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

updated on 21 June 2022

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

Reading time: six minutes

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

To pay as much as £17,950 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. 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’re a strong enough candidate to secure a training contract.

Another factor to consider is the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which will eventually replace the LPC. After a transition period, the LPC will no longer exist and candidates who don’t meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s transitional arrangements will be required to qualify via the SQE instead. The flexibility of the SQE and the opportunity to mix study with blocks of work experience, more formally known as qualifying 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. 

We asked a former graduate recruiter and careers adviser for their advice: "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?

Aside from your academics, what other factors should you consider when making applications? Does the firm’s culture align with your own? Do they practise in an area of law you’re genuinely intrigued by? Is location important to you? Your applications need to be authentic. It’s easy to get caught up in the pressure of making as many applications as possible during the application season but this is unlikely to lead to a fruitful outcome. Identify a shortlist of firms based on your preferences when it comes to work and culture, and apply to that shortlist. You’ll find your applications are stronger for it.

One graduate recruiter we spoke to says: “If you’re applying for a training contract, it’s important that you apply yourself 100% to the application.” You can’t apply yourself 100% if you’re trying to apply to every single firm in the country.

For more advice from graduate recruiters, head to LawCareer.Net’s Meet the Recruiter profiles!

How good is your application form?

When we speak to graduate recruiters about the most common way candidates let themselves down in applications, the theme that most often comes up is lack of research. Candidates must “show their passions and motivations to join us and have a career in law,” one recruiter says.

That said, one firm explains that even top candidates who have clearly completed top research can let themselves down in applications: “This is usually because they don’t apply what they’re talking about to how that’s going to make them a better solicitor in the future. Break answers down to include what happened, what your role was, what things you learnt, and how that experience and skills gained will apply to your future role of a trainee solicitor (and make you a great one!).”

Make sure your applications are specific to each firm. Generic answers that can be applied to multiple firms shouldn’t make your final cut – be ruthless with your work if you’re serious about securing a training contract.

Are you selling yourself?

Think about all the experience and skills that will make you into a good lawyer – these don’t all have to law related. In fact, firms really value candidates who have had wider experience in the professional sphere. Evidence the skills you’ve picked up over the years during your part-time job at your local supermarket, for example, and make sure to reference any other achievements. Perhaps you’re part of a sports team, do pro bono work or set up a non-law society at your university. Pull apart these opportunities and use them to your advantage.

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 didn’t 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 I was offered a training contract with a City firm, where I’m 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.

Find out more about the changes following the introduction of the SQE via our SQE hub sponsored by The University of Law.