Feature

Should law firms recruit two years in advance?

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There are pros and cons to the lengthy recruitment process, says future trainee solicitor Fraser Collingham

If you want to train at a large commercial firm, you need to be able to think ahead. The fortunate recipients of a training contract offer will, in most cases, not actually begin working at their firm as a trainee for two whole years.

The theory goes like this: law students apply in their penultimate year. They take one year to complete their law degree, and one further year to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Non-law students are advised to apply in their final year, thereafter taking a year to complete the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the LPC. But, in reality, is this a smooth process?

Many students do not get an offer while studying at undergraduate level

The application process for a training contract has become increasingly difficult and it can feel like a lottery. The process is incredibly competitive now that you need an exceptional CV, knowledge and experience to make it. How many law students actually get offered a training contract in their penultimate year of study? I only know of two in my year. The majority of people I met at assessment days had graduated. The application timeline is designed for people to apply early on in their studies but this may not be in tune with reality. After all, a graduate is likely to have more experience than a second-year student.

People are left filling time doing a job they don’t want to do

If you can’t secure an offer and are stuck in application purgatory, you have to wait until the next recruitment cycle. This puts your dreams of starting a training contract on hold for another two years. When you do eventually secure an offer, it’s a long wait before you can begin training. This has increasingly led to people having to work as paralegals or in other admin-related jobs they have no desire to do. They might gain experience, but it’s not ideal.

It’s worth noting that law firms are receptive to bringing forward your start date in some cases and will try to accommodate future joiners where possible. However, this is done on a case by case basis and gives no guarantees. It very much relies on the applicant reaching out and whether the firm has an opening.

A firm can undergo huge changes in two years

The most dramatic example of this is probably the collapse of King & Wood Mallesons’ UK arm. Some future trainees would have waited almost two years to begin their training, only to see the firm fall into administration. While some had their applications fast-tracked and prioritised, those who weren’t lucky enough to receive an offer from another firm faced the daunting task of having to reapply elsewhere.

Perhaps more common than firms going into administration are mergers. The merger trend is expected to continue. Transatlantic law firms Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner and CMS have recently completed mergers and Allen & Overy could be next. Your firm could have an entirely different name, composition, and strategy by the time you begin your training. It could close down your favourite department. Having a two year-long application timeline means that the firm you join may be very different to the one you applied for.

However, there are advantages to the recruitment system and it’s obviously set up this way for a reason.

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Certainty

By recruiting two years in advance, students are given the opportunity to leave university with certainty over their future career. Those that do receive an offer while they are still an undergrad can focus on their exams without the pressure of finding a job hanging over them.

The long wait also allows law firms to plan ahead, remaining competitive by nabbing the brightest students at an early stage. This is key for law firms.

Receiving funding

Arguably the greatest benefit for students is that some law firms can sponsor their GDL and/or LPC fees, as well as pay a maintenance grant. This is undoubtedly a huge bonus for future trainees. It opens the profession to those who would otherwise be unable to join. Having that support for one or two years is invaluable. The alternative (self-funding) is not an option for the majority of young people. Perhaps this financial aid outweighs any drawbacks of waiting two years to begin the training contract.

A chance to mature

Some students love the two-year recruitment process. They see it as a win-win — they have secured an excellent job, but do not have to commit to adult life just yet. They use the gap as an opportunity to travel, try different jobs and generally enjoy life. Their commercial awareness might suffer whilst they’re out backpacking in Vietnam, but they can still enhance their ‘international outlook’.

There are both pros and cons to the two-year recruitment process in the graduate legal market, and it ultimately depends on your own personal circumstances whether the system will work for you. Perhaps waiting for two years is a small price to pay for your dream job, ensuring your wholehearted commitment to the profession. All I know is that it’s incredibly difficult to explain it to your friends and family.

With the new super exam coming into effect, should law firms shake things up and become more flexible with their recruitment timelines? That’s something only time will tell.

Fraser Collingham is a University of Nottingham law graduate. He is currently studying the LPC at the University of Law and is due to commence a training contract at an international law firm in 2019.

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62 Comments

Anonymousse

‘Some students love the two-year recruitment process. They see it as a win-win — they have secured an excellent job, but do not have to commit to adult life just yet. They use the gap as an opportunity to travel, try different jobs and generally enjoy life. Their commercial awareness might suffer whilst they’re out backpacking in Vietnam, but they can still enhance their ‘international outlook’.’

Are you the pro-zero hour contract kid from Question Time?

