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16 May 2023

COLP Careers: Trainee positions 101

Published on 16 May 2023

In this article we look at the ins and outs of trainee positions including what they are, what is changing because of the SQE, how to apply, tips for success and more.

What is a Training Contract?

Traditional training contracts are two-year paid traineeships (a period of recognised training) with official training providers that offer legal services. In some cases, they can last longer depending on whether you are studying or working part-time.  You traditionally begin a trainee position after you graduate and have completed your LPC or SQE, but the types of trainee positions available are now changing with the introduction of the SQE.

Once you complete your period of training or Qualifying Work Experience (QWE) if you are taking the SQE route to qualification, and passed either the LPC or SQE, you can be admitted to the role of solicitor. There is a high probability that you could remain at the firm where you did your trainee position, with some firms retaining as many as 90-100% of their trainees in recent years.

As a trainee, you will receive a salary and be a member of the team and will have to consistently prove your capabilities throughout the period of training to increase your chances of being kept on.

What is changing due to the SQE?

Most firms are keeping their training structure and name as they introduce the SQE. The common view is that they would still like trainees to learn about the firm and specific areas of practice over a two-year period of work experience within the organisation. Traditional training contracts involve four seats, where trainees spend six months in four different departments learning about the business.

However, trainee positions are varying with the flexibility of QWE. Whilst QWE is still two years of full-time (or equivalent) legal work experience, the key difference is that you can complete your QWE before, during, or after your SQE assessments. Some paralegals or law graduates therefore may have some or all QWE before they seek to take the SQE. Please visit the College’s QWE hub for more details.

Some examples of firms who are developing different types of training contracts include:

  • Acuity Law: Offering salaried work before and alongside taking SQE2 and offering specialised training in one department rather than four.
  • Browne Jacobson: Offering one-year QWE work in between SQE1 and SQE2 and one-year QWE after SQE2 to some trainees.
  • Clarke Wilmott: Offering training contracts to their existing paralegal base who already have their QWE.

How do I apply for a trainee position?

  1. If you aren't taking a vacation scheme route, shortlist firms that accept direct applications in advance and research the firms thoroughly as generic applications will likely not be successful.
  2. Check each firm's trainee application process. Do they recruit exclusively from vacation schemes, or do they accept direct applications? When are the application deadlines? Are there any rolling deadlines? You must be highly organised and manage your time wisely - late applications will not be accepted, and you will not be able to edit your application once submitted.
  3. It is key to show that you have firm-specific knowledge. For example, you will need to show that you are clear about who its clients are; how, where, and why it is growing as well as noteworthy cases or transactions from the last few years.
  4. In addition to researching the firm’s background information, training structure, and offering, it is key to research the firm’s culture. We advise finding out about the firm’s core values and aims as a crucial first step to understanding culture together with how the firm views itself on social media.
  5. If you were previously unsuccessful in applying to the firm's first year or vacation scheme, be prepared to explain how you have improved - factoring in any academic achievements, extracurricular legal/business activities, work experience and personal development.

Tips for success

The key points to bear in mind about your application revolve around structure and readability.

We suggest breaking this down into 3 parts:

  1. Why do you want to be a solicitor? (i.e. what’s your motivational story behind your specific aspiration?)
  2. Why this specific firm? (it’s important to show that you have done your research)
  3. What unique skills, values and experience can you bring to the table?

The question ‘Why do you want to be a solicitor?’ is common on trainee application forms. This is your opportunity to tell a short story (within the word count!) about why you first became interested in this career pathway. For example, you could begin with a phrase like, “I first became interested in the legal services industry when…”. Remember that you are the protagonist in your own story- someone who faces a challenge/new situation and makes a choice that results in an outcome, which is, ultimately, why you are studying to become a solicitor.

Mentioning the names of relevant people that you have networked with from the firm(s) that interest you is another useful strategy that more applicants seem to be using these days. Remember that it is advisable to get the permission of any of the employees you have communicated with before mentioning them in your trainee application.

What other supporting experiences have helped you further develop your skills that would be useful for a trainee role? Consider your academics - what classes or projects have you engaged with that have helped you build your knowledge and skills for the legal services industry? In addition, don’t forget to draw upon your previous legal or non-legal work experience, internships, research experiences, and other extra-curricular activities such as leadership roles, and sports team participation.


It is always best to use ‘plain English’ rather than convoluted language. For example, instead of saying: ‘My idiosyncratic interest in the multi-faceted world of mergers and acquisitions…’ could be stated simply as ‘My interest in mergers and acquisitions stems from…’. Remember the ability to write in brief is a key skill that a future lawyer needs to possess so it’s important to get straight to the point.

To stay up to date with application deadlines and information on trainee positions, follow the College on our social media platforms via Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok.


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We're continually building our career content to support students in their access into the profession. If you liked this article, read our article where we break down assessment centres.

Assessment Centres 101