After almost two years as a trainee, you’re within touching distance of your goal of qualifying as a fully-fledged solicitor – congratulations! For some people, the transition from trainee to NQ takes place seamlessly, although it’s not unusual to reach the end of a training contract and to be unsure about your future. How do you make sure that you make the right next step?
Approaching the end of a training contract can be nerve-wracking; in the coming months, you’ll be faced with a number of potentially career-defining decisions. These include choosing the practice area you’ll qualify into, the kind of firm you’d prefer to work for and whereabouts in the country you’d like to be based.
Preferred specialism and career goals
Choosing your legal specialism is one of the most significant decisions you will make in your legal career. The choice you make will shape the rest of your time within the profession.
Considering the fact that you probably spent no more than 6 months in each department during your training contract, it might be tricky to decide upon a single practice area.
To make this decision, reflect on your performance in each of your seats. Think about the nature of work you most enjoyed and the types of clients you preferred working for. There might be a department that clearly stands out as your favourite; if not, you’ll need to take other factors into account.
Did you prefer contentious or non-contentious work during your training contract? Did you like working within a small or larger team? At the same time, it’s also important to think about your long-term goals; where do you see yourself in 5, 10, or 20 years down the line and what do you hope to achieve by the end of your legal career?
Salary might also be a factor for you to consider as, in the long-term pay will vary depending on the kind of work you want to do. However, it’s important to approach qualification with an open mind; you might need to compromise in terms of salary or location in order to secure a role in your preferred area. Solicitors working in commercial law and litigation, for example, tend to earn more than those who specialise in residential property or personal injury.
Once you’ve decided on a particular discipline, you’ll need to think about whether your current firm is likely to have a suitable position for you in this department. Some firms are unable to retain all of their trainees or offer them roles in their favoured areas. If it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to secure a job in your desired department, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Should I stay or should I go?
The majority of trainees opt to stay at the firm at which they have completed their training contract. If your firm can offer you the kind of position you’re looking for, this is ideal and can make the leap from trainee to NQ a great deal more straightforward. Some, however, see qualification as a time to move on and seize the opportunity to enter the jobs market. These young solicitors might be looking for a firm with a better reputation in their practice area or one that offers a more attractive remuneration package.
Even if you’re not planning on moving, it’s certainly worth looking externally to see how other positions compare with those on offer at your firm. What’s more, it’s important to not take anything for granted and to keep an eye on NQ roles at other practices in case, for whatever reason, your firm is unable to keep you.
You might also find that your firm offers you a position but in a different department than the one you’re interested in. It’s important to think about whether you’d be happy specialising in another area and whether the promise of an NQ role is worth compromising your career ambitions for. If you’re in this position, it’s reasonable to at least look into the roles on offer at other firms to keep your options open.
Types of firm
From magic circle or large commercial firms to regional or niche practices, one might assume that lawyers are spoilt for choice in terms of the types of company they could potentially work for. Whilst this is true to an extent, once you start to focus in on a practice area and a particular size or ranking of firm within a given location, it will become increasingly apparent that options are finite.
Each kind of firm offers their employees a very different experience. Because of this, it’s, therefore, critical that you consider the company cultures of the firms you apply to, to make sure they align with your personal approach.
The work-life balance offered by firms can vary wildly. Whereas large city firms expect their lawyers to work longer hours and manage huge workloads, smaller, niche firms in other areas of the country have broken away from the traditional law firm structure and are more likely to offer flexible working opportunities.
When deciding on the type of practice, think about whether you’ll be happy working unsociable hours in exchange for a generous remuneration package or whether flexible working hours that allow you to juggle your other commitments are important.
Many people are drawn to the profession by the promise of high salaries. Because salary for NQs varies considerably between different types of firm, pay is certainly something to think about. During your training contract, do as much research as possible to find out what the salaries might be like when you qualify and to ensure that your expectations are realistic.
The starting salaries for NQs at regional practices or smaller commercial firms generally tend to be lower (between £25,000 and £40,000), while larger firms and those in London pay a great deal more (between £58,000 and £70,000). Salaries at international mega-firms are higher still, with some paying their NQs as much as £124,000.
Choosing where you’ll start your life as a newly qualified solicitor is also important. In many respects, qualification is somewhat of a career crossroads. If you fancy a change in lifestyle, it’s an excellent opportunity to reassess your options and make a move to another part of the country.
The more places you’re prepared to move to, the greater your chances will be of finding a role. Lawyers are often seduced by the bright lights and competitive salaries associated with the capital. However, cities like Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham should definitely not be discounted. The regional legal markets are extremely buoyant and these areas offer a much better quality of life and more affordable living costs.
If you decide to stay where you are for the time being but think you might like to relocate in the future, it’s important to bear in mind that this is likely to become trickier the longer you leave it. However, moving 1-5 years into your legal career can be done without too much difficulty.
So how do you go about finding that exciting NQ role?
To give yourself the best chance of securing a permanent role in your preferred practice area upon qualification, it’s essential that you’re proactive and think carefully about how you will make the transition.
The best time to launch your job hunt is around 6 months before you are due to qualify. For September qualifiers, this means March, while those who will qualify in March should get the ball rolling around September time.
If you’re planning to stay at your current firm, it’s important to network internally to gauge what the firm are likely to offer you. Speak to relevant partners in the team you want to qualify into to make sure they know you’re interested in staying on. It’s also worth speaking to junior solicitors to find out what their transition from trainee to NQ was like.
Next, enlist a specialist recruitment consultancy like Realm to help you in your recruitment drive. Our consultants are perfectly placed to give you an insight into the state of the market and advise you on your prospects of finding a role in your favoured specialism.
Thinking about making a move post-qualification? Contact Realm Recruit today
If you’re feeling apprehensive about qualification, don’t worry you’re not alone. The legal specialists at Realm are experts at placing trainees in mutually beneficial NQ roles across the UK’s regions. We are familiar with the NQ market and well-equipped to advise you on the options available to you upon qualification. Get in touch with our team of consultants today. Call us on 03300 245 606 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.