceuticals group Roche, as well as for private practice law firms.

When Abimbola qualified, she says, the prevailing view was to move from an in-house role into private practice as soon as possible.

‘In-house was definitely considered to be the poorer cousin to private practice,’ says Abimbola, who is now general counsel, chief of staff and company secretary for the Open Medical Group.

‘The tables have really turned and there are far more private practice lawyers wanting to move in-house than ever before.’

Abimbola argues that the main benefit of training in-house is that ‘you become fully immersed in one industry’ and aligned to the business of the company you work for.

‘You will quickly become an industry expert, quite aside from developing technical legal expertise. And you will develop commercial acumen much quicker because of this,’ she insists.

In private practice, she adds, unless you are seconded to a corporate client to work in its in-house department during your training contract, your exposure to different industries will tend to be transactional in nature. You are therefore less likely to develop commercial acumen.


To qualify through the SQE, students who have completed a degree (which does not have to be in law) must pass two sets of exams and complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE). This allows them to earn while they learn.

‘With the induction of the SQE, it’s now easier for aspiring lawyers to qualify and in-house teams can benefit from this change,’ says Lizzy Lim, legal counsel at Trustpilot and a Law Society Council member.

Lizzy Lim

Lizzy Lim, legal counsel at Trustpilot

‘I trained in private practice and moved in-house to Trustpilot at one-year post-qualified experience,’ says Lim, who qualified in 2020 after training at St Albans firm SA Law. ‘It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

‘Most of those who have made the move in-house cite benefits such as better work environment, greater variety of work and increased motivation by having “skin in the game” as counsel to their company.’

For many aspiring solicitors, the ultimate goal is to work in an in-house role, says John Watkins, director of employability at the University of Law. Traditionally, he says, this has been achieved by securing a training contract at a firm, qualifying and then seeking an in-house opportunity. But this is changing.

Following an in-house path, Watkins adds, is ‘fundamentally different’ to the experience of a graduate trainee at a firm. ‘The clients are colleagues in internal departments as opposed to external businesses or individuals,’ he explains. And there is continuity from serving one client which has a range of legal needs.

Apprenticeships, Watkins says, have become a popular way for organisations to access a more diverse talent pool. The University of Law has more than 1,000 active legal apprentices. The BBC has established a programme enabling apprentices to combine studying for the SQE at the University of Law with two years’ QWE in the broadcaster’s legal team.

For students who know where they want to end up, training in-house is a particularly good option, says Watkins. ‘Why delay heading for the desired destination and lose the chance to build up a relevant track record?’


The professional association Lawyers in Local Government (LLG), Watkins says, has worked hard to promote a career in the public sector. A partnership with the University of Law, which has been nominated for an award by the Institute of Student Employers, has allowed law students from many universities to gain work experience and a better understanding of this work.

LLG president Aneeka Muneer says the partnership provides a blended training provision to members. This encompasses not just legal development, but governance and ethical training together with important soft skills such as leadership.

Muneer is deputy monitoring officer and head of litigation at Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, responsible for the legal teams in adult social care, child care, education, employment, and criminal and civil litigation.

LLG, she explains, works with several bodies to deliver training provision and development. It has designed a bespoke programme named Inspire to provide lawyers with non-legal skills in areas such as finance and political awareness.

However, notes Helen McGrath, LLG’s executive director of policy and governance: ‘Local government, like all public services, has increasingly been subject to severe financial constraints which have impacted substantially on training provision within the sector.’

While ‘pockets’ of authorities are able to target specific but limited paid-for training, especially where there might be a skills gap, many legal departments now have no budget allocation for training.

Case study: an apprentice at the Government Legal Department

‘After completing a law degree in 2022, I knew I wanted to be in the room where important decisions were made,’ says Aidan Lambert. ‘I had done internships at the Ministry of Justice and parliament while studying. This helped prove to me that working at the Government Legal Department (GLD) was the best way to achieve just that. 

Aidan Lambert


‘Having gone to university, I never properly considered the value of degree apprenticeships. Many of my peers sought training contracts, while other routes to becoming a solicitor were not immediately obvious. I now feel that legal apprenticeships do everything a training contract does, but better.


‘I’m proud to be one of 21 people who joined GLD’s first cohort of graduate solicitor apprentices in September 2023.


‘Learning on the job means my route to qualification will only take two years rather than having to take a year out to complete the LPC. As an apprentice, I work within the paralegal team for the department while undertaking learning and exams for my professional qualifications. GLD is fostering the introduction of the SQE as a route to qualification, delivered by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.  


‘I’m given a study day every week to ensure I can meet my academic obligations in qualifying. I have found this very helpful in balancing work and study, as well as protecting my free time. I also benefit from the Solicitor Apprentice Network, where I exchange tips and experiences with other colleagues on the scheme.


‘The apprenticeship allows me to experience different seats. This could be an advisory role, co-located in another department – GLD clients include the Cabinet Office, the Department for Transport and the Home Office. I could also be placed into a litigation team.  


‘My first seat is an advisory role in the new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero. Being involved in contemporary challenges is extremely satisfying – whether this is advising policymakers on their duties under the Climate Change Act, drafting statutory instruments, or working with the Energy Price Guarantee. I know my work will always be varied and exciting.


