‘Am I doing my preferred TC seat too early?’

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One trainee seeks to boost their chances of qualifying into their ideal department

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, a concerned trainee questions the order of their training contract seats.

“Dear Legal Cheek team,

I have a career conundrum which I would like to get your readers’ opinion on — am I doing my preferred seat too early? I recently started my first TC seat and it’s in an area which I’m really keen on qualifying into. I’ve been interested in this area for quite some time, and while I will be going into the rest of the TC with an open mind, I think there’s a good likelihood of this still being my preferred qualification option at the end of the TC.

The problem is, we’ve generally / informally been advised by people at the firm that trainees most commonly qualify into an area they did during their 2nd or 3rd seat; reason being that in your 1st seat you’re likely to make more mistakes, plus qualification is still far away so you won’t be as fresh in your supervisors’ minds 1.5 years later, and 4th seat won’t have ended and you won’t have received your full feedback report at the time of sending your qualification preferences, so it’ll naturally be less impactful. I’m therefore starting to worry that getting my preferred practice area as a 1st seat is going to make it difficult to eventually qualify here.

Of the 13 junior associates in my team, only 1 of them did this area as a first seat, and they also did a secondment later in their TC focusing on that same area which no doubt boosted their chances at qualification. Now I will of course be looking at secondments throughout the rest of my TC, but those are far from guaranteed — so I would be grateful for any advice on how to make the most of this 1st seat, and if there’s anything else I can do after it to boost my chances of eventually qualifying here.


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I’d advise focusing on qualifying. Make a good impression during your time in your target dept, and associates/partners would forget.


In Houser

Think of it as an advantage. You have early contact with the team and partners and can—and should—make your interests clear and keep in touch throughout the rest of your TC. Just make sure you do as good a job as you possibly can for the duration of your seat.

Of course there are no guarantees, and if the opportunity to qualify into that team isn’t there, remember you can always move firms! You aren’t locked into your firm for life. If they can’t give you what you want out of your career, bounce somewhere that will. Even if you love the firm, they will understand and you never know, the department may need someone in a few PQE’s time.



I don’t think there is anything wrong (from a firm’s perspective) from wanting to qualify into your first seat. Sure, there may be other trainees who sat in the department in their second, third, or even fourth seat who also want to qualify there. But ultimately it’s going to be down to who the partners want most, and there’s nothing to say you cannot be top of the list.

My advice, treat the rest of the seat like it’s a client secondment and give everything you’ve got. Build relationships with all of the team members, and particuarly the partners. Express your desire to qualify into the team, and keep those relationships warm throughout the remainder of your TC. Offer to help with BD tasks, and ask how you can still stay involved with the work and the industry. If you do all of those things, you’re setting yourself up to be in a great position for qualification interviews.


Pete Campbell

There is no way to know this and it probably isn’t worth speculating –

two partners, one a senior equity partner in my team did that area of law as their first seat.



If you’re asking such a stupid question now you have no chance of qualifying at any firm regardless of which seat you do it in with brains like this



Please try to respect that this is a young person looking for guidance and stop being so rude.



The only stupid question is the unasked question.



A few points to consider:

(1) Keep an open mind with regards your other seats. Even if you’re very technically strong in your current seat, and like the team very much, you may well realise that you enjoy another area of law more once you’ve tried it. I made the mistake of telling everyone I wanted to qualify into my first seat after enjoying it, and whilst it hasn’t ended up too badly I absolutely loved my fourth seat and probably would rather have qualified there had I not estopped myself through commiting to join another department and then not wanting to disappoint them.

(2) The statistics don’t matter. If you’re good, your team will want you irrespective of when in your TC you work in that team; and, conversely, you won’t be able to qualify into any department unless you’re good. So make sure that you continue to produce high-quality work, work with a range of associates and (if possible) partners, and find champions who will push for you to receive an offer when you qualify.

(3) If worst comes to worst, and your team doesn’t pick you at qualification, it isn’t the end of the world. The legal market is unlikely to calm down significantly any time soon, so there’s a very good chance that you will be able to find a job in your chosen specialism at one of a number of equally good practices. Statistically you’ll probably move at some point in the first few years of your career, so don’t worry too much about when that happens.



Agree with this comment completely.

One additional point to note from someone who has supervised many trainees is that, when assigning tasks to trainees, I am always conscious of the level of trainee and would usually assess the trainee’s performance with their level in mind. People are looking at your potential – nobody is expecting you to know everything (actually, as a first seater, they are not expecting you to know very much at all). It’s a question of whether each task you carry out is done well for the level you are at and with enthusiasm. If so, people will be expecting you to continue in the same way throughout your TC and ultimately to be a high performing NQ.

Best of luck with it all.



1) Never moan about it to anyone in the firm at any level.
2) Do your best, but accept that in the first seat you might have a bit of startled rabbit syndrome and make more mistakes than later on.
3) Accept that the chances of ending up in your preferred slot are less than you would have liked but there is nothing you can do about it.


Silver Circle March '23 Qualifier

Qualifying into first seats is fairly common (I am one of five in my intake doing so, from an intake of twenty-eight), and considerably more common than qualifying into fourth seats (although this also happens).

Stay in touch with the team throughout the TC and keep them informed of your intentions. Most importantly, look to work on the development areas that your supervisor(s) identify during your time in the seat and make these a priority in future seats. If you can demonstrate growth in the identified areas and the department have positive memories of your time there, you’ll be absolutely fine.


Junior Associate

don’t overthink it. for one thing, you may move into your next seat or the one after that and decide that you prefer that area of law.

the thing to do is to keep in touch with colleagues in that team, including the partners, when you move on and to try and grab a coffee once every six months.

depending on the team, you may get invited to an away day or social events eg drinks. Use those opportunities

many firms have their financial year end in April and so will have partner budget discussion meetings in February and March. Bear that in mind when keeping up with partners in the teams that you fancy qualifying into. if it is a smaller firm or a team that doesn’t hire nqs each year, they may not think about making budget available for a new NQ hire, unless there is internal interest.


Kirkland NQ

Doesn’t matter when you do the seat, just make sure you fit in to the team culture. Whether that’s from smashing some deals or purchasing an Italian super car just go with it.



What a stupid question



So incredibly rude. I’ve reported this comment and hope it gets removed immediately.



Many people qualify into their first seat. It’s quite common. Just ensure that you don’t lose your continuity with the team. Let them you are interested and schedule in some coffees with your old supervisor and any associates who you have got on well with.


No longer a young professional

It’s not a stupid question at all- it’s been said since I was a trainee 12 years ago. All I’d say is that I qualified into the first seat I did – having thought I would hate the area of law because at uni/lpc it was full, I found I loved it in practice. I was lucky in that my firm were also keen for me to stay and allowed me to repeat the same seat for my fourth and then I qualified there. So don’t stress about it, and make the most of getting experience from other areas which will broaden your experience and make you a better rounded lawyer with the ability to think outside the box. Certainly more than those who think it’s appropriate to tell a trainee that a question is stupid. Aptitude and having the right attitude is not specific to any area of law.


STB associate

It’s more important that you complete seats in PE/finance/restructuring only. Jump to STB soonest for a modest £190k NQ package (bonus included).


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