‘Non-Russell university with BBBC at A Level — which firms should I apply to?’

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By Legal Cheek on


Primary goal to make money

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one solicitor hopeful seeks guidance on the types of law firms they should be applying to.

“As a third year law student at a non-Russell university with BBBC at A level and no mitigating circumstances, I am wondering what type of firms I should be focusing my efforts at for seeking a vac scheme training contract.

While my primary goal is to make money, I’m largely worried about the workload that comes with a large City firm and whether I will be able to handle it or not, especially when the gap between firms is lower for the two TC years.

Would training at a National or even regional firm make it difficult for me to progress to a larger firm at a later point or make getting accepted at the TC firm a challenge?”

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.



It’s over before it even began


Ignore this individual.

Do your research and you will see a growing number of firms are dropping any form of A Level requirements so for them you can put the BBBC worries out of your mind.

Achieve a 2:1 or higher and it’s really not impossible to get a TC at a respectable firm. Do your research on firms, attend open days, ensure you have some extra curricular activities under your belt. If you find yourself having difficulties in applying, it could be worth getting some paralegal experience after uni but that’s up to you and how strongly you want to pursue law.

The comments here will be exceptionally negative and a huge amount of commenters here don’t actually work in law (they would add “yet” but that remains to be seen)

All the best to you.

Aspiring solicitor

Probably the best response on here. Thank you


Time to regionalmaxx


In all seriousness there are definitely more important factors at play such as degree grade, work experience and interview skills 🙂


I would consider focusing on paralegal/litigation assistant roles then consider CILEX or SQE.
Alternatively, consider more high street or local firms rather than international.

Non-Russell graduate with ropy A Levels

It’s completely possible to do well at a non-Russell university without exceptional A levels. With third year ahead of you there is plenty of time to do that. Whether or not it’ll be enough to propel you into the corporate stratosphere, who can say?

Archibald Pomp O'City

“It’s completely possible to do well at a non-Russell university without exceptional A levels.”

I’ve no doubt it is, but sadly, the currency of such degrees is of considerably less value than those offered by the more competitive unis.

Non-Russell graduate with ropy A Levels

In fairness, my own experiences and interests lie about as far from the corporate stratosphere as you can get, so my view on the matter can be taken with a pinch of salt. Having said that, I have met a lot of practitioners that are very capable and have enjoyed successful legal careers notwithstanding the fact that they graduated from one of those ‘less competitive’ universities.

Earl Grantham of Chelsea Barracks

“ Having said that, I have met a lot of practitioners that are very capable and have enjoyed successful legal careers notwithstanding the fact that they graduated from one of those ‘less competitive’ universities.”

When did they enter the legal world, roughly? Because if it was any time before about 2000, then their views and their example can be disregarded on the spot

Trainee at International firm

Generic response: BBBC and a non-Russell Group degree is not a barrier to entry at Magic/Silver/International firms (US firms are not realistic). Get a 2:1 and you can punch for any of those, but success will be found bottom upwards due to caliber of other candidates.

Response for you: If you literally just want the money but can’t hack the workload, honestly, don’t waste your time. Become a recruiter, go into marketing, idk. This ain’t for you kid. I mean, if you are happy with £60-80k NQ then go for it, but the juice is not worth the squeeze.


In all honesty, I think you’d be very hard pressed finding anyone with A levels below ABB (barring exceptional circumstances) at a Magic Circle firm.


I disagree. A friend of mine is a future trainee at a Magic Circle firm and they got BBC in their A Levels without mitigating circumstances.

Grades aren’t everything. It’s also about who you are as a person.

A&O Trainee

Curious to know which MC firm this is? As I understand it, the majority of them have ABB as the cut off and won’t even look at the application unless there are exceptional mitigating circumstances there…


It’s CC.


Firms are slowly removing them iirc


CC NQ isn’t wrong though, this definitely isn’t the norm though, you might find one person in a cohort of 50 with those grades whilst the rest will have straight As. The Magic Circle are known for their high academic standards because they fundamentally receive so many applications that they can be that selective – it only takes a quick look in LinkedIn to see this.

