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Beginner's Guide

Key law career deadlines

updated on 08 February 2024

During your time at university, there are several key events and deadlines that you need to diarise or risk missing out!

It’s all part of the broader need to keep ahead of the game and plan your time wisely. Here are just a few to be aware of.

Law fairs

Law fairs are an excellent way to introduce yourself to lawyers and graduate recruiters and learn more about their firms. Attendance should be essential for second-year law and third-year non-law students approaching training contract application time.

Keep an eye on the LCN Events page for upcoming law fairs.

But listen up, first years – this is a precious opportunity to make a good first impression. Law fairs usually occur in October/November and can be virtual or in person.

For more on how to make the most of a law fair, listen to this episode of The LawCareers.Net Podcast, featuring tips from LCN and Shoosmiths

Winter vacation schemes (at some firms only)

It’s recommended that aspiring solicitors attend at least one vacation scheme run by a firm that they’re interested in. Winter vac schemes are an important opportunity for third-year non law students to have contact time with firms and sound out the profession.

Be mindful of the firms’ deadlines (usually late October or November) and take care over your application – these schemes are highly competitive.

Head to LCN’s Application hub for advice on how to structure your vacation scheme applications.

Spring and summer vacation schemes

Vacation schemes are one of the ways in which firms assess candidates and should be treated as part of the interview process – in fact, many firms recruit their trainees directly from the scheme.

During your vacation scheme, you should:

  • be warm and try to showcase your personality;
  • be professional – how you behave on this scheme is paramount to your training contract success; and
  • be collaborative by getting involved with the activities the firm has your group doing.

The major deadline for these schemes is 31 January of the year in which they’ll be held.

For more on what a vacation scheme entails, head to our Vacation schemes page.

Law school open days

Law students must choose a law school at which to complete the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) preparation courses, the Legal Practice Course (LPC) (if they meet the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s (SRA) transitional arrangements), or a Bar course before completing a training contract with a law firm or pupillage with a barristers’ chambers. That said, applicants who’ve secured a training contract with a law firm will likely be required to complete any courses or preparation via a specified law school chosen by the firm.

To find out more about the SQE, the new system of exams replacing the LPC, head to LawCareers.Net’s SQE hub, sponsored by The University of Law. Plus, use LawCareers.Net’s guide to SQE prep courses to compare the courses on offer. 

Non-law students pursuing the Bar must complete a law conversion course, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), before they embark on a Bar course. Non-law students pursuing a career as a solicitor, who’ve not already started the GDL, must now pass both stages of the SQE. A law conversion is no longer a requirement as part of the SQE but non-law graduates are advised to complete conversion courses prior to starting SQE preparation. In fact, many firms that are continuing with the traditional training contract model are requesting that their future trainees complete specific conversion and preparation courses before sitting SQE1 and SQE2, and then starting the training contract with the firm.

For more advice read ‘Non-law students: SQE and law conversion courses’.

Candidates can apply for both the LPC and GDL through the Central Applications Board. It operates a rolling system – that is, there’s no deadline by which to apply – but, as with most things, the earlier the better. 

Candidates can apply for SQE preparation courses directly via the university or law school and must book their SQE exams via the SRA’s website. Candidates must first create an account, activate it, log in and complete the pre-booking steps to be able to register and then book assessments.

You apply for Bar courses directly via the university or law school.

Firm open days

Aimed at first and second years, firm open days are a great way to experience the working environments and contrasting atmospheres at different law firms. It’s also the perfect opportunity for early networking. Often held in the winter and spring term, these can occur throughout the year.

Read our Meet the Recruiter profiles for insights into what law firms want from applicants and our Feature on 2023/24 open days and insight schemes.

Pupillage applications deadline

The online Pupillage Gateway is the method by which aspiring barristers in their final year of undergraduate study must apply for pupillage. Be mindful of the closing deadline (usually the beginning of February); there’s no leeway when the Gateway shuts. Note that not all chambers use the gateway to recruit, but their deadlines often coincide with the Gateway's.

Training contract applications deadlines

Many firms recruit their trainees two years in advance and many (although not all) use 31 July as their annual deadline for training contract applications. For law students, this often means applying in the June/July of the summer holiday after their second year. For non-law students, it means applying in the June/July before they start a conversion course.

However, you should note that a change to the Voluntary Code to good practice in the recruitment of trainee solicitors permits firms to offer training contracts to students from the second year of university onwards. This means that you’re now free to apply even longer in advance of starting a training contract. Nonetheless, LCN still recommends trying to secure some work experience (eg, a vacation scheme) and learn more about what’s right for you before applying for a training contract.

However, with the introduction of the SQE, the traditional training contract route is no longer the only way you can gain your two years’ on-the-job experience. As part of the SQE, candidates are required to complete two years’ qualifying work experience (QWE), with many firms continuing to use the training contract model to reflect this.

Aside from a training contract, candidates can also now complete their QWE in up to four organisations, rather than one law firm (ie, the formalised training contract). However, it’s important to check what your shortlisted firms are doing in terms of accepting QWE because many firms will still require you to complete two years of training with them, regardless of how much separate QWE you’ve built up. That said, any experience you have that gives you the chance to develop the legal skills and knowledge required to practise as a solicitor; or some or all of the competencies on the SRA’s Statement of Solicitor Competence can count as QWE – meaning you can start building up your QWE early on.

Find out what counts as QWE and how to gets yours accredited via The Oracle.