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The Oracle

Qualifying as a solicitor in the coronavirus era

updated on 19 May 2020

Dear Oracle

I am a trainee due to qualify this summer but have been furloughed and not told whether I will be offered a NQ position. I have done seats in employment, personal injury and private client. Which has the best prospects if I need to apply for associate roles elsewhere?

The Oracle replies

Law firms across the UK have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, but the need for lawyers providing advice and services has not changed. As society adapts to new ways of working and the economy starts to re-open, there will be work for solicitors in a wide range of specialisms.

Let’s look at your previous training contract seats in employment, personal injury and private client. People and businesses will always need employment-related legal advice , and there will also always be disputes in workplaces that need to be resolved, so non-contentious and contentious work in employment law is guaranteed. In the short term, the impact of covid-19 could create a lot more work for employment lawyers as, for example, businesses facing financial pressures attempt to navigate the hastily introduced employee furlough scheme.

Private client work will remain a strong area for specialist solicitors and firms for as long as there are wealthy people who need advice on managing their assets.

Meanwhile, people are not going to stop having accidents, so they will always need personal injury (PI) lawyers to help them file claims when the fault lies with another party. However, it is worth remembering that PI law was greatly affected by the Jackson Reforms.

These practice areas are not immune to economic conditions, but they are not as cyclical as others (such as real estate).

Whether you are offered a NQ role at your current firm or have to apply elsewhere, it is sensible to be pragmatic about where to qualify, but you can't be entirely led by job options - you should focus on what you enjoy and what you are good at. We suggest talking to your supervisors and training principal for guidance.

For example, employment lawyers need strong interpersonal skills to advise employers and their employees. They also need to be empathic yet commercially attuned to balance risk and client needs accordingly. PI lawyers need a good mathematical and analytical mindset to be able to calculate appropriate compensation levels and to forecast future needs. In contrast, private client lawyers need excellent communication skills and a keen interest in and understanding of tax legislation. Consider what each practice area entails (do you enjoy the type of work? is the work largely advisory, transactional or litigious?) and how important each practice area is to the strategic growth of your firm or other firms that you are considering (ie, is the practice area deemed a 'core' or 'support' function to the firm's long-term growth?). Good luck!