It isn’t impossible, but it’s certainly a LOT harder and a candidate with lower A levels who has also attended a non-Russell Group will have to really make up for it in other aspects. To suggest otherwise is a bit naive.


Why are US firms stricter as opposed to internationals?

future trainee

Bc they recruit heavily from Oxbridge anyway, so they definitely won’t take someone with bad A levels/non russell group. They sometimes (though rarely) take non russell group students who got a 1:1 in law and maybe did a russell group masters in law


I am a recent NQ at a London-headquartered US firm and I obtained similar grades at A-Level without mitigating circumstances and went to a non-Russell university.

It’s possible. My advice is to focus on obtaining good paralegal experience.

US or not US

What is a “London-headquartered US firm”? Bakers…?

Former RS

Reed Smith


If you want money but don’t want the workload don’t become a lawyer. There are easier ways to earn more money (they’re riskier, but nothing in life is free).

White Shoe Wannabe

Look up Richard Youle at Skadden. 2.2 from Newcastle and worked his way up to Skadden.

Pre-2008 GFC Enjoyer

Different time back then. It’s not uncommon to see partners with desmonds from old polys but at trainee/ associate level this doesn’t really happen now.

Hard Worker

Poor GCSE’s, CDD at A-level, non-RG uni, passed the LPC:

TC at a solid US firm.

It’s absolutely possible provided you work your a$$ off.


Those that allow prepositions at the end of sentences.

Joking aside – there are top partners with 2:2s but it’s harder today than it used to be if you don’t have excellent grades. I’d contact your university’s employability team and see what advice they have to offer.

Archibald Pomp O'City

“Joking aside”

Perhaps…or perhaps not. Those things matter to some interviewers in this line of work.


I got BCC at A level and a 2:1 from a non-RG university, got my TC without having done the LPC and trained and qualified at an international firm. My advice is focus on getting paralegal experience if you’re sure this is the career for you – but the serious money doesn’t come without the workload.


You need to be able to answer the question ‘why should x firm offer me a training contract, and not one of the hundreds/thousands of other applicants with stronger A Level grades and who have secured degrees from better universities’. If you have a compelling answer to that question, there’s nothing to stop you from applying to whichever your preferred firms are.

Anonymous partner

My advice is learn about any firm you apply to before going to interview. I have lost track of candidates sending emails to undisclosedrecipients or answering that they “don´t know what you do” Find an area of law you are interested in and persist….
Good luck

Speaking from experience

2PQE at a mid-level international City firm here (c. 90k NQ salary).

I also got mediocre A levels and attended a non-RG university, but I did manage to get a 2:1 in an academic subject (if you get a 2:2 or below, you will really struggle to get your foot in the door even as a paralegal at any half decent firm given the sheer number of law grads all vying for a comparatively tiny number of jobs).

Needless to say, I initially struggled to obtain a TC, and after a fair few applications got a fairly run of the mill paralegal job at a national firm. I managed to develop a good relationship with one or two of the partners after doing good work for them, and that I think made the difference when it came to my TC application (I failed the assessment day the first year I applied, and secured a TC the following year). Spent one year as an NQ at that firm before moving for a significant pay rise (c. £30k) to my current firm. It was a long slog, but I am happy with my lot in life now.

Nowadays, you could work a few years as a paralegal then qualify via the SQE route, but a word of caution – there might not be an Associate role available at the end of it. It’s not always in a firm’s best interests to develop a paralegal’s career and leapfrog them from paralegal to associate. Of course, not all trainees secure NQ roles but at least the expectation is there.

In summary – yes, it’s possible for you to get into a decent City firm in the long run, but realistically only via the paralegal route. However, expect to graft for a few years on very low pay. You will need to be tenacious and determined, otherwise you’ll drop out after a few years paralegalling and do something else (seen it happen many times). I’m afraid the chances of you securing a TC at a top City firm straight out of law school with that academic background are probably roughly similar to your chances of winning the lottery.


I got exactly the same A-Levels and attended a non-RG uni too. I secured two vac schemes in my penultimate year (US and International) and was offered a TC. It is totally possible provided you are extremely committed to a career in commercial. You can show this by attending open days, virtual internships, work experience etc. Non-legal experience is also really helpful for transferable skills.

