Advice

10 pieces of advice for final seat trainees

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Former magic circle lawyer Husnara Begum shares her wisdom with those preparing to qualify

While the autumn 2018 qualifiers settle into their new roles as fully-fledged solicitors the next batch of final seat trainees await their fate.

During my time in practice, securing an internal newly qualified (NQ) solicitor position in your first choice department typically involved an informal coffee with the head of department or your trainee supervisor. These days most firms operate robust (albeit imperfect) internal qualification processes, requiring trainees to prepare CVs and undergo technical interviews. It is therefore vitally important to plan your qualification with careful consideration and great precision.

So below are my top ten tips to help those of you who are currently mulling over your post-training contract options and want to put yourselves in the best possible position for securing those all-important NQ roles.

1. Do some honest self-reflection

Start by doing some honest self-reflection by asking yourselves how has your training contract gone? What went well for you? Where is there room for further improvement? What aspects of your work have you enjoyed the most and why? Which is/are your preferred practice area(s)? When thinking about which team(s) you’d like to qualify into please avoid overly focussing on the people. Think about how you would like to spend your working day? Are you a bookworm and like research or do you enjoy client contact and negotiating?

2. Think short, medium and long-term

What direction would you eventually like to take? Are you planning to stay in law long-term or will you eventually want to try something completely different? Would you prefer to move in-house at some point? The latter point is a key consideration because some practice areas lend themselves much better to an in-house position while others are more suited for particular industries. Also, how do you feel about issues such as work/life balance? If this is an important consideration for you then qualifying into a non-transactional department is likely to be a better option.

3. Do you want to stay in law?

A small handful of trainees who have been put through my outplacement programme have decided against applying for NQ roles and instead opted for a fresh start. Though this proved to be the right route for those individuals, changing careers as an NQ is a high-risk strategy because it can prove extremely tricky to get back into the legal profession if you leave it at a very junior level. As such, please give this route very careful thought and guard yourself against doing anything knee-jerk.

4. Aim high but be realistic

Some practice areas and departments are known for being over-subscribed so keep an open-mind about second choices. Related to this, use common sense — if a particular practice area is strategically significant for your current firm then chances are that is where most of the NQ vacancies will be. Similarly, remember that the external NQ jobs market is extremely competitive with the volume of candidates outstripping the number of roles. And to make matters worse firms are less likely to hire NQs on an opportunistic basis, especially as they have their own trainees to look after as well.

5. Get networking

As I already mentioned above, most firms operate formal qualification processes that involve partner-led interviews. Saying that, savvy trainee will undoubtedly be organising informal coffees/chats with relevant partners and other senior/influential members of the team(s) they want to join as NQs in order to make their preferences clear. Such meetings also serve as helpful platforms to get some constructive feedback on your performance.

The 2019 Firms Most List

6. Prepare for internal interviews

Contrary to what so many trainees believe, internal interviews can be just as challenging as ones for external positions. They are also very different to training contract interviews, which are typically competency based. Interviews for NQ roles are often technical with candidates expected to be able to intelligently discuss legal issues thrown up by matters handled by them.

7. Spruce up your LinkedIn

If you’re thinking about making applications for external NQ roles then now’s the time to update your LinkedIn profile so any recruiters reviewing it will have a clear idea of when you are due to qualify. It’s also important to include seat choices and academic credentials. And that’s it. Also, remember the more active you are on LinkedIn the greater your chances of being spotted by a recruiter. Related to this, get to work on a draft CV.

8. Call some recruiters

Pick up the phone to some recruiters (preferably ones that have been recommended to you). No harm will come out of having confidential conversations with some carefully selected recruiters as they can give you an overview of the NQ jobs market. If the recruiters inspire trust and confidence then agree to stay in touch. Avoid, however, blindly posting your CV on jobs boards or emailing it to an agency before picking up the phone to a consultant first. Also, please do remember that recruiters are not careers advisers. Their job is to find the best possible candidates for the vacancies they are instructed on. So do say some of the stuff they tell you with a gigantic pinch of salt.

