Why I regret my magic circle training contract

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By Katie King on

Career mistakes: Legal Cheek meets a soon-to-be NQ, a paralegal and an LPC student

Studying law is a safe bet. An intellectually stimulating degree is hard currency, and God knows adoring relatives will adore you even more if you so much as entertain a legal career.

The magic circle is the gold standard of this — big money, big deals and unparalleled prestige. Yet, at least one current trainee’s experience was more mistake than magic. He explains:

There are parts of it I don’t regret — I’ve appreciated obtaining a legal education and some of the bits of work I’ve done on the training contract have been interesting. But my two biggest regrets are i) not pursuing something with more of a positive social impact (I’ve done work for some pretty unsavoury companies and it can be very soul destroying at times) and ii) doing something that requires such a huge sacrifice of everything else in my life.

Take stock and consider the word ‘regret’. Personally, it’s not a word that I would use lightly. Did I enjoy my law degree? At times no, at other times not at all, but I wouldn’t go as far as to file it away under ‘mistakes’. Our training contract regretter, on the other hand, would. He is now moving to the United States to pursue more social welfare-oriented things; “I wish I’d done this sooner,” he concludes.

But how did our miffed magic circle trainee — who we will call Sam — even end up on this track to millionaire partner greatness? “Quite honestly, I kind of fell into it,” he says. After studying a humanities degree at university, he began to apply for internships and before long vac scheme interview turned into vac scheme, and vac scheme turned into training contract. Then: “Without really thinking about what I really wanted to do, I accepted the offer as it was a ‘good’ job (i.e. one that my parents would understand and respect…).”

Other once-aspiring lawyers have been more considered in their career choice, yet have still been caught by the regret net. For Rob (again a pseudonym), the overwhelming ‘I shouldn’t have done this’ feeling came when he was just months into an ill-suited paralegal job.

Rob was attracted to legal practice thanks to his lawyer sister. “She warned me that a career in law would be very competitive,” Rob reflects, but that didn’t stop him.

The doubts came early:

I realised I made a mistake when I started to fail a number of exams on the Legal Practice Course (LPC). I spent money on a number of resit examinations and on private tuition.

Passing the LPC and securing a fee-earning paralegal position did little to quell Rob’s reluctance. “I did not enjoy the work I was doing and my chances of securing a training contract were very low,” and that was the end of that.

The LPC scuppered Laura’s chances of legal profession glory, too. It was smooth sailing during her LLB, an “excellent” experience, but then:

The first notable point of regret for me was during work experience with [a high-profile personal injury firm], it really did not interest me at all. I shrugged that off though and just assumed it was due to the fact it was not in the area I wanted to practice.

But the unease persisted. Once enamoured with the law, Laura — again a false name — tells us that just weeks into her LPC: “I quickly discovered that I actually just hate the way in which the legal career operated. As someone who believes everyone deserves the law to be accessible it didn’t sit well.”

The sacrificial nature of a legal career began to dawn; realising how difficult it’d be to settle down and start a family was the final nail in the coffin. Miserable, Laura dropped out after her first term, but assures Legal Cheek she’s much happier as a result.

Law is paraded as the safest, most lucrative degree of all — but it’s far from regret-proof. Sam, Rob and Laura were just three of many who got in touch with Legal Cheek to share their stories — it’s not even the first article we’ve done on the topic.

Are you too living with a law-shaped regret? We’d love to hear from you.

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