How to get a training contract [Ultimate Guide]

Apr 27, 2020

Are you an aspiring solicitor who is keen to boost their chances of getting a training contract? In this post, we will share top tips on how to get a training contract! 

Firstly, we will outline what you can do to strengthen your applications. Then we will discuss how to succeed throughout the rigorous training contract application process. 

How to increase your chances of getting a training contract 

A training contract is essentially the step between academia and becoming a qualified solicitor.

Here are some actions that you can take before applying for a training contract. These will help you to put together stronger training contract applications.

#1: Get some legal work experience 

Gaining legal work experience has three main four main benefits, it: 

  • Helps you to determine whether a career in law is right for you.
  • Demonstrates your interest in the legal profession.
  • Helps you to develop your skillset and legal competencies.
  • It can lead to further legal career opportunities.

It is a really good idea to get a place on at least one vacation scheme. This is because some law firms use vacation schemes to assess candidates and fast track them for training contract opportunities.

To boost your chances of getting vac scheme and training contract offers, gain as much legal experience as possible.

➡️ We have put together a comprehensive post sharing 16 legal work experience ideas.

In that post, we share ideas on gaining pro bono experience, virtual law internships, becoming a paralegal and more.

how to get a training contract
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

#2: Take every opportunity to engage with legal graduate recruiters

It is a common misconception that training contract recruitment starts when applicants apply for vacancies. 

However, this could not be further from the truth. Legal graduate recruiters actively search for talented candidates early. They build a pipeline of candidates with high potential including A-level and first-year university students.

If you are serious about securing a training contract, you must engage with legal graduate recruiters as much as possible. This will put you on their “radar”.

Once you are in the pipeline, you’ll be notified of opportunities and exclusive events. These will help you to get a training contract.

How to engage with legal recruiters:

  • Connect with them on social media
  • Attend networking events (more on this later)
  • Apply for law programmes for first and second-year students if you are still at university
  • Take part in access to law schemes and widening participation initiatives.

#3: Get some non-law, commercial work experience

Getting non-law related work experience can help your application to stand out amongst the competition.

Here are two benefits of gaining non-law related work experience.

  • It will help you to develop your commercial awareness skills
  • You’ll gain and develop transferable soft skills

Any experience that you gain will be valuable. Some ideas could be to gain some experience in investment banking or consulting.

Law work experience in the city
Photo by Burst from Pexels

#4: Research law firms carefully

There are approximately 10,500 law firms in England and Wales. All law firms are different so it is very important to identify the right type of firm for you.

Applying for training contracts at firms that you have thoroughly researched will improve your chances of success. Legal recruiters will be looking for well-researched candidates.

You’ll be expected to have a clear and concise answer to “why do you want to work at this particular firm?”

Here are some of the main types of law firms:

Magic circle law firms

Magic circle law firms are large, based in London and have significant international operations. All of them have a trainee solicitor intake of close to 100 per year.

The work at magic circle law firms places a lot of emphasis on corporate and finance work.

Members of the magic circle include:

Training at a magic circle law firm will be excellent for your CV, but they aren’t suited for everyone. They are known for working graduates very hard and the hours will be very long.

Magic circle law firms

Large commercial law firms

This group of law firms are sometimes referred to as silver circle law firms.

In terms of the day-to-day work for trainee solicitors at silver circle law firms it doesn’t vary much. The work will largely involve corporate, finance and international deals. The salaries match those paid by magic circle firms.

Firms seen as part of the silver circle include but are not limited to Ashurst, Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Herbert Smith Freehills, Macfarlanes and Travers Smith.

American law firms in London

Since the 1970s there has been an increasing number of US law firms taking their place in the UK market.

Around 50 of them offer training contracts to UK trainee solicitors. Some examples of these firms include, White & Case, Weil, Baker McKenzie, Jones Day, Latham & Watkins and more.

Other types of law firms

Other types of firms to look into include:

  • Mid-sized commercial law firms such as Bird & Bird, Charles Russell, Reed Smith, Taylor Wessing and K&L Gates.
  • Smaller commercial law firms such as Penningtons Manches, Withers, Druces, Boodle Hatfield and Ince Gordon Dadds.
  • Niche law firms such as Arnold and Porter, Fox Williams, Morgan sports law, Simkins, Kingsley Napley, Leigh Day and Northridge Law.
  • Regional law firms such as Taylor Vinters, Ashfords, Blaser Mills and Burges Salmon

Shortlisting law firms

Once you have determined what type of law firm is right for you, the next thing to do is to shortlist the firms that you will apply for.