9. Make some direct approaches

Supplement applications via agencies with direct approaches. Although the majority of NQ vacancies with larger commercial law firms are handled by recruitment agencies many firms will welcome direct applications. So don’t be put off making direct applications because they don’t take long as you think. And if possible do try to apply through your contacts as they are typically best placed to ensure your CV gets to the right people.

10. Be honest

Never lie to potential employers about missing out on an internal NQ role. Securing an internal NQ role will enhance your chances of bagging an external one as well. But the truth is that most candidates will not be sitting on internal offers meaning you’re not alone in having to explain the “elephant in the room”. The key here is to offer an honest explanation of why you weren’t offered an internal NQ role. When doing this it’s important to avoid being overly negative about the firm you are exiting and instead focus on pull factors.

Husnara has teamed up with the Law Society to host an event for NQs where she will sharing more of her unbiased tips and advice on preparing for qualification. The event will be taking place at Chancery Lane on 22 November. Register to attend.

73 Comments

Anonymous

Trainees who leave law at the end of their TCs are idiots (or independently very wealthy). Enjoy the NQ money for a few years then get out.

Anonymous

It’s a poor career move, but if you hate it then you could say that it’s idiotic to stay. That said, it’s usually worth having a look at how another firm does things, as it might not be the law that you hate but the firm you work in.

Anonymous

Don’t really agree with the money point. I know trainees who have gone into insurance/banking after their TCs are earning the same if not more than NQs at the top City firms.

Anonymous

Apart from those at US firms*

Anonymous

Bollocks. it’s just a personal decision. If a person quits their job, it’s because they don’t want to do it any longer.

“But the money” is besides the point – enduring misery needn’t be a prerequisite to earning a living. But unimaginative thinkers like you can’t get their heads around that. Small wonder so many in the legal profession are depressed.

Anonymous

This is pretty much spot on.

Life is very short, mental and physical health is very precious and money is not that important.

Sadly even the cleverest people don’t realise this, and waste a lot of time feeling unhappy and stressed for limited/extremely deferred gratification.

For Clifford Chance trainees only

Don’t go in the pool.

Not because someone poos in it on a regular basis, but because although it is strictly speaking “for everyone” if you get seen in there and are anything other than a senior partner, you can kiss goodbye to your career.

Anonymous

It was a spelling mistake.

It was to have been called “swimming poo”

Clifford Chance HR Team

A Norwich Pharmacal Order is coming your way, LC, to name the Clifford Chance employee who has smeared the firm on these boards!

Anonymous

Haha! “Smeared”.

Like… poo smear!

Anonymous

Infantile wretch!

Silent Lawyer

Not really, if someone wants to move into academia. There are many who would do TC and on reaching NQ, with experience they would move to academia by pursuing LLM/PhD (probably after taking some time to do some clerkship/judicial assistant at the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court) , which they already had that in their minds at some stage. Most of the law school professors and legal academics did their either TC or pupillage in their early stage of career before moving into academia. Pay isn’t issue for them as money was never been ultimate factor.

Anonymous

Don’t ever “call some recruiters”.

Anonymous

Would you advise avoiding recruiters altogether? Asking for a friend.

Anonymous

Yes, they are pond life

Anonymous

You have bad eggs in all professions. Find a recruiter that’s been in the market for a long time, they’ll invariably be good at what they do.

Anonymous

Bernie Madrid was “in the market for a long time” and I don’t think anyone could really describe him as having been “invariably good” as a fund manager…

Anonymous

Madoff even

Anonymous

“Bernie Madrid” Hopefully he’s having a better season than his close relatives, Real and Atletico

Husnara Begum

I think a good recruiter who knows the market and has strong client relationships can add value to a search. Of the trainees who have gone through my outplacement programme around 70 per cent secured new roles via a recruiter and the remaining 30 per cent did so through direct applications and referrals. But some recruiters can be complete cowboys so ask senior colleagues for recommendations and shop around – ie don’t give your CV to a recruiter until you’ve asked your own questions.

