Thinking of moving firm upon qualification? Here’s what you need to know

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Final seat trainees are ‘easy targets’ for recruiters, warns magic circle lawyer turned career coach Husnara Begum — so be sure to follow these top tips

As law firms gear up for their Autumn 2019 trainee solicitor qualification rounds legal recruitment agencies are making their own preparations. They’ll be scouring LinkedIn to identify potential newly qualified (NQ) candidates to pounce on. I should know. I’ve been there and worn the T-shirt.

Final seat trainees are easy targets for recruiters who are looking to build their databases. Many are young and impressionable and even if a recruiter doesn’t secure a successful placement immediately, candidates they manage to register over the next few months will be valuable sources for future fees or at the very least, referrals. As such, if you’re approaching qualification do not be surprised if your inbox is currently being inundated with LinkedIn ‘InMails’ or connection requests.

So should you be engaging with legal recruiters? If you are considering making a move on qualification then it is definitely worth listening to what they have to say because most are relatively well placed to offer insight into how the jobs market will fair for Autumn 2019 qualifiers. But rather than respond to an unsolicited email or cold-call I suggest asking your trusted contacts (these can include trainees who qualified earlier this year) for recommendations.

But let’s get something straight. Contrary to what so many of the trainees and indeed qualified lawyers on my outplacement programme think — legal recruiters are not careers advisers. They are salespeople often having to juggle conflicting interests. On the one hand they have their clients’ requirements to consider while on the other they have to look after the needs of their candidates. Then add to that their billing targets, and it’s inevitable that they will favour ready-made candidates. By that I mean ones from leading firms, with well-drafted CVs, a clear and realistic idea of what they’re after and who are likely to do well at interviews. This is especially the case for NQs because for as long as I’ve been workings as a recruiter/career coach the number of final seat trainees searching for new positions outstrips the volume of ‘live’ positions.

Recruitment agencies vary hugely in size and make-up. The larger ones tend to have more clients but may not always have such close relationships with them. What’s more you may well find that you get passed between consultants depending on which client has the vacancy. In contrast, the smaller/boutique agencies represent fewer clients but may work more collaboratively with them. It’s also worth noting that most consultants typically specialise in either private practice or inhouse recruitment and not both.

I’d therefore recommend doing your due diligence before firing off your CV to all and sundry. You can do this simply by picking up the phone to an agency you’re thinking of registering with and then asking some very basic questions including the following: What type of firms do you mostly work with? Do your consultants specialise in any particular practice areas? How many years’ experience do you have in recruitment and what is your background? What is the market for NQ solicitors looking like?

When discussing vacancies with a recruiter always remember to ask them to confirm if they are ‘live’ roles that a firm is actively trying to fill or are they suggesting ‘speculative’ approaches.

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Unfortunately, some recruiters blur the line between these and although the latter method does work for some candidates the former will naturally have a stronger chance of generating an interview. Also, if you do decide to pursue speculative approaches then you might want to restrict these to a no-names basis to test a firm’s initial appetite. Either way, set strict parameters for the recruiter in terms of which firms they are permitted to contact and on what basis (ie with a full CV or an anonymised profile).

And for the avoidance of doubt as well as for future reference I’d recommend confirming the full list of firms in an email. Also, ask the recruiter to show you the final version of your CV that they will be circulating and again sign it off in an email and keep a copy for your records. Incidentally, a good recruiter should help you to prepare your CV or at the very least finesse it.

You are not obliged to work exclusively with one recruiter and indeed if you are actively looking for an NQ role then it’s worth speaking to two to three agencies in the first instance. Though most agencies are instructed on the same roles some firms will have their preferred recruiters and may well release roles to those individuals ahead of others. In the event two different agencies approach you about the same role then go with the one that can demonstrate the strongest working relationship with the employer because they are more likely to be able to influence whether or not you get short-listed for interview.

In the event you do decide to work with more than one recruiter then ensure there is no duplication in the list of firms each one is working with. You can do this by recording details of all applications on a simple spreadsheet. Take it from me the quickest way to make a future employer lose confidence in you is to receive your CV from two competing agencies. And trust me this happens more often than you think.