For the firms that you are interested in, note down what traits the firm looks for in trainees.

For example, Linklaters assesses applicants against their agile mindset framework which identifies candidates that will make a good cultural fit.

Understanding what firms are looking for in trainee solicitors will help you to tailor your applications and increase your chances of getting a training contract.

#5: Attend networking events

As we mentioned above, it is vital that you engage with graduate recruiters as much as you can.

Attend law open days, insight days and careers fairs. These events will give you a deeper insight into law and tips for your applications.

A Guide to networking for aspiring lawyers

Find out about law networking events on the following sites:

When you attend networking events, push yourself beyond your comfort zone and make new connections. Be sure to read our post on networking tips for students.

Photo by Marily Torres from Pexels

#6: Get good grades 

Every year the number of applicants far exceeds the number of training contracts on offer. The competition for training contracts is fierce. This is one reason why academic grades requirements are so important for future trainees.

Most law firms have a minimum of a 2:1 degree in any subject. Some firms also ask for specific A-level grades. Often the A-level is AAB, however, some law firms do not have a minimum A-level requirement.

If you experienced extenuating circumstances during your exams, inform the graduate recruitment team before sending your application.

#7 Understand the purpose and key requirements of a legal traineeship

Traineeships are designed to give individuals supervised experience in legal practice.

It is the final step in the process of qualifying as a Solicitor. Trainees get the opportunity to develop their professional skills in a legal environment such as a Solicitor’s firm, local authority or an in-house legal department.

As a Trainee Solicitor, you must:

  • Apply and develop the skills outlined in the Practice Skills Standards
  • Maintain a training record
  • Be supervised by Solicitors and others with adequate legal knowledge and experience in the practice area they are supervising
  • Receive regular appraisals regarding performance, development and training record
  • Successfully complete the Professional Skills Course

Legal graduate recruiters will be looking for future trainees who know what the role will entail.

#8: Get a law mentor

law mentor coaching future trainee on how to get a training contract.
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

Mentorship will play a big role in your early career as a trainee solicitor as you’ll be supervised and mentored.

However, getting a mentor before applying for training contracts will help you to make informed decisions and to gain valuable insights.

To get a law mentor, ask Solicitors in your network to mentor you. If you do not have any family members or friends who are Solicitors, don’t hesitate to reach out to people on LinkedIn.

Oftentimes, people are open to helping those who are in the earlier stages of their career.

Your law mentor will have already gone through the process of getting a training contract successfully. Therefore, they will be able to share first-hand insights.

If you are unable to get a law mentor, there are some very informative videos by trainees and Solicitors on YouTube.

Youtuber: Eve Cornwell

#9: Hire a Graduate Coach

Graduate Coaches help students and graduates to excel in their early careers and beyond.

They help individuals to discover their career path and to land their dream jobs. This is achieved through achievement-based CV writing, one-to-one career coaching, interview training and more.

Here at Graduate Coach, we have helped students and graduates to training contracts at some of the leading law firms.

How to excel during each stage of your training contract application 

In order to stand out from the crowd, it is really important that you send off high-quality training contract applications.

To ultimately land training contract offers, you must excel during each stage of the application process.

The application process for training contracts varies across law firms. However, in general, you will need to:

  • Send an online application
  • Complete online tests
  • Pass interviews

#1: Understand each law firm’s assessment criteria

The graduate recruiters at each law firm will follow specific criteria when assessing each candidate’s suitability.

Understanding exactly what the firm is looking for, will help you to highlight the skills that they are looking for.

For example, at Linklaters, the recruiters use their agile mindset framework. It is designed to identify candidates who have can demonstrate empathy, divergent thinking, entrepreneurship and social & emotional intelligence.

At CMS, the recruiters are looking for future trainee solicitors who have:

  • The ability to demonstrate their personal effectiveness
  • A drive for achievement
  • Leadership qualities
  • Relationship building and commercial awareness skills

#2: Smashing training contract online tests 

Many law firms ask candidates to complete the Watson Glaser test.

The Watson Glaser online critical reasoning is designed to assess your ability to construct a sound, solid argument. It will also test your ability to evaluate information and draw conclusions that can be supported.

Here are some useful websites for Watson Glaser test tips and practice:

Some law firms such as Reed Smith ask applicants to complete an online situational strengths test.

These tests are designed to assess how you respond to and prioritise tasks that you may encounter as a trainee solicitor.