Anonymous

Hey everyone, I’m doing my LPC atm and have a TC with a US firm in London. I was wondering what the hours are like in Competition at a top tier firm for a trainee and associate? Is weekend working common? What are the average hours in the practice area from day to day? Are the hours better than they are in Corporate/Finance? Are the hours predictable (like litigation in that regard) or do they have peaks and troughs like in transactional work?

Anonymous

The hours are 60 minutes long, and there are 24 of them in a day, which represents one rotation of the Earth on its axis.

MsPacMan

Give or take

Anonymous

Learn to do your own research before your TC https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/practice-areas/competition-antitrust

You’ll be corporate’s little bitch, like every other support department. Even if you make partner, you will always be subject to the timescales of deals brought in by the Corporate/Finance rainmakers.

Interesting technical area though, fewer peaks and troughs than Corporate/Finance and a niche, in demand skill.

Minimal exit oppprtunities though, you’ll probably be in PP for life. Personally I’d take Tax of the geeky support departments, better exit options.

Anonymous

I’ve read that page but found the information quite vague.

With regards to being a support department for corporate, what about antitrust litigation? Or are most competition departments focused on merger control rather than litigation?

Anonymous

Merger control is generally support for corporate yes but what about anticompetitive agreements, abuse of dominance, state aid and private litigation?

Anonymous

What about employment?

Anonymous

It’s good to have a job, yes. It’s the way people get money.

Anonymous

It’s usually better. You should have known all this before applying, and even more so before accepting the offer, but your questions may be helpful to others as well.

Anonymous

Loving the idea that litigation hours are predictable…

anonymouse

I am very confused regarding the NQ market situation.

For some people the market/process is “extremely liquid and flexible” while according to others it is “extremely competitive”. Which one of the two is it?

Also, how can a NQ’s interview be “technical” when what most trainees do is: (i) photocoping, (ii) proofreading, (iii) compiling bundles, (iv) implementing mark-up into documents. I am rather skeptical that they’ll ask you about structuring an LBO or the subtleties of the City Code.

JD Partner

There’s lots of liquids in our NQ recruitment process, some home made.

JD P4rtner

Apologies for the intern ^ Been too busy training the secretaries to get the rookie up to speed.

Anonymous

It depends on the practice area. Popular departments, such as Litigation/Arbitration are heavily oversubscribed, firms will rarely need to look externally to cover any needs. Less popular practice areas will throw up more opportunities. It’s also easier to ‘upgrade’ firms in less popular practice areas. It’s all supply and demand really.

Anonymous

i.e. corporate/finance where you’ll just be removing square brackets all day.

anonymouse

Exactly, so imagine the kind of “technical” skills that a trainee will have acquired by the end of the TC. I just can’t see it how any NQ interview will be “technical”, unless they are seeking for very generic Investopedia kind of knowledge regarding a particular set/type of deals (LBO etc).

Anonymous

Some of them involve technical testing rather than dealing with it in Q & A

Husnara Begum

Couldn’t agree more. Firms will only take on external NQs after they’ve offered roles to their own trainees. So in popular depts the need for external candidates is negligible. Contentious practice areas are usually the most sought-after both internally and externally.

anonymouse

Could you please clarify why this is the case?

I always thought the most sought-after departments would have been the “big-ticket” transactional ones, like M&A/acquisition finance.

US NQ

They have by far the highest turnover and exit options. Hence why there’s a nearly constant demand after new assets to sweat and burn out.

Anonymous

This doesn’t happen in good city firms. Most of what you describe above like adding comments, I pass to my secretary or a contractor service usually in the States (am at a US firm).

