‘When is the best time to specify my preferred NQ department?’

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Advice needed

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one soon-to-be trainee seeks advice on selecting the department they will eventually qualify into.

“Hi Legal Cheek team,

I’m just about to start my training contract and I have a few ideas for areas I’d ultimately like to qualify into (bearing in mind, of course, these may change as I progress through my TC). When would be the best time to list these areas as my preferred NQ departments?

Near the end of the TC I’ll surely have more experience and will be able to perform better, and my performance will be fresher in the partners’ memory come qualification. On the other hand, if I wait to list my preferred area(s) near the end, I might not end up getting them at all, so I’m not sure how to balance these two factors.

Any advice from current / former trainees would be highly appreciated.”

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HR expert

Indicate your preference immediately upon accepting a training contract offer. Stress it’s imperative you receive your first choice or you’ll walk.

The grad team will respect the hustle.



Yeah don’t do this.


US trainee

Third seat seems to be when people start asking where you’re thinking of qualifying. I think before that point, you’re still experiencing different seats so you won’t necessarily know what you want.

I’m coming to the end of my third seat, and grad rec have started asking where we’d like to qualify and giving us rough ideas of what NQ roles will be available.



Work hard, form relationships and if/when you make a decision as to where you’d like to qualify, make it known (be that after your first seat, second etc.). The same goes with getting your preferred seat choices. You cannot underestimate the power of good relationships when it comes to getting what you want.

Keep having the conversation, keep registering your interest and you’ll get there.

*NB: this is all caveated, however – don’t bombard/irritate people (see above re: good relationships) and just be normal.



This is right on the money. My firm initially “didn’t have budget” to open a role in the team I wished to join, then five months down the line the tides have turned and I got my spot.

Never burn bridges, always be humble and don’t reject an NQ role just because it’s not your “dream spot”. Better to bag a role than be unemployed, you never know what might come round the corner in a few months’ time.



Rule of thumb is to aim to do your top two choices in your second and third seats (of four). In your first seat you’ll still be figuring out how the computers work and you may have limited time to make an impression in your fourth seat before the NQ qualification process is in full swing.



This response is bang on.



Read your contract carefully, do you have to repay any LPC/GDL fees if you do not stay? I specified almost from the start of my TC my 2 areas I’d like to qualify into. When it came to the end of my TC and there was no vacancies available in my preferred areas, I did not have to repay my fees. If I had not specified my areas they could have qualified me anywhere and I would have had to pay my fees back if I left (happened to other trainees I knew)!

I wouldn’t be pushy but I think it always helps to state your preferences.


Avoid that toilet

DWF used to do this with repaying fees etc, utter tightwad bucketshop



My firm does the same (not DWF). Lump sum for *most* of your LPC fees. Each month worked (or could be each week, I forget) is deemed 1/24th or 1/104th of the loan repaid/satisfied [as I write this I think I recall it being each month]. If you’re still at the firm at 2PQE the loan is deemed satisfied.

Incredibly (or not), the firm has a terrible retention rate beyond 2PQE. Definitely a coincidence. Definitely.


Inspector Gadgit

Lmao you gotta be kidding. Name and shame this shop mate, the LC massif needs to know.



That is shocking. Says a lot that the firm has so little faith in itself that it can retain trainees that it literally has to satisfy LPC fees against weeks worked.

Please name and shame, that is ridiculous!


An actual lawyer

Would not be enforceable as not a genuine pre-estimate of loss.

If they paid your LPC fees and you completed your TC that would satisfy the “loan”. Its just a sweaty tactic to scare you into paying. They know (or should know) that is holds about as much weight as them as a firm.


A better lawyer

Genuine pre-estimate of loss isn’t the test for penalty clauses anymore.


The system as detailed appears to operate as a loan – the outstanding debt crystalizes once you leave early and you must pay the outstanding sum from the original amount drawn down. If the conditions of the LPC/GDL fees support and maintenance grants are worded as a loan document, then it’s clearly not a liquidated damages set up.

Now what may be unfair to the trainee/junior lawyer leaving early is if it was presented as a gift and they were unaware that it was actually a loan.

Kirkland NQ

Simple. Choose the area where you can purchase an Italian super car immediately upon receipt of your first NQ pay. Tell HR from the beginning and don’t back down.


A question is asked

Might be a silly question but let’s say your preferred NQ role is not available and, instead of moving firms, you settle on a substitute.

Are you able to just switch practice area if at like 2 years PQE you realise you’d still much rather that original practice area? Would you have to apply for NQ roles in that area despite being 2 years PQE?


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