‘Why do City law firms target second year law students?’

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It just seems so arbitrary

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring solicitor wants to know why some City law firms prefer second year law students and final year non-law students above others.

“I’ve just graduated in law with a first class honours from a university in London. I now feel as if I’m ready to pursue a career in law as a solicitor but I’m conscious that the training contract recruitment process might be tougher this year in light of the coronavirus crisis.

In addition, I found out this week that my dream firm, Clifford Chance, is targeting penultimate year law students and final year non-law students for 2023 London training contract entry. Candidates that fall outside these two groups can still apply and potentially secure training contracts, but their applications won’t be ‘prioritised’ (the firm’s words). I have never come across this before.

Why do City law firms target second year law students? It just seems so arbitrary. I get that they want to poach fresh talent early and that they typically recruit two years in advance so this allows for no gaps in the order of things (GDL, LPC etc.) but it’s tough for some students to prove they’d make a good commercial lawyer so early on in their career. I have matured immensely from when I first started my degree to now, with the help of work experience placements I completed in the summers in-between. Surely law firms should value that extra bit of life experience I now have?”

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I don’t think this will be a big problem for you. Maybe CC do this but I received two City TC offers this summer and I graduated a couple of years ago. Ultimately if you’re a good candidate being a 2020 graduate will not disadvantage you in the slightest!



I’ve noticed your comments in the recent articles and it seems like you’re just commenting for the sake of doing so to show off your TC offers.

Every comment you have made is about your two TC offers… like we get it… you got offered a TC… and another one. Being a TC offer holder isn’t a personality trait luv.



Haha I think I’ve only commented on one other article but fair play



Spamming the dislike button won’t change the fact you were hard score simping over the TCs hahaha what a snob


There, there

Sorry, but I think @Jake and the other person is being overly sensitive. What was supposed to be a lovely comment that was meant to encourage someone has been interpreted as bragging.

Just calm down.


The fact he’s been offered TWO TC’s is especially relevant to this article.

He’s not being a snob for providing really important info about his experience. His comment helped me understand that after I graduate I can still apply and get a contract.

I don’t know what your reason is for attacking him, but you just look weak and jealous.



Did you decide which firm to go with in the end? Seems like you were confused about which TC to take from earlier article comments


A second year law student

Because we are better than the rest.



More like a dinosaur partner



Entirely arbitrary.



I’m in the same boat. Their form encourages us (final year law students, graduates, career changers etc.) not to apply this year… and what’s the point if our applications will almost certainly be overlooked in favour of those from the two target groups? Yeah, they’re being transparent and most firms do specify which groups can apply for their winter, Easter and summer vacation schemes but they aren’t creating a TC opening, on an equal footing, for individuals outside the two target groups. Neither the events nor virtual legal internship they’re directing us towards leads to a TC offer. Really hope this doesn’t become a trend among other firms.


Magic Man

What’s the policy for other magic circle firms?


A&O Future

A&O allow direct TC applications from penultimate year onwards with no prioritisation. Slaughters accept direct TC applications from anyone and everyone once in final year. It seems CC are the odd ones out here.



I’m afraid you’re not living in the real world. All the MC firms will prioritize penultimate, regardless of what’s on their website. CC accepts the applications too. There’s still a chance anywhere you’ll get a TC but the firms do it because it lines up with their yearly cohort spaces (obviously).



This isn’t true.



Yes, it is. Firms, including CC, take on lawyers from various years and career changers. Doesn’t stop all MC firms prioritizing penultimate year students. I suspect you’re an agency recruiter and not internal grad rec (which I am).

[Grabs popcorn]

Internal Recruiter vs. Agency showdown pending….


It’s the same at every MC firm.


US trainee

This yet another area where the US firms just are superior to the UK ones. Likes of Latham take third year students and beyond. They’re also much more open to career switchers. I guess it’s policy in the magic circle to take kids who have no idea what they’re signing up for. There is zero reason why a shop like CC should be your ‘dream firm’.



You’re right, the US do take anything hahaha. Probably why they’re not as highly ranked or regarded.



Firms like Latham not highly ranked or regarded…



I think you’ll find Lathams are very highly regarded and their compensation is significantly higher than any MC firm – similarly about 10 US firms would rank higher than any MC in compensation and potential earnings. But hey the prestige is worth 80 hours of pain a week…right?


King Kong

Actually if you go on Lathams grad website they mention apps are only to penultimates now too lol. Not sure if they’re as strict as CC but still clearly have a preference



“If you’re in the penultimate year of your law degree, the final year of your law degree, or a career switcher, it’s the perfect time to begin applying for a training contract or a place on one of our vacation schemes.”

You were saying??



You have conveniently left off the part before this sentence that refers to this being for 2019 TCs.



Couldn’t see anything about 2019 on the page I was on, but we were probably looking at different pages. Mine was under London Graduate Opportunities –> ‘How to Apply’


no prioritisation – apply.



In Australia everyone wants to employ 2 years post-admission because then someone else has had the expense of training you. General understanding being that you don’t make the firm any money for the first 12-18 months.