#3: How to nail your training contract interview 

As with all interviews, it is important that you:

  1. Demonstrate that you have the skills and competencies to do the job
  2. Genuinely want the job, and can clearly articulate why
  3. Empathise with the employer and show that you understand what the graduate recruiters are looking for

➡️Want to get really good at interviewing? Find out more about our interview training programme for students and graduates.


Here are some frequently asked questions future trainees have when applying for training contracts.

How hard is it to get a training contract?

Getting accepted for a training contract is difficult. You’ll be competing against thousands of other hopefuls to get an offer.

You won’t just be competing against those who graduated at the same time as you but also career changers and those who are reapplying.

These candidates may be more competitive as they may have gained valuable experiences and acquired transferable skills.

According to all about law, there are around 5,500 training contracts available in the UK. They estimate that there is a 1 in 6 chance of securing a place.

How to get a training contract before GDL?

If you are a non-law student, you can start applying for training contracts in your final year of university.

Most law firms accept and support non-law students throughout their GDL, LPC and training contract.

For example, Norton Rose Fullbright pays for all their successful training contract applicants to study for their required qualifications.

In the past, these have been the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course. However, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) have made revisions. Therefore, future trainees in England and Wales are likely to take the new Solicitors’ Qualifying Examination.

Can I get a training contract with a 2:2?

Yes, it is still possible to get a training contract with a 2:2 degree.

If you were on track to achieve a 2:1 or a first but was affected by mitigating circumstances, inform the admissions team. These circumstances will be taken into account when considering your application.

Prepare any evidence of your mitigating circumstances in advance just in case the admissions team requests it.

If you aimed to get a 2:1 or higher and underperformed, you can still get a training contract, however, your options may be limited.

Law firms accepting 2:2 degrees

Looking for a training contract with a 2:2? If you have a 2:2 degree, you can still apply for a training contract at the following companies:

  • The government legal trainee scheme, for example, has a minimum academic requirement of a 2:2 in an undergraduate degree.

    ➡️Find out more about the Government Legal Trainee Scheme.
  • BLM does not screen out candidates on the basis of their academic career. They are looking for future trainees who will fit their dynamic and ideas led culture.

    ➡️Find out more about the training contract at BLM.
  • Browne Jacobson does not have minimum academic requirements for A-levels or degree.

    ➡️Find out more about the training contract at Browne Jacobson.
  • Royds Withy King’s minimum academic entry requirements is a 2:2 or above in any subject.

    ➡️Find out more about the training contract at Royds Withy King

As the competition for training contracts is intense, academic grades are used to screen candidates. However, they are not the only indicator of your potential to become a lawyer. If you underperformed at a particular stage in your academics, do the following:

  • Carry out extensive research to identify the firms and organisations that place less emphasis on academics.
  • Do everything you can to increase your chances of getting a training contract. Develop your skills and take every opportunity you can to get experience.
  • Look into all of the routes to become a lawyer. You may be eligible to do a legal apprenticeship.

    ➡️Find out more about the Level 7 Solicitors apprenticeship.

How to get a training contract at Freshfields?

To get a training contract at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, you will need to:

  • Write an 850-word personal statement
  • Pass the Watson Glaser test
  • Attend a half-day assessment
  • Pass the general interview and Analytical Interview
  • Complete a written exercise

Freshfields what we look for: preparing for the training contract application

How to get a training contract at Linklaters?

Linklaters is looking for people with a strong intellect, so your academic record will be highly regarded. You’ll need to be on track for a 2:1 in any degree discipline.

Eligible candidates will need to successfully navigate the following process to get a training contract at the magic circle law firm, Linklaters:

  • Complete the online form and the Capp online assessment
  • Do the Watson Glaser test
  • Pass the interview stage

Find out more about the training contract application process at Linklaters

Are there any books on how to get a training contract?

Yes! Some books have been published for those who wish to get a training contract. Some titles include:

Is it possible to get an in house legal training contract?

Yes, although the number of in-house legal training contracts will be very small. Companies that offer in-house vary each year.

If you are looking for an in-house training contract, you might want to consider applying for Accutrainee.

The BBC runs a Legal trainee scheme also.

We hope you found our ultimate guide on how to get a training contract useful. Ideally, it is best to prepare for your training contract applications years in advance. However, it’s never too late to take the actions that will boost your training contract applications.

It is absolutely vital that you send off high-quality application forms for the law firms that you are most suited to. In order to do this, it is vital that you conduct thorough research.

If you need help preparing for your training contract applications or interviews, get in touch!

Written by Adina Pascall

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