Anonymous

LOL

I can remember the credit crunch, when all sorts of firms just started letting trainees go, deferring without compensation, or just not taking them on

A big lesson in real life

Have you been mugged by real life yet?

Chen

What’s it like to work at WilmerHale? I’ve applied and was offered a three month arbitration internship starting in Jan 2019. Any tips? Genuine question btw

Anonymous

Top top

Curious Student

What’s the best law firm in the whole world?

Anonymous

Fieldfisher

Anonymous

NO CMS!!!!

Anonymous

DWF tbh

Anonymous

Give it a rest

Anonymous

Different law firms are good for different things. For British work, Slaughters. For US work, probably Cravath/Watchell. For international work, Latham/Skadden Arps.

Anonymous

And that’s just in terms of corporate practice areas… This isn’t a simple question.

Anonymous

Yes I thought that. But unsurprising that someone with an obvious interest in corporate would consider any other area worthy of note.

Anonymous

Eh Dechert tho?

Anonymous

ROFL

Anonymous

The MC are no longer ‘the best’ in London. The US firms have the best pay, top-tier clients and a US network and backing the MC could only dream of.

Anonymous

Most of the partners at US shops are transplants from MC firms because English lawyers are frankly better trained in the MC. As for top tier clients, get back to us when Goldman, MS, BAML etc and any of the FTSE100 are using US firms for their UK work.

Anonymous

Trained the best – at operating the photocopier?

Anonymous

You are completely ignorant to say Goldman and the other bulge bracket US investment banks don’t use US firms in London for U.K. work. They do. These investment banks use a wide range of firms on their legal panels and give work on a case by case basis as their in house counsel determine works for the firm. They don’t have any set law firm relationships in stone as they are very corporate and bureaucratic.

And sure there IBs are good but if you think they are the Creme de la Creme of clients you don’t know anything. US firms win instructions from the top players shaping the world like Soft Bank, Uber, the Big tech companies, best private equity funds and hedge funds. Meanwhile most UK law firms are in a small pond competing for HSBC and Barclays as their best clients.

Anonymous

Sad reality.

Anonymous

I work in-house at a financial services company out in the regions. We’re FTSE100 and we use Links and Skadden equally. Decision is taken by EMEA GC, who is a Brit.

Skadden aren’t technically better than Links, but they’re quicker and more commercial. Our board doesn’t give two fucks about some minor TUPE issue which is never going to happen, Skadden don’t give them that crap, they stick to the key stuff.

Ironically Skadden charge more for fewer hours worked, but GCs happy to pay to give the board what they want.

Final year non-law student

Would be interested to know how people rank US law firms in London. Which ones would people consider the best one to obtain a TC at? The main ones you hear about as a student are Skadden, Kirkland, Latham, Cleary, Covington, White and Case, Shearman, Sidley, Debevoise

Final year non-law student

Which TC’s (if any) would one pick over a TC at Freshfields/Slaughters etc?

Anonymous

There are some hidden gems out there like Fried Frank and Goodwin for TCs.

Anonymous

Interesting. I’ve heard lots of good things about Fried Frank. Why is this?

Anonymous

The best is hard to assess because the US firm offices in London are much smaller in general so their London prestige ranking doesn’t necessarily reflect their actual global or US ranking. For example, the stereotype is Kirkland is the elite in London paying the most etc but that is from the perspective of junior lawyers in London used to an English market pay scale. In US Cravath is seen as the most elite law firm in the country both in terms of setting national pay and prestige for best graduates. But Cravath has a very small London office with I think maybe 5 or less trainees taken in a year. Same for other US uber prestige firms like Simpson Thatcher, Akin Gump. Their London offices are just too small to be ranked to other firms in London for most graduates. Only a few extremely keen Oxbrige lot go to these firms in London as they don’t even have a formal structure graduate recruitment campaign process. So these top firms aside I would rank all the high paying rest of US firms in London as all pretty much the same level above the rest of the UK firms. But of course Kirkland and recently Milbank are trying to stand out above the rest as a special class of top US firm in London. Maybe Latham too.

Final year non-law student

Thank you

Anonymous

“Cravath has a very small London office with I think maybe 5 or less trainees taken in a year.”

Agree with what you’re saying, but unfortunately neither Cravath nor Simpson Thacher offer Training Contracts in London. Cravath also only rarely takes on UK qualified solicitors, whereas STB continues to hire at UK NQ and above.

