TRAINING CONTRACTS NEVER GREW ON TREES


Current tough job market made to sound even worse by frequent comparisons with a rose-tinted past, says Alex Aldridge

Nobody seems entirely sure how bad the current legal graduate job market is. Part of the problem is that there are so many different statistics banded around. According to recent research by the Association of Graduate Recruiters, there are, alarmingly, 65 law students applying for each training contract place. Yet earlier this year Cardiff University academic Richard Moorhead suggested we could soon be experiencing a short-fall of law graduates as law school enrolments drop.

Speaking to wannabe lawyers – which I did at length during last week’s #RoundMyKitchenTable podcast, where law graduates Flora Duguid and Cathryn Kozlowski join me and Kevin Poulter – the reality seems to be somewhere in between these two extremes. The well-organised students with good CVs are still getting jobs; it’s just that it can take a lot of luck and persistence to secure them.

There’s a tendency to forget that training contracts didn’t grow on trees during the boom years before the 2008 financial crisis. In fact, when I did the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) in 2004, I recall that very few of my fellow students had secured a training contract. Most ended up getting one during their Legal Practice Course (LPC) year, with the firms in many cases refunding their law school fees retrospectively. If I had to pinpoint the major difference between now and then – based on anecdotal evidence rather than stats – I’d say it was the relatively easy availability of TCs at the LPC stage that has changed.

Tellingly, both Flora and Cathryn (who have completed the LLB and GDL respectively) have opted to take gap years while they look for a training contract before beginning the LPC. This seems to be an increasingly common move, as students take steps to ensure they avoid the dreaded scenario of finishing the LPC without a training contract.

The problem, though, is what do these gap year students do in the meantime? With far fewer law-related jobs around than in the past, there’s a risk that they end up flipping burgers – there are, of course, far fewer burger flipping positions than they used to be, too – or unemployed.

One way I’ve noticed that law students are increasingly seeking to differentiate themselves is through blogging, with a noticeable spike in student law blogs over the last year. Some fade away, others thrive as their authors find themselves hooked on the fix of writing for an audience.

But do these blogs actually get students training contracts and pupillages? To date, the only example I know of a student landing a job through their blog is Ashley Connick, a GDL student who, after failing in previous application rounds, built a re-vamped CV around his online writing activities – and netted a TC at a magic circle law firm. Surely, though, at a time when law firms are anxious to improve their engagement with blogging and tweeting – and bring in recruits with expertise in this area – there’ll be more Connick-style successes in the future.

Alex Aldridge is the editor of Legal Cheek

5 Responses to “TRAINING CONTRACTS NEVER GREW ON TREES”

  1. Tom

    “To date, the only example I know of a student landing a job through their blog is Ashley Connick, a GDL student who, after failing in previous application rounds, built a re-vamped CV around his online writing activities – and netted a TC at a magic circle law firm.”

    Bollocks. It was bollocks at the time, and it’s bollocks now. Here’s a blog he wrote today repeating, yet again, why your really quite insulting assertion was and still is complete and utter bollocks.

    http://ashleyconnick.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/getting-a-training-contract-by-blogging-mission-impossible/

    Get a grip.

    • Tom

      Tell you what, if you can’t be bothered to read it, here it is from the horse’s mouth. Square brackets mine.

      “And as for the journalist [that's you, Alex] in question: stop writing this nonsense. You have been told countless times by numerous people, and I am telling you again. Your words are false. Your ‘spin’ is incorrect. You clearly do not understand trainee recruitment. I am flattered that you think that my blog is worthy of a training contract, but you are the only one who believes this to be the case.”

      But don’t let that get in the way of your clueless hackery or anything.

  2. D_T_T

    Like a lot of posts on this site, the problem identified really derives from the sheer numbers of people who want to be lawyers. There are more LPC potential and current students and graduates at any given time than there are training contracts. In that situation (and it’s been the case for a number of years, true enough), then regardless of the market and how many trainees they intend to recruit, firms can take their pick of candidates and be very specific as to what they are looking for – and that is what is happening. I agree that the global economic crisis isn’t the main reason for the squeeze (although many firms have cut back their training programmes from the heyday that I recall); the main reason is the increasing volume of wannabe lawyers, which is driving academic requirements up and meaning candidates need to boast results plus extra-curriculars, work experience, etc way in excess of what was required when I was applying for TCs a while back (though yes it’s true that it was still tough a few years ago too). The bottleneck has to take effect somewhere and it appears at the TC level given that there are no real filters at the LPC level, and at TC level real market forces come into play (firms will not train trainees that they do not need). Restricting LPC places by numbers generally or to those already with a TC would prevent those with more of an outside chance of a job from getting their shot, so might be unfair, but I think anyone forking out their money for the course without a job lined up at the end of an expensive year’s study needs to do so with their eyes wide open as to the statistics and the fact that ticking all the boxes still might not, sadly, result in getting the job.

    Alex, regarding Ashley Connick, perhaps you should reconsider how you present his story given Ashley’s own posts and the posts of others on this point. I don’t know Ashley personally or have any idea of the situation but generally, it strikes me that if there is an inaccuracy in the reporting of how a candidate gained a training contract then there is potential for that to cause real problems for the trainee.