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I didn’t attend a Russell Group university, can I still get a training contract?

updated on 13 May 2022

Dear Oracle

I attended a non-Russell Group university and I have concerns about being overlooked by firms. Do I still stand a chance of securing a training contract?

The Oracle replies

Reading time: five minutes

Up until 2019, statistics and data collected by Chambers Student revealed that 76.5% of trainees at the leading law firms were Oxbridge and Russell Group graduates. This shows an overwhelming large portion of trainee solicitors are from Russell Group universities and Oxbridge.

This data has created the assumption that law firm recruiters favour applicants from those backgrounds, which is not always the case.

 To discover how commercial awareness can even the playing field for non-Russell Group university students, read this LCN Says: ‘British Inter-University Commercial Awareness Competition – the largest commercial awareness competition for law students in the UK’.  


Studying at a Russell Group university might indeed increase your employability – there are many reasons for this.

The first is the advantages that come with being an established law society. Most Russell Group universities like the University of Warwick and University of Bristol have well-established law societies that have been sponsored by top law firms for years.

These law societies already have a robust structure (that’s tried and tested) that allows things to run smoothly annually (eg, when there’s a handover to a new president).

The hidden advantages

There’s a lot of information about the advantages of attending a Russell Group university but not enough about the benefits of attending a non-Russell Group one. For example, non-Russell Groups can offer students a really positive experience on campus – this is why many students at non-Russell Groups tend to speak fondly of their institutions.

We spoke to an anonymous LLB student who says that he was drawn to non-Russell Groups because he wanted a place he would feel at home and be part of a community. He had the chance to attend a Russell Group university but opted not to because he thought he might experience imposter syndrome or feel out of place.

Another advantage of attending a non-Russell Group university is the variety of courses that are available. Non-Russell Groups are more likely to experiment with new courses and introduce non-traditional courses that are more interesting to tomorrow’s lawyers and could help to make you into a well-rounded candidate.

Non-Russell Groups tend to value diversity and freedom of expression therefore are more inclined to introduce courses that align with this. For example SOAS University of London has a very niche specialism – it’s one of the few universities that offers the directed study of an African language as a course and is invested in providing its students with a wide understanding on the diverse cultures of Africa.

To find out how to break into the elite, read this LCN Blog that highlights five ways to increase your employability prospects.

Worry about what you can control

Attending a non-Russell university might not be within your control – some people might not have the grades. Whether you attend a Russell Group or non-Russell Grop university, the experience is what you make of it.

Here are some examples of actions you can take to make yourself more attractive to graduate recruiters:

  • Get involved in extracurricular activities including joining a society at your university (eg, the law society, netball team or mooting society).
  • Speak to a careers adviser about volunteering opportunities within your university or outside.
  • Get some legal work experience.
  • Get experience outside of the law with part-time work (don’t disregard non-legal work experience, you can gain key transferable skills).
  • Build your commercial awareness by visiting our commercial awareness hub, reading our Commercial Connect monthly newsletter, taking part in the LCN commercial quiz on Twitter on Mondays, digesting the Commercial Question on Tuesdays and reading the commercial news round-up on Thursdays. You’ll be an expert in commercial awareness in no time.

Read this Wrestle with Pestle LCN Says which outlines the repurcussions of covid-19 on the airline and aviation sector, using the PESTLE technique.

Grades are important so it’s key that you do whatever it takes to achieve those stellar academics consistently throughout your law degree, not just when it counts towards your final grade. A graduate recruiter might not be familiar with your university, but they recognise strong academics, an impressive work ethic, interesting extracurriculars – all of which are a wonderful recipe for a future lawyer.

So, it’s important to gain some legal work experience, build your contacts of lawyers and get the grades you need to qualify.

Read this LCN Feature: ‘How to demonstrate the key skills for law in applications’.

Try not to ponder on what you don’t have and start listing the advantages your university offers and what you, as an individual, can bring to a firm – because you are worth more than your university.

Moving forward

It’s 2022 and with the introduction of blind screening, some employers might not even be privy to the university you attended. Graduate recruiters are now being progressive, with most implementing blind recruitment to ensure fairness and assess applicants only on their merits. This means the only information that should be known to the recruiter is your academics, work experience, and contact information to avoid any unconscious bias.

Watch this YouTube video to hear from the winning societies as they accept their awards and explain the work they do in their winning category.