1.5 PQE US associate

This is generally correct. 2-3 PQE is the best time to jump ship if you are unhappy with your firm (next chance will be when you are approaching senior associate). 0-1 PQE you are virtually useless for your new firm.



It’s interesting that on another page of their (CC) website they write “we are committed to ensuring that anyone who wants to enter the world of law has an equal chance to do so, regardless of their background.”

But I guess that only only applies if you feel you have enough experience to decide what to do, and be successful in the process, between 3rd August and 10th December in your second year.

Law firms go on about how good Watson Glaser is at predicting work place performance for trainee solicitors, so why not let finalists/master’s students/career changers sit it?



If you’re studying law you should have a pretty good idea of what you want to do from the outset. Researching firms should happen as soon as you start your course, and applications should start in 2nd year – universities tell you that on your first day! Welcome to one of the most competitive sectors. Firms don’t owe you anything.



There are lots of law students who don’t have early access to the profession through family and family friends . Should they know what they want to do from day one of university?

There’s no need for protectionism in recruitment. Have an equal process and let the best succeed.



I do feel sorry for people who go into law with no idea of how competitive it is. However, why study law if you’re not interested in the profession/if you’re not willing to research a highly competitive market? Requires absolutely no early access to do your own research and look at Firms. Plenty of tools online, and lots provided to students by the universities .



But none of this stuff is clear at college/sixth-form level when applying for university through UCAS. Most state-sector colleges have absolutely no clue about the law profession. My college tutor just responded with ‘wow’ when I said I was applying to study law. Plus with no relatives or connections in the profession then where else are you gonna get the insight you need?

To many students at this age law is just another subject, like history or chemistry, that you think you might be good at. It isn’t necessarily until you get to uni when you start to realise where it could take you. And this is where a lot depends on the uni… I’ve heard horror stories of so many non-RG unis telling students crazy things like ‘You need to do a placement year in the middle of your course’ (like good luck finding a firm that’s willing to offer that) or they only grant access to law fairs and careers stuff to postgraduate students studying LLMs.

I’m so relieved to this day that my fluke choices early on landed me at a top RG uni which gets visited by the top top firms, like Kirkland and Skadden who only visit like 5-6 universities. So many unis won’t even manage to get a single city firm at their law fairs!

And don’t even get me started on university law degrees without honours (i.e. not a qualifying law degree) … there are thousands of students that genuinely spend 3-4 years studying a degree in ‘law’ that isn’t even recognised by the SRA! They have to do the GDL on top!

I think I kinda lost track of the point I was trying to make but basically the information is NOT always available to students early on in order to then make the huge life decision of applying to firms in 2nd year, on top of already trying to manage their studies. Something like that


You can know law is a competitive field without being aware you have to have organised work experience and whatever else you need to be ready to apply for a TC in your second year of uni.

I’m also sure many people who have the potential to be great corporate solicitors spend at least some time considering other areas of the law, the Bar, or maybe academia.

If everyone knew exactly what they wanted from day one, uni would be a bit of a waste of time.


Watson Glaser tests are very expensive to send out, that’s why.



I have to disagree. I wanted to study law at uni but went another route to please my parents. After three years, I was unfulfilled and couldn’t envision myself doing the job for the rest of my life. I thoroughly researched how I could retrain and become a solicitor as quickly as possible. This not only meant looking at the GDL or QLD (I went this route to complete my degree in two years while working FT) but also what was required from firms to actually GET a job and how the graduate recruitment process works.

I developed a timetable and began applying for vac schemes and internships in the autumn term of my first year. I did two vac schemes that summer and followed by applying for TCs in November and December. I was baffled when students on my course who said they were switching careers as well were waiting until they graduated ‘to figure the rest out.’ As others have said, the industry is highly competitive, it is your responsibility to research and do what is required in order to enter the TC process.

That a first-degree honours student was unaware this is fairly standard to get into any firm, let alone MC, is a bit startling to me.



Very much a magic circle firm thing. Got told the same by the head of grad rec at Freshfields and more or less asked to leave an event that I had come to as it was targeted at second years. Seems totally arbitrary to me and think other firms benefit from choosing to hire from a wider range of age groups, including those who are a bit older and potentially have useful skills they have acquired in other careers.



It’s also worth nothing that people from disadvantaged backgrounds will have less skills and experience to make them attractive compared to more privileged second year students. I had to spend a lot more time gaining the experience and know how to ready me for TC applications and had all firms possessed CC’s approach I’d have been locked out of law permanently.



If you researched the firm you’d see CC offer a huge amount of of TCs off the back of their socio-economic and BAME diversity initiatives.



That might be true and good on them if so, but I’m just pointing out it’s the creation of another structural barrier that would contradict the intention behind any ancillary initiatives.



You don’t deserve to work for CC if you are too dumb to know they’re literally in Canary Wharf and therefore not a City firm.



