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Careers focus: The long and winding road to qualification

The pathway to becoming a solicitor is long and paved with potholes. In this second blog, partner Simon Whitehead takes a look at the highs and lows of the journey to qualification…

Photo of Simon WhiteheadTraining for a career in law is an investment. Both in terms on time and money. For anyone on their journey to qualification, there will be many times when it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel – but I want to reassure anyone in the thick of exams and heavy tuition fees, there is a light and it will be worth it. The system just doesn’t always make it easy.

If you want to be a lawyer, you’re looking at university fees, plus living expenses, for at least three years of university. Law degrees aren’t cheap. It necessitates a sizeable student loan, although tuition is at similar level to most other degrees at this point.

But having a law degree doesn’t make you a solicitor or a barrister, it’s just the first step.

If you don’t complete a law degree (or enough of one) to start with, you’d then have to complete a year’s conversion course.  There’s no student loan funding available for that, which comes in at around £8,000, plus another year of living expenses.

Then, assuming you go down the solicitor path, you’d have to do the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Again, there’s generally no student loan funding available for that, although some courses do offer a small contribution these days, so it’s worth looking at options carefully. But in general, it means finding in excess of £11,000, plus another year of living expenses…

One of my (born in the 70’s like me) colleagues was sponsored through law school by a city firm.  She said she wouldn’t have become a solicitor if this funding hadn’t been available to her, despite her sparkling academic record. These days sponsorship packages like that are like unicorn horns…

After the LPC, the next step is to obtain that, often elusive, training contract. Competition has always been tough, but it’s incredibly difficult at the moment.  There are so many young people who have paid to be educated up to this point so that they can become a lawyer, saddling themselves with bank debts, only to fail at the last getting-a-training-contract hurdle.

For those that are offered this contract, it’s another (usually) two years of training (for which you are at least finally paid!) before fully qualifying. Many people from outside the industry are often surprised to hear that these training contracts come with no guarantee of a full-time position at the end of it. It’s fairly commonplace for firms to wait right until the last minute to let trainees know whether or not they will have a role to qualify into, leaving them high and dry and often unemployed, panicking to find a permanent role.

Back to sending off CVs and covering letters – if anywhere that you’d like to work is looking for someone at Newly Qualified level in your preferred practice area.

Once you have landed your role – congratulations! To make it this far is not only testimony to your acumen for law, but of your grit and determination to work your socks off consistently year-on-year.

Thankfully, the profession is trying to change within itself.  Pathways to becoming a solicitor are changing, but change doesn’t happen overnight, and law firms must be willing to embrace people who are accessing the profession via these new routes too – something we’re proud to do at HRC Law and are all the more successful for it.

In summary, it’s important to stress that the highs always outweigh the lows. Ask any lawyer if it was worth it and I’m confident they’ll say ‘yes’. On your journey, you’ll learn so much in terms of knowledge and skills – many of which are useful more broadly than just for your career.

You’re in the privileged position of being able to help people every day and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be working alongside a great team of people. So stick with it!