I would recommend being as transparent as possible with the recruiters you choose to work with. Again this will prevent duplication and help the recruiter to gain a clearer understanding of what you are after. Although beware of some recruiters who are simply fishing for leads. This is especially acute in the NQ jobs market where vacancies are much more scarce and recruiters often find out about roles from their candidates rather than as a result of a formal instruction from the employer.

If you want more unbiased tips and advice on how to navigate the NQ jobs market then register for The Law Society careers event, aimed specifically for Autumn 2019 NQs. The event will be taking place on London’s Chancery Lane on Thursday 9 May. Register to attend.



Excellent advice, thank you!





City trainee

Where is “4th Seat CMS Trainee” when you expect him?


12th Seat Trainee

Only 4 seats? Pah!


4th Seat Trainee

Hey – sorry, I was just wrapping-up a statement of case for one of my motor claims clients. On the off-chance my Kirkland & Ellis offer doesn’t come through, can anyone recommend any good recruiters or firms to approach directly?



Why not apply JD? Could be a great meme crossover.


CMS 4th Seat Trainee

Cheers. Are they any good at private equity though? Also what does JD stand for again?


Dr Fran

Jack Daniels…



The original JDP

I’m not a meme. Why does everyone think I’m a meme?



An interesting read on Legal Cheek?


Senior partner at Kirkland & Ellis

lol every magic circle chump trying to get a spot at Latham/Kirkland



You’re a “senior partner at K&E” but you use the word “lol”? Also bit weird that you put Latham first when they’re your biggest rival and also after you in the alphabet…



THE JOKE ________________________________




“Thinking of moving firm upon qualification? Here’s what you need to know”

Should probably read:

“Thinking of using an agency? Here’s what you need to know”

Makes no mention to actually approaching firms direct. Obviously, this has its drawbacks (from a confidentiality view point) but if you know you won’t be accepting or receiving an offer from your current firm you will have no issues openly exploring elsewhere.



The benefit of using a recruiter is probably less obvious at the NQ stage. They will try and tell you that they are the only ones who can properly ‘prep’ you but if you have friends at the relevant firms and a bit of common sense you can cobble together answers to the obvious questions relatively easily in advance. If you are moving at some point after qualification then recruiters can be more useful when it comes to negotiating salary (if UK firm), pro-ration of bonus, etc.



That said, a good recruiter will properly market you to firms and get you in before the news they’re hiring breaks more widely. Look for recruiters who do NOT use phrases like “I’ll male sure your cv is top of the pile” – you don’t want to be one of a bucket.


Husnara Begum

Agree re the headline. I didn’t mention direct applications in my piece as it would’ve made it too long. But I recommend direct applications – preferably through a contact. Of the trainees on my outplacement programme around a third secure roles through networking and direct applications. But the majority get offers via recruiters so I think agencies definitely have an important role to play.



I already know how to suck eggs thanks.



When trying to move in between firms as an NQ or a junior, I understand that using recruiters is the preferable (or at least more common) practice.

On the other hand, what would the other viable alternatives be? Cold emailing/calling to enquire if there are any vacancies at firms of your interest? Is this something feasible or is this something no one would ever recommend?

I think it would be nice to hear more about how recruitment at the junior end of the spectrum may happen via the non traditional routes.


Husnara Begum

If you want more information on this then I recommend you come along to the Law Society NQ careers evening next Thursday as I will be offering more detailed advice on job search techniques for NQs and junior lawyers.



Oh yeah, I see now, and how much will a ticket set me back?


Husnara Begum

Tickets are free!!



In fairness to Alex, the site needs to make money, and that’s one thing law firms aren’t short of.

I’d recommend Husnara’s Law Society presentation: I attended one last year. You don’t know how much you don’t know until you attend. With hindsight, I had been fairly clueless about some important realities of the recruiting/NQ jobs before I attended.

Cockney Geeza

It’s sometimes worth just swinging by firms’ offices on the off-chance to have a natter about NQ roles. Worked for me.


A Legal recruiter

Speaking as a legal recruiter, this article does make a lot of sense.