LinkedIn is also a great starting point – you can find plenty of non-RG graduates who have secured TCs in the City.

You need to research each firm you’re applying to, play to your strengths and prove you have the skills needed through any work experience you have.

In terms of the workload, for me personally, I did struggle slightly. It was a case of getting used to working very fast and producing high-quality work consistently. If you’re motivated, it isn’t a huge issue as you’ll adapt and learn quickly. The only problem is that if you aren’t, it’s going to be really hard for you to stay committed, especially if you’re only in it for the money. You must have an interest in what you’re doing, the hours of a lawyer are long and unpredictable so it helps to enjoy what you’re doing. Plus you’re only going to make serious money later down the line anyways, so you need to master the basics and stick at it.

In summary, yes it is doable. Make use of the free resources out there, keep trying and with every rejection pinpoint what you can do better and build on that. Nothing is impossible, it might take you slightly longer but you’ll get there. Best of luck


Totally agree but:

– if you are genuinely motivated by “making money” then showing genuine commitment is going to be impossible (because there isn’t any) and faking it is difficult and tiring;
– if you’re worried about the workload then be prepared for a rude awakening;
– if you’re not committed to doing it you are very quickly going to be looking for an out anyway at which point I would question the decision to do it in the first place.

Word User Seeks Cash

Genuine question – how would you define ‘commitment’ here? Are most lawyers actually passionate about shareholder agreements?
While money can’t be your only motivation, do you think a combination of good salary + steady employment + a field that aligns to your skills + is somewhat interesting is enough?
Asking as while I have solid interest in pursuing law myself, I’m not sure I would say I’m ‘passionate’ about it (wouldn’t a person passionate about the law be better suited to being a barrister rather than a corporate solicitor anyhow?)

Archibald Pomp O'City

“As a third year law student at a non-Russell university with BBBC at A level and no mitigating circumstances”

You do have mitigating circumstances: you are not as academically bright as your competitors. In an era of truly unprecedented grade inflation, this puts you at a huge disadvantage, instead of what historically would just have been a substantial disadvantage. I am not suggesting you are stupid. You probably have smarts that could make you the money you say you desire. But a legal career is unlikely to be viable. Look for graduate training schemes in industry or apprenticeships, or just a plain vanilla entry-level management or supervisory job where you could work your way up.

If you have anything about you, you’ll make money in the end. But be mindful that some people are just mediocre. If that’s you, then make sure your aspirations match your abilities, otherwise you will foerever be disappointed.

Cynical associate

I’ll just add to that. You *are* mediocre. So am I. So is Archibald Pomp O’City. So is pretty much everyone at the end of the day. No one will remember who you are in 100 years- the best you can hope for is a name on a family tree and maybe a few photos. Try to come to peace with that and you might be happier.


I’d like to just add in response, ‘You are not mediocre’. However, your achievements so far are and indicate a direction of travel toward mediocrity. Change that!


I’m sorry, but a lot of these responses are very misleading bordering on irresponsible.

I don’t think many students appreciate just how insanely competitive it has become to secure a TC at a City firm, over the last few years alone.

The number of applicants per training contract is underestimated, in part because law schools’ business model depends on getting new students through the door so their marketing is deliberately misleading.

There are around 5,500 TCs on offer each year. Of these, only around 1,400 are at “top” firms (the top 80 firms listed in Chambers Student Guide, from national firms up to MC/US). In 2020, these firms received 70,000 applications, translating to a 2% success rate (see link here https://www.chambersstudent.co.uk/where-to-start/commercial-awareness-info/our-newsletter/how-competitive-is-the-law).

That was 2020. Each year those stats get worse, as more graduates leave university (18,000 law grads each year) and because thousands of applicants failed to get a TC the previous year, the number of people looking for a TC is compounded each year. And remember, every year there are more Oxbridge and Russell Group grads coming through to compete with.

People saying “it’s possible if you’re extremely committed” are leading you on. And if your “primary goal is to make money”, that is not going to help you stand out from the tens of thousands of better candidates who will be able to show an actual interest in the law and not just money.


