‘I haven’t done a traditional TC. Do I stand a chance of securing a City NQ role?’

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A Legal Cheek reader questions whether big firms will be put off by their unconventional route to qualification

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, an aspiring solicitor questions whether her chosen route to qualification will enable her to secure a newly qualified (NQ) role at a City law firm.

“I am currently working as a paralegal for the government with a CILEx qualification. I have one more year until I finish my online LLB, which I have been doing part-time whilst working. I love my current job, but they are unable to confirm if they could offer me a TC/NQ role at this current time.

I want to complete the SQE as I currently have 4 years of QWE and qualify thereafter. I’m wondering whether I stand a chance to get hired by a UK/US law firm in London as an NQ, where I currently live and work, without having completed a 2-year TC?”

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I think you’ll really struggle to secure a role at a US firm, I’m afraid. You may want to look at trying to secure a paralegal role at one of these firms first.


Leaving the CS womb???

Now I don’t live in London but wouldnt it make more sense to go for a less prestigious firm as NQ and then apply for jobs when he/she has more experience, rather than go back to paralegal with no guarantee of anything? But I suppose good point if he/she thinks they can really impress.

OP didn’t say if they say work in an area where there is high demand in the private sector or there isn’t, which would make a difference to all of this, more likely to be snapped up if they are an expert on “the other side” of something in high demand. I wouldn’t leave the CS womb though, idk what it is like in the UK but I’m based in Ireland and I suspect anyone hiring OP would think he/she is on a career break with the intention of returning to the CS once qualified. But I dont know if career breaks are a thing in the UK so ignore that if not applicable.



Non traditional route is probably less the issue (though snobbery exists) it will come down to what experience you’ve gained. Training with the government makes it less likely that your experience matches the needs of a city firm. Exceptions apply (the SFO and CPS for example have been recruiting grounds for US and City firms)


Second Seat Corporate Trainee

I would say that you need to decide what area of law you want to practice in. After 4 years of QWE you should already know and, therefore, you should go ahead and qualify by equivalent means. Based on this practice area, you should then consider 5-10 firms that you could fit into that offer this practice area and then potentially work your way up. If you don’t know where you want to practice, then you should do a TC.

If you are going to apply for a TC:

US firms have a slightly different, more niche recruitment strategy as they typically target the top 5% of law graduates. Those that would have attended Oxbridge or Russell Group are targeted, and with strong evidence of extra curricular activities (law societies, moot clubs, positions of responsibility, etc.) This isn’t the case for every US firm, but the majority want candidates that can tick most of those boxes.

For international city firms, it goes without saying that strong academics is a prerequisite (2:1 from a reputable uni, solid A Levels) and having sound commercial awareness needed to succeed. The majority of firms will not have a preference as to your university you attended, and you will find that your paralegal experience will take you far in your application.

To sum up, qualify if you know where you want to practice and then target 5-10 firms which offer this area. Research their culture, strategy, market approach, etc. If you don’t know where to qualify, then just do a TC but also consider the recruitment strategies and criteria of each firm. Yes, this may seem like a step backwards as you have enough experience to qualify. But, names on CV’s mean a lot in the legal industry and so does the network you build and reputation that follows when working at the larger firms. Do not settle for second best if you know you can achieve more.



They won’t need a TC as they will be NQ but some of this advice would still apply


Second Seat Corporate Trainee

Lots of Paralegals opt for a TC even after years of experience. Qualifying by equivalent means is no walk in the park either.



Terrible advice.


Second Seat Corporate Trainee

Please elaborate why this is “terrible advice”.



If I accepted a solicitor apprenticeship at an international firm like Cms or dla, would I have trouble moving to a US or MC later on? I would have gotten the top grades plus experience from a good firm just no Russel group.


Future trainee

It’s more about the experience than the place of qualification. I hear alot that firms and recruiters are always hiring and looking for lawyers. If you can convey well the type of work you have completed it is not impossible to get an NQ role at a good City firm. Widen your scope of application; national, city and US and see where you land. You want to get into a good City firm first and then your options are wider.



Absolutely zero.

Maybe try lateralling below and working your way up the rungs. Truth is, you lack the experience of any type of City work. That is the issue, not the cilex.



Does anyone think SQE complete nonsense?


Archibald O'Pomposity

I take it you failed yours.



Leave the civil service ASAP and get a paralegal role in private practice – build your skills in that role whilst doing SQE – after 6-12 months in your paralegal role, look for a new role at a higher firm and keep doing that until you qualify – after you have qualified leverage your private practice experience and connections and you will land an NQ role at a city firm.

Firms look to hire people who have relevant experience especially when coming from non-traditional backgrounds so prioritise this. Best of luck to you.


Partner at SC firm

Depends on your practice area and experience and university background.

Unfortunately, most lawyers are still snobs and many magic and silver circle and US firms even today have a soft requirement for Russell Group or Oxbridge grads, at least when hiring at the junior end. I would imagine there is a scepticism towards the practical and intellectual rigour of the SQ exam (rightly or wrongly).

Having said that, if you target a specific niche, such as fraud and white collar crime, or operational/regulatory risk, or planning, or PFI/project and infrastructure finance, then certain firms may be interested in you, because of a lack of candidates with experience of those fields.



I would imagine that it would depend on the area and at the end of the day, all firms great and small want capable people, both academically and professionally.

It will be harder, but not impossible.


Dongle princeps

If you want to get into that pay range with non typical experience, your best bet is going inhouse.

Or temping at US firms through Accutrainee or something for a number of years. Then trying to get a permanent place



There are a handful of associates at US firms in London with a CILEX background, although one of them actually ended up doing a training contract at the firm they’re at after doing years of city paralegal work before.

CILEX is, unfortunately, almost disregarded in most city firms, and you add that to having only worked in the GLS and you’re not going to stand a chance.

You’re best off trying to find a paralegal role at one of the larger london firms in a big practice area like Corporate, Funds, Finance etc. and then either trying to convert the paralegal role to a TC or getting that firm to agree to take you on as an associate once you complete your SQE.


Solicitor and Legal exec

It depends on how you sell yourself. I did CILEx at an international law firm and cross qualified as a solicitor immediately after. I have been able to secure an NQ position at a US firm.

Here is my advice:

(1) Your main issue will be your lack of experience in ‘city type’ law and the only way to get that is to finish off your qualifying work experience as a paralegal in a city firm. Start sending your CV out NOW and make it clear in your interviews that you are working towards CILEx and will need it signed off at the end. Most partners have no idea what it is but this can work in your favour.

(2) once you are a paralegal: start talking to grad recruitment. Tell them you would like to be considered for NQ positions alongside the trainees. This might not work, if it doesn’t keep up to date with when NQ / junior lawyer vacancies come up and book coffee meetings with the hiring partners to express an interest in the NQ positions. SELL YOURSELF.

(3) once you are qualified (and if you don’t get an NQ position in the firm that you are paralegalling at): apply for NQ positions in city firms in departments where there is usually a demand for external NQs such as pensions etc. Also you need to be confident that you are ready for the next step. Paralegal to NQ is a huge jump in terms of responsibility and expectations.

(4) THE MAJOR KEY: you must cross qualify as a solicitor to stand a chance. I’m not sure how it works now with the SQE but that’s an investment you will have to make if you want to work in the top city firms. This is not to say that you won’t get an NQ position in the city if you don’t …but it will be harder and that is the honest truth.



May I ask what you mean by “cross qualify”?


Ba Dan foo

SQE will be disbanded or overhauled somewhat mark my words



what do you guys think of CMS as a firm? would I be able to move over to mc or US later on? I have an offer for a solicitor apprenticeship.


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