updated on 17 January 2023
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Becoming a trainee in a law firm is one of the many ways that aspiring lawyers can qualify as solicitors. It used to be a compulsory part of the qualification process but with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), there are now various routes into the profession – a two-year training contract being one of them.
As well as looking at the value of trainees within a legal business, this article will also provide insights into Stevens & Bolton LLP – a law firm that’s just announced a major expansion to its trainee programme. Find out more, including details on how to apply, below.
What are trainee solicitors?
There are a number of factors that will influence the role of a trainee solicitor, including the type of firm, its size and practice areas, as well as the seats undertaken and the size of the trainee intake. For example, trainees at large commercial firms could spend time in various departments, giving them a broad commercial experience. The type of work would differ at a small high-street firm that has a niche area of specialism.
With the introduction of the SQE, trainees are no longer required to work in a specific number of different areas of law, or to experience both contentious and non-contentious practice areas. The practical work you do will build on the aspects of law you’ve already learnt about, while preparing you for working life at the firm you’re training with.
Find out more about what a training contract involves in this overview.
Why do firms invest in trainees and why are they so important to firms?
With any job it’s useful to understand your role, value and significance to the business. So why do firms continue to invest in trainees and why are you, as a trainee, so important to law firms?
The war for talent in the legal industry remains strong, with potential trainee solicitors at the heart of it. There have been recent hikes to newly-qualified solicitor salaries and various diversity and wellbeing initiatives introduced in a bid to attract aspiring lawyers to firms (see LCN’s News section for more on these stories). As a future lawyer, there’s arguably never been a better time for you to compare and contrast law firms’ offerings in order to find the employer that’s the right fit for you and your career goals. And, as part of the fierce competition for candidates, it’s worth considering how firms understand the costs and benefit of recruiting trainees. What do trainees bring to law firms and are there more cost-effective ways of hiring new talent?
It’s important to remember that law firms are businesses in and of themselves, and businesses are dynamic and must evolve with the ever-changing landscape they exist within. Reviewing recruitment practices should be high on law firms’ agendas – not only to ensure they’re attracting and recruiting the best talent via inclusive methods, but also to make sure that their recruitment practices make financial sense. Obviously, if a business never recruited new talent, the development of the firm would plateau, and its ideas or work might become stagnant. As such, law firms invest in new talent in the form of trainee solicitors to (among many other reasons) bring in new skills and new ways of thinking to their businesses to support the growth and success of their individual firms.
The Law Society of Scotland highlights, among “academic excellence and enthusiasm for the law”, four attributes that trainees can bring to their prospective law firms: energy, new thinking, new skills and diversity. These qualities are all incredibly well received by law firms and contribute to firms’ growth.
Aside from the traits that trainees have to offer, it can be more cost effective to recruit and train junior lawyers in house than to engage more heavily in lateral hires (ie, recruiting someone who’s already employed within a similar role in a different company). This strategy means that law firms like Stevens & Bolton can grow more organically while building up a diverse internal workforce of top-quality lawyers.
According to data analysis conducted by UK legal technology company Pirical, on average, trainees become profitable around their second seat. Firms invest in trainees with the intention of retaining the talent they onboard; it’s very much a two-way street – that is, it’s likely you want to choose a firm in which you can see yourself building a sustainable and fulfilling career, while the firm wants to ensure that the trainees it hires and invests in are high quality and committed. A spokesperson for Stevens & Bolton says: “We believe in long-term relationships, fulfilling careers and stewardship of our business for the benefit of future generations.” Firms want their lawyers to train at their individual firms so they can structure the training in a way that prepares the trainees for life at the specific firm and for the firm’s specific needs. This is what makes finding the right firm so important for both parties.
Find out more about researching firms with LawCareers.Net’s advice.
Case study: Stevens & Bolton LLP
For trainees, finding a firm that suits your needs and interests is vital. On top of that, identifying a firm that’s moving forward and reviewing the way it works and grows should play a part in your decision making.
Firms often assess the way they work and recruit, with independent full-service firm Stevens & Bolton being one of the most recent examples to do so. Having completed a review of its recruitment and retention as part of its intentions to better “understand the costs and benefits of recruiting at a more junior level”, the firm has made some significant changes to its trainee programme.
As part of the firm’s growth strategy, it recognises “that a law firm is only as good as the people it employs and to really succeed in the market we need to recruit and retain top-quality lawyers”. The firm says its focus for “this recruitment drive is not only to grow more organically through developing our talent, but to also grow a more diverse workforce”.
As such, the firm has announced that it’ll be doubling its trainee intake numbers from five to 10 each year, starting with the next intake in September 2023. This decision is part of its “ambitious” growth plans over the coming years in which trainees will play a pivotal role. Stevens & Bolton is now recruiting trainees to start in 2025 (the normal two-year timeline), as well as in September 2023 and September 2024. This move demonstrates just how important trainees are to the law firm, its growth and long-term success, while offering future lawyers the chance to join the firm within the next two years.
In light of this change, Stevens & Bolton will also be upping the number of students to secure places on its vacation schemes that take place every year in Easter and summer. With vacation schemes forming a vital part of the research process for aspiring lawyers (offering the chance for you to get a feel for firms you’re interested in building a career with) this increased uptake is a great opportunity for students to get their foot in the door at an early stage. Plus, many firms, including Stevens & Bolton, automatically offer vac schemers a training contract interview as part of the scheme.
Trainees at Stevens & Bolton have been highlighted as essential to the firm’s ambitions for organic growth over the next few years. You could be a part of this drive. The deadline for the firm’s 2023 and 2024 training contract is on 31 January 2023, while those looking for a training contract to start in September 2025 have until 1 June 2023 to make their application. Select the ‘Apply now’ button on the firm’s LCN profile to get started.
Head to LawCareers.Net’s Application hub for advice on acing your applications and more!