I think that some firms like to get those who are ready early and have never been rejected because they are “perfect”. They don’t want what they perceive to be another firms’ cast offs. BUT each rejection makes you even more determined and resilient. The skills you gain from fruitless vacation schemes and applications will make you an even better lawyer because you know how much you want it and will continue pursuing your career in the face of adversity. Apply to CC, but it’s not the B all and end all. There are plenty of firms where their trainees are generally of an older age range. Have faith in your experience and abilities, find the firm that’s right for you and don’t just go for City because it’s perceived to be the best. If a firm rejects you, don’t take it to heart, it’s all part of your journey to get a TC (which will happen!!). good luck x


CC Associate

In case reassuring, I applied to CC for a training contract two years after finishing my non-law undergrad and was accepted. That was 5 years ago, but I don’t think I was disadvantaged by not being a penultimate year law/final year non-law student. Good luck.


CC Trainee

I would second this. I applied to CC for a training contract one year after finishing a non-law undergraduate course, having never previously completed a vacation scheme or other work experience programme at any law firm. I was accepted. I never felt disadvantaged during the process. To the contrary, my interviewers were interested to hear about my non-law experiences and how they had informed my decision to pursue a TC. Very best of luck, as CC Associate says.



I am also CC from a very non standard background having been a scientist before choosing law. It is definitely not the be all and end all. I got accepted and actually felt celebrated for coming from a non traditional background. I am by no means the only one either. Good luck!


Gullible 2nd year

They target second year students because they are young and gullible, so have no trouble signing their life away.

The older and wiser you get you realise that law ain’t all that – and from these firms’ perspective – that is a risk!



Spot on! It’s about getting them in early and creating “dependency” on the legal life/wage.

Even if they grow to hate law, a lot of them will struggle getting out, as law is all they know. A lot of them didn’t have much life experience or work other jobs beforehand – which limits their exit opportunities, and keeps them slaving away!




In an industry like law with a notoriously high attrition rate it makes perfect sense to recruit as young as possible (see SPARK) because it gives you a few more years before your slaves wake up and realize this isn’t the life they want. Genius actually.

I wonder what the average leave age is for a firm like CC 30-32?

Those two years make a massive difference for return on their investment.



I’m amazed no one has said the correct answer yet. Law firms are starting a race to hire earlier and earlier to the point Clifford Chance are offering training contracts to first year law and non-law students who won’t start at the firm for up to 4 years in some cases. They are doing this because, in theory, it’s a way to lock in the best (subjective obviously) candidates as early as possible so they don’t go to other firms. Not sure if it’s only rumours but I have heard that both A&O and Links are seemingly going to start running first year schemes that offer training contracts from the application cycle after this one.

Saying this it’s absolutely still possible to get a training contract at one of these firms as they still look at final year and grad applicants and are always looking to hire talented people but you’ll only manage it through direct tc applications which are a somewhat more opaque process.

Interestingly, there are firms in the market who prefer to hire career changes – I am aware that Shearman are big fans of older applicants who have a couple of years under their belt in other sectors or as paralegals, perhaps because they believe these candidates are more suited to the intense environment of a city law firm.



I agree. It’s always appeared to me that MC firms want to lock their trainees in early so they don’t go elsewhere and can be entirely molded by them into the sort of person and lawyer they want them to be. Working and training at other firms gives you a wider range of experience in terms of both work and firm culture and I always got the sense that MC firms like a certain kind of person and certain approach to work. That’s not to say you can’t get a TC at MCs in any other circumstance but that’s always been my impression.




In an industry like law with a notoriously high attrition rate it makes perfect sense to recruit as young as possible (see SPARK) because it gives you a few more years before your slaves wake up and realize this isn’t the life they want. Genius actually.

I wonder what the average leave age is for a firm like CC 30-32?

Those two years make a massive difference for return on their investment.



If firms don’t want to offer TCs to law students beyond their penultimate year why would they run winter/spring vac schemes which only law students in their final year, as well as non-law students, can apply for?



If law firms don’t want to offer TCs to law students beyond their penultimate year, why would they run winter/spring vac schemes which only final year law, as well as non-law, students and graduates can apply to?



I am also CC from a very non standard background having been a scientist before choosing law. It is definitely not the be all and end all. I got accepted and actually felt celebrated for coming from a non traditional background. I am by no means the only one either. Good luck!



It’s really just an extension of what MC firms already do. Many of them only allow VS applications from undergrads/grads within 2 years, so the legal world has always been something of a closed shop. This is just taking it rather further. As others have said, at present CC is the only one taking such extreme measures, so relax and apply elsewhere. Students of the future may find it much more difficult, but that is a story for another day


Hedley Byrne

They don’t.

They reserve a vacation scheme for second year law or third year non-law because these students are more likely to not have substantial work experience. These are also the students that need to be checked for general motivation and office skills.

This CC nonsense seems to be a one-off motivated by any number of factors (maybe they just want people who still have two years to go before they start training because they don’t have vacancies for 2021 or 2022 because of coronavirus?)

Most law firms I know of will actively look for people with real professional work experience that gives them the relevant tranferrable skills and informed interest in the legal profession. Especially smaller firms.


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