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POV: you're a graduate non-law student with no training contract

POV: you're a graduate non-law student with no training contract

Charlotte Lear


Reading time: five minutes

So, you've got no training contract, you've just graduated with a non-law degree and you're faced with the decision of whether you want to self-fund the first part of your solicitor’s journey.

Time to panic?

Contrary to what you might think, this isn't the end of the world. To put things into perspective, I'll give you a walk-through of what I've had to do to get to this point of realisation.

I think the best place to start is to be completely honest about the lack of training contract and quite frankly, I wasn't ready.

In my third year at university studying English literature during a global pandemic, I experienced a major confidence crisis. Something that I'm sure a lot of non-law students have experienced.

How can I know what I'm talking about when I don’t have a law background?

So... I bottled it.

Thankfully, this allowed me to complete my degree comfortably and I achieved the results I wanted. This did, however, leave me with an uneasy feeling having graduated with no sense of certainty with what I would be doing next – again, completely normal.

Then, just my luck, this year so happened to be the one that, come September, the route to qualifying as a solicitor was undergoing a massive overhaul in the shape of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam aka the SQE.

I knew that being from a non-law background, finding any kind of paralegal experience would be near impossible and so the most realistic option was to begin self-funding my journey. 

The SQE is designed to diversify the route to becoming a solicitor and provide accessibility to those who the legal industry needs to be hiring, the SQE presented itself as a site of immense anxiety as to what path I would have to go down next.

You can take the SQE exams at any point in your career post-graduation. In theory, you can roll out of graduation, into an exam hall, pay a whopping £3000 per exam and pass with flying colours.

The minor catch to this process is that it’s near impossible unless you fancy dishing out £3000 for every retake. The caveat to this is that you'll most likely need to do a prep course, or at the very least acquire yourself some study manuals which alone can set you back more than £300.

Next stop, then? It's looking like an MA.

Thanks to Student Finance England, for an MA you can take out a loan of around £11,500 to cover both tuition and any maintenance costs. Having already amassed a horrendous amount of student debt towards the end of my degree, I thought a humble £11,500 wouldn't hurt.

One thing to note, however, is that the repayment threshold for an MA loan is slightly lower than that of an undergraduate degree.

The University of Law offers two options to take as a non-law student:

  • MA Law (Conversion); and
  • MA Law (SQE1).

The first option is completely covered by a student finance loan, whereas the second surpasses the amount by about £650.

Firstly, you might be thinking about how you will be able to fund on-campus study when your loan barely covers your tuition and, you would be correct.

No full-time law degree realistically makes allowances for you to be making enough money to cover your maintenance unless you either choose to study part-time or you have superpowers!

Sadly, I don't. Now to convince you why I chose the slightly more expensive option.

What have we been doing for the last 18 months? Studying online. Call me crazy. But I’m amongst the other third-year students who have done a good 5/9 of our degrees online, thanks to the pandemic.

Not only this but the online course is entirely self-directed; I can demonstrate a high level of independence while allowing myself optimum flexibility with regards to attending law events and (hopefully) assessment centres.

I do, however, have the privilege of an environment at home that I can work in and a family who are perfectly fine with me staying at home for the year.

So, here I come full circle to trying to secure a training contract. A lot of firms have made clear that due to the shift towards the SQE they are going to be a lot more flexible with regards to onboarding trainees who have various forms of the same qualification.

By choosing the MA LAW (SQE1) I’m able to study what is essentially a PGDL, with the SQE 1 prep included, while not having to complete a dissertation over a summer during which I aim to be completing vacation schemes to secure these training contracts.

The £650 excess equates to approximately £50 per month if you choose to pay in 12 instalments which I will be making up through part-time work. Panic over.

Hopefully, this makes finishing a non-law degree without a training contract and trying to navigate the SQE a little less daunting. I think one of the more positive aspects of the change to the SQE is that there are a wide variety of choices out there that can quite easily fit into anyone’s circumstances.

Now onto trying to secure that training contract...

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