Work at a West End firm and then apply to work at STB / K&E. They hire any willing candidate to do sponsor (precedent based) work

Aspiring Solicitor

What does sponsor work mean?

privateer of the equity

Private equity investment firms / vc funds

Tommo brassic

Anything, why be fussy ?

Once you get the TC ….


Don’t let anyone who doesn’t have the same circumstances as you put you off. Anyone telling you can’t probably isn’t aware because they haven’t experienced it.

It is definitely achievable at international law firms and magic circle. I know a large number of individuals who have secured TCs at top firms (some even US).

Focus on getting a range of experiences and skills to talk about and applying that in your contacts.

The motivation has to come from you. Don’t let anyone put you off. It is very much possible.


I’m newly qualified at a small regional firm and no longer interested in large City firms, but my circumstances and questions were similar to yours.

I got BCC at A-Level and went to a small non-Russell Group university. The competition wasn’t exactly fierce, but I got the best results in my year, which I felt was essential. I spent 10 months as a legal assistant on £20,000 before getting a training contract elsewhere. My newly qualified salary is ~£40,000-£47,000 depending on bonuses.

Consider paralegal/legal assistant/work experience roles. You might not want a training contract at a smaller firm, but very few non-TC opportunities are beneath you at this stage. You only have three ways to beat the sea of Russell Group applicants: paralegal/legal assistant experience, non-law experience, and being among the best at your uni. Without at least one of these, training contract/vacation scheme applications to the biggest firms are almost completely hopeless right now.

Don’t take too many Legal Cheek comments seriously. An alarming number of people here are elitist about smaller firms and 5-figure salaries. Their perspectives don’t match the reality of the industry. Some toxic commenters are parodies, but some genuinely seem to think that we’re both subhuman.

Try not to be too fixated on large City firms if you’re worried about the workload. I often finish before 18:00, my living costs/commute are tiny compared to those in London, the work is enjoyable and I’ve had direct support from the directors since day one. Those circumstances tend to be extremely underrated on here.


“Primary goal to make money …. Worried about workload.” If I were recruiting and saw this the applicant would not stand a chance. He is clearly not cut out for any kind of London firm, and probably not for law at all.


“Primary goal to make money …. Worried about workload.” If I were recruiting and saw this the applicant would not stand a chance. He is clearly not cut out for any kind of London firm, and probably not for law at all.

legal lady

You can definitely still have a career in law. Put effort into getting a 2:1 or a 1st and scoring highly in the areas of law you are interested in pursuing.

I worked at a large national firm, ranking 50th or so in the UK in terms of revenue, and most of the trainees there had degrees from the local non-RG universities. Very few of our lawyers had any exceptional qualifications from Oxbridge or anything alike. I worked in business services so looked at a lot of lawyer bios. I don’t know about their A-Level scores though.

I also know a barrister who went to a non-RG uni. I thought this odd at first, but looking at my local chambers on LinkedIn, it would seem that a lot of its barristers went to non-RG unis.

There are also new ways to qualify if you can’t get a TC, such as apprenticeships, CILEX, SQE, etc.

Best of luck…



First, I would check the grade requirements that firm have. Some of them may have AAB at A-levels requirement and 2:1 for your degree but others do not have grade requirements at all. I would recommend you to aim for those that do not have grade requirements. I think that what you should do is to try to make your application as tailored as possible to the law firm that you are applying. You should focus on having a specific and unique answer for why you want to join a firm, as well as to why you chose to pursue a career in commercial law. For more on this there are a lot of resources out there online paid or unpaid. One that comes to mind is the Commercial Law Academy. You could also use the videos on their Youtube channel and blog posts as well since they are for free.

The truth will out

Hi! I’m a single celled amoeba who never had a formal education and now I reside as managing partner at K&E. You can do it too!

Is this a genuine Career Conundrum or was 13 October just very quiet at LC?

mc trainee

get a solid first / get a 2:1 and an academic award in final year, apply to a top level LLM (lse, oxbridge, etc) specialising in something you’re interested and central to your target firm’s offering, apply to MC/SC/US. You would then have more than enough to get in… just down to you then

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