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Should I start the LPC if I don’t have a training contract?

updated on 03 November 2020

Dear Oracle

I haven’t been offered a training contract yet - is it too risky to start the LPC without having secured a training contract first?

The Oracle replies

This is a tricky decision, especially with course fees as high as they are. Taking the Legal Practice Course (LPC) without already having secured a training contract is a risk that many candidates take every year. For some it pays off, but for others it is a waste of their money. Much will depend on your strengths as an individual.

To pay as much as £17,300 in fees for the LPC, you must be certain that a career as a solicitor is what you want. Next, you need to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses, and realistically estimate your chances of securing a training contract.

You should consider whether your academic results are good enough and whether you have valuable work experience. If you can see a weakness in your CV, it should be possible to strengthen it while you study the LPC so that you have improved by the time you next apply for a training contract.

Competition for training contracts is intense so - we stress again - this is not a decision to take lightly. Under the current system, many LPC graduates miss out on training contracts (remember that there are many more LPC places than there are training contracts - an issue for another article), so it’s crucial to honestly assess whether you are a strong enough candidate to secure a training contract.

Another issue to consider is the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) from 2021, which will replace the LPC. After a transitionary period, the LPC will no longer exist under the new system and you may want to wait for the SQE’s more flexible qualifying rules to come into force. It has been revealed that students could save up to £38,000 by qualifying via the SQE route, according to research from Hook Tangaza. The flexibility of the SQE and the opportunity to mix study with blocks of work experience is also a factor to consider – it reduces the risk associated with taking the LPC before securing a training contract, particularly for those who are self-funding their studies. However, with the SQE yet to be introduced, these potential advantages must be balanced against the fact that employers are familiar with the LPC and many law firms are set to continue offering training contracts to LPC graduates while the new system is implemented.

We asked a former graduate recruiter and careers adviser for her advice. Our recruiter says: "The main point of the LPC is to get a training contract, so my main advice would be to really evaluate why you haven't got a training contract yet and whether you, honestly, do stand a chance of obtaining one. If you do, go for it, but be prepared to work extremely hard on your LPC, with a dual focus on the course itself and the hours of work that must go into training contract applications. In the current climate an increasing number of law firms expect candidates to obtain a commendation or distinction for their LPC, while it’s not unusual to spend up to eight hours drafting a training contract application!

"This may seem flippant - I do understand it's a big cost. However, I have seen people arrive to start the LPC who have been applying for training contracts/vacation schemes for one, two or three years and have not been successful. Generally, I can see why and am able to help our students make their applications stronger and more appealing.”

Are you applying to the 'right' firms?

"In clearer terms, do you meet academic requirements? If a firm is asking for ABB minimum and you have ACC, don't apply. Also consider the term 'consistently strong academic record' - this generally means consistent 2.1 grades throughout your degree, plus good A levels (ABB or AAB) and good GCSEs (A*, A and B grades). Make sure that you are applying to firms that want you and that you meet their academic requirements.

"If your academics are not as good as listed above, then you must consider alternative firms whose academic requirements are not as stringent. If you do have good academics, and you still haven't been successful, then consider the next point.”

How good is your application form?

"Generally, when I review application forms that have been unsuccessful, it is because they are poorly researched, last minute, display no real enthusiasm for the firm, contain generic examples to open-ended questions and have mistakes. It is largely for this reason applications don't go through. Applications have to display genuine commitment to, and enthusiasm for, the firm. The vast majority of applications just simply do not have these qualities."

Are you selling yourself?

"In competency-based questions, are you picking your best achievements (other than academics)? Law firms want to know about you, in particular what you can achieve in addition to A levels (or equivalent) and your degree. Sports, music, volunteering, pro bono, drama, career achievements, positions of responsibility, public speaking, competition, Duke of Edinburgh, Air Cadets (and way more besides) are all relevant. Really think about what you have achieved, since roughly the age of 16.”

We also spoke to a former law school careers and pro bono coordinator and current trainee solicitor for her views. She had the following advice after starting the LPC without a training contract herself:

“I agree wholeheartedly with the advice given above. I started my LPC without a training contract and funded it by taking out a loan that I had to start paying back a month after I finished the course, training contract or not! I decided to do this after a very thorough and frank conversation with my careers service. If it had been apparent that my chances of obtaining a training contract were slim, I probably would not have gone through with the LPC as I did not want to put myself under further financial stress.

“The support that I received from my careers service was second to none and through frequent exposure to recruiters, workshops and weekly appointments, I was able to understand where I was going wrong with my applications. This allowed me to secure two vacation schemes and was I was offered a training contract with a City firm, where I am now completing my training contract.

“For me, this risk paid off which goes to show that starting the LPC without a training contract isn’t the worst decision to make. However, everybody’s circumstances are different and before you commit to the course, make sure you assess your strengths and weaknesses which will help you to decide whether obtaining a training contract is a realistic expectation.”

This page offers help to realistically assess your chances of securing a training contract and how you can improve your attractiveness to firms.