The survey of 350+ trainee and newly qualified solicitors we conducted this summer received plenty of attention in the legal press and generated a surge in sign-ups by junior lawyers on our platform. In this blog, we look at the reaction to the results of our survey and ponder whether law firms are missing the bigger picture in their training programmes.
As it’s our business to know which junior lawyers might be on the move and who might be hiring, we wanted to know what law firms do to help those trainee solicitors who are, for whatever reason, moving upon qualification. So, we designed a survey to discover more about what (if any) support final seat trainees receive if they are looking for a new role upon qualification.
Some of our key findings were:
- 72% of trainee and NQ solicitors felt that their firm should have provided support to final seat trainees who were not being kept on upon qualification.
- 53% said that their law firm offered no support at all to trainee solicitors who did not secure an NQ position.
- Only 30% of trainee solicitors had/have a solid back-up plan if they don’t secure a position as an NQ solicitor at their training firm.
After sharing our results with the legal press, the Law Society Gazette responded with an article under the title ‘Trainees ask for more support as retention season begins’. The article quotes Adele Edwin Lamerton, Chair of The Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society, which has previously called on law firms to give trainee solicitors sufficient notice on whether or not they intend to hire them.
She says in the article: “Although firms cannot always control whether or not they keep trainees on, they can in most cases control how soon they let their trainees know about their future with the firm. To assist qualifying trainees, firms should consider holding exit interviews to discuss next steps and allowing them time off to attend interviews.”
Legal Cheek’s response to our findings, in its article entitled ‘Law firms are failing to support qualifying trainees who aren’t kept on’, included testimony we received from an NQ solicitor who received no support at all after being told by a large commercial law firm that she would not be offered an NQ position.
“This made me feel pretty unappreciated after working very hard for two years, and worried about finding a suitable position elsewhere,” she said. “It made me feel quite dispensable although I was still working six days each week as I was so busy. They wanted me to continue to work hard but for no purpose from my perspective other than to learn as much as possible before I left, which is why I did it. I found the firm surprisingly ruthless given their size and history.”
Unsurprisingly, these articles prompted some strongly expressed views in the comments sections of both publications.
If you read the comments, you’ll quickly realise that not everyone is sympathetic to the plight of aspiring lawyers who are required to leave their training firm upon qualification. There are quite a few accusations of “snowflakery”, etc.
However, both articles generated comments that were much more sympathetic towards those trainee solicitors who are not offered positions as NQ solicitors. Those on this side of the argument believe that law firms have an obligation to assist and support those who are moving onto pastures new.
So, who’s right?
On one side, you could argue that trainee solicitors should know that the fixed term training contract they signed is exactly that, and certainly no guarantee of a permanent position as an NQ solicitor. In addition, those who have been offered a training contract by a large City law firm while still at university, won’t have been treated too shabbily during the process. In addition to the handsome salary that they will have been paid during their training, (sometimes more than £50,000 during the second year of their training contract), some will also have benefitted from a sizeable maintenance allowance/grant while completing their sponsored LPC.
In addition, if at this stage in their career, a young professional is forced to show a bit of initiative and to plough their own furrow, isn’t that going to be what’s best for them in the long run? The legal sector can be pretty unforgiving and relentless, don’t we want legal professionals to be robust individuals?
On the flip side you could argue that, while trainee solicitors will know that their training contract has a fixed end date, they were attracted to apply for a training contract because their firm told them they will move heaven and earth to retain every trainee.
Yes, they may well have been paid handsomely as a trainee solicitor, but it’s not exactly a one-way street. Let’s not forget the long hours that they will have put in for two years, and the huge sums of money that they will have generated for their training firm (as their time is often charged out at more than £200 per hour).
And, while we’re discussing long hours, how exactly are those who are moving on supposed to find a new job while they’re still being asked to give blood, sweat and tears during the final few months of their training?
Lastly, let’s not forget that it may well be the first time in a young professional’s life that he or she will have faced rejection. If you secured straight As and ‘A’ Level, got into your first-choice university and secured a training contract with the law firm you always dreamt of working for, facing rejection from that firm is going to be a bitter pill to swallow. Is this not the time when that individual requires support the most?
The bigger picture
We think there is a bigger picture that law firms are missing in all this and it’s one we made in our earlier blog:
“Surely many of the skills trainees claim to want help with are ones they should have acquired as part of their training programme? If their training is really as rounded as firms claim, surely NQs will have the confidence and know-how they need to land their next role. Soft skills such as making a good impression at interview, the ability to network (online in the case of LinkedIn) are surely ones they should have already acquired. Are some firms letting down all their trainee solicitors by not giving quite the rounded training they claim?”
Our next survey will be asking firms about these issues. What duty do they think they owe to their trainees? Do they agree that the skills referred to are ones they should be acquiring anyway and will need if they are to progress within the firm, hopefully to partnership? To what extent do they offer training to acquire these skills or are planning to do so?
The survey results promise to be interesting and we will reveal them to you once they come in. Watch this space.