Anonymous

The above is correct – Cravath has essentially no UK qualified lawyers in London (mainly US associates on rotation) and certainly does not train lawyers here. STB is correct as per above – NQ hires and above with a number of paralegals. It is worth juniors being aware that most of these high-paying US firms with the exceptions of those above do not practice in all areas and are relatively specialized. e.g. people looking to move to Proskauer will do so to work in specific practices such as funds, PE, private credit.

Anonymous

Slater & Gordon, the world’s best public law firm.

Kronos

Greenberg Glusker, the world’s most titanic firm of top, top titans.

Anonymous

Simple answer: it’s a buyer’s market, and until that changes law firms will not change their recruitment processes.

When every university under the sun is offering LLBs and ex-polys are handing out firsts just for turning up it makes for a very saturated graduate market. It also makes results in law firms being able to take their time to choose who they think is the best for them.

Anonymous

“ex-polys are handing out firsts just for turning up it makes for a very saturated graduate market.”

Anonymous

Any evidence/statistics to back this up?

OP commenter

Please do not feel attacked.

I was not suggesting it’s the students’ fault. Universities are businesses, and the more firsts their students get the more attractive they look. Grade inflation is a very real issue, and the ex-polys are the worst for it.

Sorry for delivering a big dose of the truth, but if someone gets CCD at A-Level and then gets a first at a low-ranked university their degree is not worth the same as someone who got A*AA and did the same at a top-ranked university. It’s not a difficult concept to understand.

Just a few:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-40654933
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10180093/Universities-fix-results-in-race-for-firsts.html
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/student-life/10181934/Degree-classification-when-is-a-First-not-a-First.html

Who cares

Academics are just one part of the application process and a major filtering point. There are still psychometric tests, phone screenings and assessment days to go through. I love how it is so inconceivable that people outside the Russell Group can have anything valuable to contribute. The same people who obsess about University degrees are the same ones that ask you what school you went to at Oxbridge etc.

Anonymous

Universities are absolutely not businesses

They are non-profit making charities

Anonymous

Have you ever read the news?

Anonymous

Yeah, but you make it sound like there is a swarm of ex-poly students with suddenly taking up TC from deserving Russell Group Universities. Most firms also have minimum A-level requirements anyway so how is that relevant at all.

Anonymous

This. A lot of firms are reaching out to people from middling universities who may have received AAA-AAB at A level and not had the advice/foresight to apply for something less competitive at a RG so ended up studying law at somewhere like Kent, UEA or Reading. This does not, generally, extend to matey from the University of Brighton who received BBC at A level.

Anonymous

You’re taking this personally and minimum A-Level requirements are circumvented all the time via “mitigating circumstances”.

Anonymous

I think the real issue here is Russell Group students feeling entitled. If you think you are so great, then you shouldn’t have trouble landing a TC above the mere mortals at Ex-polys. If there are mitigating circumstances at A-level then why shouldn’t they be considered?

Anonymous

“mitigating circumstances”

Anonymous

ok, mate

Anonymous

You sound like Alex Jones. “Deep State”. Its all a big conspiracy – you got me.

Anonymous

Attack my argument, not me.

Anonymous

How is mitigating circumstances in inverted commas an argument?

Anonymous

But keep your chin up, mate. Maybe one day you’ll land a TC. But if your biggest worry is Ex-poly students with BBC at A level etc, then maybe not. lol

Blacked

I know an ex-poly student who had BBC and was really happy about it. She took it in her stride, and certainly if she had to do things again, would probably have done the same.

Not Denzel Washington

Anon at 10:35am was clearly being facetious.

Anonymous

The author of this piece seems to have a very preening regard for himself.

I’m sure his LPC cohort are all having a good LOL at his expense.

Anonymous

It’s essential for me that I get a day out of this sweaty hellhole to go back to uni, get pissed and try to impress nubile and naive hockey girls with my “proper job”.

Last thing we need is to be going on trainee recruitment trips to paralegal boiler rooms at other firms.

Anonymous

Not exactly a balanced pro and cons list, is it?!

You said it yourself, you knew only 2 2nd year offerees yet the pro’s on this list were directed and those exact 2 students. The majority of those applying have already graduated LOL! The 2 year wait is annoying, slow and a waste of time.

Anonymous

Firms can do what they want and will continue to do so.

Filthy odour

Why do the traps smell so fucking bad again?

Anonymous

The comments section is a mess today

Anonymous

I’m somewhat surprised that this considered the point solely from the view of a student.

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