However, albeit we are ‘salespeople’ this does have one main advantage, in that we can push a client on your behalf and manage things accordingly. It saves you a lot of hassle in terms of chasing job applications and trying to attain feedback.

Ultimately most recruiters do have their candidates’ best interests at heart; given that if we place you in the role that you’re after we receive a fee. The best part of this is that as it’s the law firm that pays this, the service that a recruiter provides a candidate is entirely free.

Sadly though there are quite a few abysmal recruiters out there, which is why it’s always worthwhile meeting with several in order to assess which one comes across as being the most credible.


Husnara Begum

Couldn’t agree more!!!!


4th seat May & Slaughter trainee/secretary

You’ve got the fee, and therefore your own best interest at heart.

Which is fine, I don’t particularly care about your wellbeing either, but don’t lie to me.


Another Legal Recruiter

Agree with almost everything in this article. I can’t count how many times I’ve wished that there was an equivalent to Legal 500 for recruiters to help prospective candidates work out who to approach (particularly junior associates and trainees who may not know many people who’ve moved previously).

From my perspective, no-names approaches at NQ level are a complete waste of time. Unless there’s something genuinely and unambiguously outstanding about your anonymous profile it will get ignored in favour of the actual CVs that get sent speculatively by everyone and their dog. If you want to qualify into a practice area that usually has a shortage of talent then it may be particularly worthwhile.

For example, if your anonymous profile would read “Magic Circle trained Cambridge graduate looking to qualify into corporate tax” then it’s worth sending. If it would read “Silver Circle trained Russell Group graduate looking for NQ litigation role” then I wouldn’t bother. If the latter, either focus on live vacancies or accept that you’ll need to take the plunge with speculative applications.


A Legal recruiter

I agree with this for the most part. Typically anonymous speculative applications only work for NQs if they are either looking to qualify into an especially niche area of law (such as corporate tax) or if their academic profile is especially good; by this I mean whether they have a double-starred first from Oxbridge or whether they have multiple A stars/high IB points. Unfortunately areas such as commercial litigation, corporate, employment and the like are highly sought after so a lot of candidates often struggle to find an NQ position in these areas.

However, sending a candidate’s full CV willy-nilly to numerous firms, regardless whether you know if there is a live role there or not, is just a bit lazy and sloppy. Whilst I appreciate that this approach can work on some occasions, a recruiter is much better of reaching out to firms that they have a close working relationship with and discussing the candidates in question with them in order to maintain both the credibility of themselves and the candidate.



Thank you, Husnara, for demonstrating to Legal Cheek how putting effort into an article produces interesting and useful results.



Don’t use recruiters. They are just a middle man. Be proactive, meet people, find things out and make it happen for yourself. Recruiters are going to take a 25% cut just for putting a cover page on your CV and sending a few flattering emails bigging you up. A complete sham. For every good recruiter there are about 10 bad ones. I doubt any recruiter has managed to get a candidate a significantly higher salary or benefits package compared to somebody who just went direct.


A Legal recruiter

“A 25% cut”? The placement fee never comes out of a candidate’s salary, but it is calculated from the salary on offer; so the size of the fee is dependent on the seniority of the hire.



I’m not sure how much i’d trust the credibility of Husnara – as she is an active recruiter who writes a post and then thinks she is not a recruiter!



I don’t think that Husnara offers any services to NQs, rather she works for law firms to offer advice to the trainees they are not taking on. I don’t see any conflict here.


Husnara Begum

That is spot on. I stopped taking on final seat trainees as candidates as soon as I launched my career transitioning and outplacement programme for NQs. The NQs on my programme are referred to me from law firms and do not self-fund. So there is absolutely no conflict. And as I said previously the Law Society event I’m hosting next week is free and is not designed as a platform for me to register candidates / win coaching clients. So if you are unsure of how to navigate either the internal qualification process or external jobs market for NQs then do sign-up.


Charlie Simpkin



The NQ market is currently very tough and you need all the quality help you can find after spending those years working hard to qualify.

That is why it is so important to use a recruiter that cares and takes the time to listen to what you want and need.



Is it that tough? There’s so many roles advertised online


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