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Contentious v non-contentious training seats

updated on 23 March 2021

Dear Oracle

Do I need to do a contentious or non-contentious seat during my training contract? And what is the difference between them?

The Oracle replies

According to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), trainees who have registered since 25 November 2019 are required to gain experience in  “various areas of law”, which must include contentious work.

If a trainee began their training contract before 24 November 2019, they must complete seats in three “distinct areas” of law, including a contentious seat.

The system is set to change again in September 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). On the SQE route, there is no requirement for candidates to experience both contentious and non-contentious work, or a set number of practice areas. However, the LPC route will remain open for some time to come, so candidates taking this path will still have to experience contentious and non-contentious work.

What is contentious work?

Contentious work relates to disputes between two or more parties and will involve the courts, while non-contentious work does not – it may involve a tribunal, however.

Throughout a training contract, a firm must ensure that its trainees are exposed to a range of work, including contentious and non-contentious matters, across various practice areas. And, according to the SRA, trainees may need to spend at least three months in their assigned practice areas to gain sufficient experience and develop the skills required to work as a solicitor.

Many aspiring trainees will understandably want to be exposed to a range of work so they can develop a wide set of skills (eg, advocacy) and identify which areas of the profession and the type of work (ie, contentious or non-contentious) they are most interested in.