‘For anybody with a political or public law interest, working in government should be at the top of your list. I would strongly encourage people to consider graduate apprenticeships as a pathway to unlocking this line of work.’

Money matter

The Bank of England has teamed up with the University of Law to prepare trainees on its in-house development programme to pass the SQE while at the same time earning salaries of £35,700 to £41,500.

As members of the bank’s 170-strong legal team, trainees gain experience across a range of practice areas – financial services regulation and policy, litigation, corporate governance, financial markets and banking, data privacy, intellectual property, employment, commercial contracts and procurement, insolvency, public law and many more.

Charlotte Duffy, who became the bank’s first solicitor apprentice in 2021, says: ‘It is really rewarding to work at the heart of the UK economy, on legal issues which are so pertinent, with such friendly and experienced colleagues to learn from.’

Cambridge University Press & Assessment, and Metro Bank are among the organisations that have partnered with BARBRI, the training company best known for providing US bar exam preparation courses.  

Catie Sheret, general counsel at Cambridge University Press & Assessment, tells the Gazette: ‘The SQE offers a much more flexible route for our in-house team compared with our earlier experience of taking a paralegal through a formal training contract route. This involved her having to spend nearly a year out of the team to gain the necessary competencies which, arguably, were not really needed for the kinds of in-house roles she was interested in.’

But she adds: ‘It’s early days and we’re very conscious of the burden now sitting largely with the trainees to manage and record their own QWE and competency development.’

Jo Ridge, a trainee in the team, says: ‘What I like about it so far is that it allows me to develop my knowledge and skills in real-life situations, along with my professional competence and judgement.’

However, the challenging programme and style of learning, given the SQE exams are multiple-choice, has meant that it has ‘taken me a bit of time to work out what works best for me’.

In-house stats

Metro Bank enrolled its first trainee solicitor on the SQE in September 2022. Senior legal counsel Oliver Storey says that the adapted course provides a ‘tangible legal career path for our talented colleagues aspiring to be solicitors.  

‘Rather than supporting those colleagues to find training contracts elsewhere, we wanted to be in a position to retain talent and offer high-quality training at Metro Bank.

‘Offering the SQE in-house can be a cost-effective way of reducing reliance on external counsel and recruiters while fostering a close, knowledgeable and self-sufficient legal team that is culturally aligned to the business.’

Training in-house, he says, ‘provides an opportunity to gain a deep understanding of a business and how it operates, enabling the trainee to learn how to convert technical legal knowledge into practical advice aligned to that business – balancing legal risk with commercial reality’.

Trainees, he suggests, also benefit from seeing the direct impact of their legal work on the business, gaining insights into how their advice influences decision-making.

In-house trainees, says Storey, will often work on a wide variety of work, providing endless learning opportunities without the need to make a decision on what area of law to exclusively specialise in.  

Training at the bank, he explains, not only provides an opportunity to pick up an interesting and diverse workload but also a safe and collaborative learning environment, with supervision from people who are leaders and experts in their field.

‘All of our lawyers have bought into this model, taking responsibility for nurturing our trainees so they are fully prepared for life as [newly qualifieds],’ Storey says. Trainees also benefit from private practice learning opportunities via the bank’s relationships with its external panel firms.

‘Amazing journey’

Harkirat Hallen, a trainee solicitor at Metro Bank, began her career at the bank as a cashier and initially joined its legal team in the role of legal support. She then became a paralegal and Metro Bank’s first trainee solicitor in September 2022.

Hallen, who has now completed her SQE2, says: ‘My journey at Metro Bank has been amazing. I’ve had a number of opportunities which have led me to where I am today. The Metro Bank legal team has been hugely supportive in finding a route to qualification that works for everyone. The SQE has definitely proved to be a great mixture of learning the law while gaining key practical experience.’

Hallen is now focused on completing her two years’ QWE: ‘Working in-house has enabled me to learn from various specialist lawyers at the bank. This has provided me with a unique opportunity to increase my exposure to different areas of law and really understand what it means to provide effective legal advice, while also focusing heavily on what the business truly needs.’

The Government Legal Department offers 60 trainee solicitor positions, as well as pupillages for those looking to become barristers (see box, p20). Training is available in the GLD, as well as HM Revenue & Customs, the National Crime Agency and the Competition and Markets Authority.

Most of the places are based in London, but positions are available in Leeds, Manchester and Bristol. The trainee solicitor positions are for those looking to qualify through the Legal Practice Course or the SQE route; salaries range from around £31,500 to just over £41,000.

Key attributes

'I have yet to come across an in-house team that would not be able to offer the key attributes that will need to be met in QWE'

Lizzy Lim, Trustpilot

Lim suggests that all in-house legal teams should be capable of offering training under the SQE route: ‘I have yet to come across an in-house team that would not be able to offer the key attributes that will need to be met in QWE, such as interacting with stakeholders, seeing how solicitors work in practice, opportunity to consider ethical challenges and developing the necessary competencies.’

Organisations of every stripe just need to take a commonsense approach to deciding how experience should be undertaken to give aspiring lawyers a variety of work to develop their skills. ‘This is a win-win for the aspiring lawyer to flourish and for organisations to get comfortable signing off their QWE,’ concludes Lim.


Catherine Baksi is a freelance journalist