Lots of grunt work day to day for sure, but any trainee recent or not would find those comments ill-informed. Trainees aren’t secretaries. Day to day I do project management and drafting, usually first cracks of drafting complex docs, or just ancillary docs from scratch sometimes without any review, or just breaking out notices from schedules or drafting opinions (most a square bracket exercise). I don’t like legal work but no need to lie or make things up because you don’t know or want to make a guess to make a point.

Extent of client contact also depends on the seat. Mostly day to day I’m sending out emails all the time to local counsel, the other side, client’s usually on pretty basic matters, chasing for updates, providing updates etc. unsupervised and doing it when it needs to get done. Depends in the seat on how much client contact you get. Some you might never meet a client and every email sent will be reviewed and you will be micromanage – even in a US firm.

To answer someone else’s question above on the hours, it’s a good question and there is nothing out there really explaining it. The answer is it depends on the seat and how busy it is, your supervisor, the rest of your team and how much you are willing to take on, how much capacity your team has and how lean it is etc.

So I work until 10-12 most nights. When I get off at 8 that is so early and I praise for joy. Most trainees right now around me at leaving most days between 7-8. So I am the latest stayer. There are another couple elsewhere who work slightly worse hours that I do.

In my last seat, I was leaving at 6 or 7 for the first couple of months. Thereafter I got beasted heavily and spent July and August leaving between midnight and 3am mostly.

You do get 12 or 13 days holiday in each seat and every day counts.

Honestly the hours really really blow. Psychologically I can tell you it is really rough and I couldn’t do it long term. I do regret to some extent doing the TC. Late nights are fine for a while, but once you start putting on weight because you don’t move all day and never go to the gym, after a month or so, it gets real old, real fast.

Equally you are not sitting on your arse during those hours and you rarely get more than a 15 minute lunch break. This has been typed in replace of me having one as I brought in lunch today.
You also will find it hard to go to the gym since it’s hard to even get away for a full hour. This month I have tried to go probably about 6 times in the evening and succeeded twice, of those 2 times, for one I was asked to come back after 25 minutes in the gym by email, the other time, I came back after 1.5 hours having left the office without anything urgent and I got a bollocking for being out so long as my supervisor had just thought up something for me to do and I wasn’t there.

It sounds like it sucks and the people are dicks because it is and they are.

Anonymous

This sounds utterly awful.

Anonymous

Reminds me of a student who was a keen jazz guitarist. He was looking forward to his training contract in a Magic Circle firm as London has a vibrant jazz scene and he was particularly looking forward to joining a group. I met up with him years later. As you might suspect, he never joined that jazz group and I suspect his guitar skills diminished quickly – more quickly than the gym-goer turned to fat, I suspect. Seriously, get out as quickly at you can.

Anonymous

Shame they didn’t teach you to use an apostrophe (see “client’s”).

Anonymous

it’s obviously autocorrect but why be a dick when I’m just trying to assist?

Anonymous

It’s not, just accept your mistake with grace.

Anonymous

What is the point of making that comment? Idiot.

Anonymous

What a dick to write this. They are trying to provide true insight into life at a US firm when they are busy and need to get back to work, and you come back with this comment? You and your bully boy Etonian ways. You represent everything that is wrong with this profession and this country.

Anonymous

What is the point of making that comment? Idiot.

Anonymous

Which firm? Asking for a friend.

Anonymous

Brilliant comment. Spectacularly to the point, unfortunately.

anonymouse

Thank you for your comment.

I seem to understand that the technical skills of a fresh NQ will considerably vary from individual to individual (depending on the firm and practice area). Again, this might seem obvious, but I am confident that a good portion of NQs will not be able to sustain a “technical interview” as most of them would have done very basic (sometimes borderline admin) work during a substantial part of their TC.

I have friends who are on a TC like myself, most of them at very reputable firms in London and a good majority of them are rarely drafting a resolution, let alone the first draft of a document, and most of their drafting is simply doing checklists or basic email chasing.

