Exclusive: Is it ‘exploitative’, or a case of ‘nothing is free’?
As websites continue to sell training contract application and interview advice to struggling students, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) has told Legal Cheek it would “actively discourage” aspiring lawyers from using these services. However, these websites are standing by their practices.
Seeking out a training contract has been likened to the search for Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, and though there are plenty of excellent free resources out there, some services are choosing to charge job hunters instead.
One website called My Training Contract, for example, offers application form review services for £27.99.
Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment sells training contract packs — including CV guides, assessment day online training and interview prep help — for £49.99 (RRP £150). Another separate website had advertised “training contract and vacation scheme consultations” at £80 per hour, though we’ve been unable to access the site since we attempted to get in touch with them.
A number of law students have told us they think this practice is “exploitative”, placing what one described as “unfair financial pressure” on people who are experiencing “plenty of monetary worries anyway”.
Another said these services are “morally wrong and unnecessary”. “There are a lot of lazy students who might feel privileged, they might think that they do not need hard work to accomplish something,” she thinks, “and that is why those TC advisers exist.”
Aside from students, the JLD is concerned too. Bryan Scant — who was chair of the representative body for young lawyers at the time of writing, but stepped down recently — told us:
“Any proposal that trainees could pay for advice that would guarantee them a training contract would be extremely concerning. Training contracts are granted on merit and at the discretion of the firm or organisation offering the training contract. We regularly meet firms and solicitors who actively encourage trainee solicitors and take pride in seeing them develop from the start of their training contract to the point of qualification. I would actively discourage any prospective trainee from using a ‘service’ that sells advice and instead encourage them to contact organisations like the JLD for free support and guidance in obtaining a training contract.”
Not everyone’s appalled, though. In the words of one student, “nothing is free”, and providing the advice came from somebody who had been through the process, she “personally wouldn’t have a problem” paying for it.
But perhaps the best defence of this practice comes from the sites offering these services. One, www.mytrainingcontract.co.uk, provided us with a lengthy and informative comment, part of which is pasted here:
“The majority of candidates that work with us are the sort that firms tend to overlook — older candidates, career-changers, international students and those from non-traditional backgrounds. They are often incredibly able and have a lot to offer, but face rejection after rejection from firms because they don’t fit the mould… I’d argue that the JLD is perpetuating the problem by suggesting that training contracts are granted solely on merit. Most of us who’ve worked in law have seen training contracts and vacation scheme places go to a privileged few… The candidates who come to us just need a bit of practice to get that same confidence and polish in their interviews — skills which university, law school and dare I say the JLD should be equipping them with. The level of free support and guidance out there is wholly insufficient — candidates are taught to spell-check their applications and turn up to interviews on time, but not how to highlight relevant skills or demonstrate real enthusiasm.”
Additionally, a spokesperson from Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment stressed to us they have never claimed to guarantee aspiring solicitors a training contract. But there is so much anyone can do to improve their chances of success. They continue:
“If you want a training contract and someone has good quality advice to give — why not invest some money in your future and get some decent advice to improve your chances? Is it fair? Quite possibly not. But is it fair that some people go to Eton and Harrow and have better life chances than others?”
Throughout the years, Legal Cheek has reported on a number of individual lawyers charging aspiring solicitors for their training contract wisdom.
One DLA Piper solicitor was spotted offering training contract coaching and guidance to aspiring associates for £40 an hour. Lawyers at firms including Freshfields, Kennedys and Weil Gotshal have been caught out as well.