I wonder how any such individual could transfer into being a NQ especially if the barrier to entry is a “technical” interview where you might be asked about any of the several steps that make up a complicated deal (be it a financing or corporate one).

If you could offer some advice, what is something (including drafting) that every NQ MUST know how to do before making the transition?

Anonymous

I interview NQs all the time and of course we ask technical questions – you have had nearly two years in the office by this time and we expect you to have learned something! We know you are junior and that some firms won’t have trained you very well and we make allowances for that but we are looking for someone who has thought about what was going on in the wider transaction rather than just mindlessly performing discrete tasks. We start with open questions like “tell me about a matter you worked on and something interesting/difficult that came up and how you dealt with it?” Or we pick a deal on your CV and ask about your role on that. Then ask follow up questions to see how deep your understanding goes.
Your answers don’t have to be perfect, but the best candidates are those who have clearly shown initiative during their training contract, read the emails and documents and listened to calls on deals (even where they didn’t directly relate to their “bit”) and learned how to use news and information resources to learn about the ‘market’ in their area as well as law. It’s true that lots of trainees fall well short of that technical knowledge bar but there super-keen people out there who acquire an impressive level of technical and commercial knowledge during their TC (at all levels of firm from mid-market, to MC to US) and they are the ones who will get the best lateral NQ jobs.

Anonymous

Yeah but if so busy how come you have the time to post long comments to legal websites?

Pond Life

You’re right to be confused. Not only does the competition vary enormously depending on which practice area you have chosen to qualify into, each firm handles the process in their own way so there’s no set rules to follow. Outside the larger firms (e.g a boutique practice) the technical side can depend on the whims of the individual solicitor who is interviewing you.

Anonymous

Also confused.

One the one hand people tell you chill out and it’ll all be fine – that everyone gets a job at a good firm. Tbh this seems to be true from what I’ve seen/mates have experienced.

On the other hand some people say it’s ‘hyper competitive’ and an uphill struggle.

Anonymous

Not many jobs at NQ level in Employment.

SC trainee

Lit/Arb rocks: best hours, mega cases and top whack pay at US shops. I luv disputes

Anonymous

dunno about that – the hours can be grim

Anonymous

What area is the least amount of work for the most pay?

Anonymous

You must first get hired by top US firm Greenberg Glusker to find out.

Anonymous

Crime.

Anonymous

Jobseekers

Anonymous

On a serious note, real estate.

anonymouse

Probably a very niche advisory practice in a big structured firm. I am thinking of the hyper advisory departments at MC firms or big US ones.

Yes, you will most likely have to work for other departments, but your hours will be nothing as gruesome.

A Barrister

“Interviews for NQ roles are often technical with candidates expected to be able to intelligently discuss legal issues thrown up by matters handled by them.”

Please.

anonymouse

How would a NQ solicitor at a reputable commercial firm compare (in terms of skills acquired and overall intellectual prowess) to a Barrister with similar experience (i.e. just out of pupillage)?

Granny Grammar

I know.

It should be “to discuss, intelligently”.

Amy Jones

Thanks for providing the nice post about advice for trainees….
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https://www.ahlawatassociates.com/startup-legal-services/

Joseph Smith

Hi Amy

I need to take my startup public. IPO value should be around £500m. Goldman needs to confirm this.

Hope you can help!

Joseph

Anonymous

I have self-driving bones.

Can you give me any advice on how to market this idea for very good price?

City 2 PQE

Planning on cashing out at 3PQE and going on a working visa for a year.

How would regionals look at this when I return to UK?

3 year PQE in City – great, good experience. Let’s take her.

3 year PQE + took a year out – uncommitted, will do it again.

Appreciate different firms would have different views. I can only say that City firms would think the latter.

Anon

I don’t qualify until April and have already secured a job at another firm (upgrade), my firm are still dragging their feet reviewing their business needs for NQs.

Overall found it relatively easy to get an NQ role, had 4 interviews and 1 offer.

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