We had a request in for legal careers advice from an LPC graduate who has been offered a training contract in a smaller sized law firm somewhere in the UK who do a lot of family law (plus other areas).
His questions are as follows:
- I am unsure whether to take the training contract or not as I am uncertain as to whether I will be able to forge a successful career in this area (the firm practice high street law – mainly family law).
- I am interested in family law and I believe I would make a great family solicitor. However, I am unsure whether entering family law at this time with legal aid cuts is the best path to go down and am worried there will be no career progression for me.
- I am fearful that undertaking my TC (TC stands for training contract on various forums – just in case you were wondering) in a small firm will also act as a disadvantage to me when trying to secure NQ (newly qualified) jobs.
- However it is notable that I have achieved a first class law degree (although not from a Russell Group university).
- Do you think I would be able to move from a small high street firm in west London where I will be exposed to both public and private family law to a firm such as Duncan Lewis or Irwin Mitchell who have great family departments?
- I am leaning more towards taking the TC and hoping there will still be opportunities for me due to how competitive it is to secure a TC, as there is no guarantee I will be offered another one any time soon which also worries me.
My advice is as follows:
- Why on earth would you attend an interview for a training contract without researching beforehand what areas of law and type of client a law firm actually has? I am very surprised indeed, particularly from someone who has indicated they have a first class degree.
- Family law has recently seen a massive upsurge in recruitment terms. It has been a dead area for a very long time but the last 6 months have changed a bit. Perhaps it relates to divorces from couples who voted to leave and remain in the EU and unable to reconcile their differences? Who knows. We are struggling to find candidates for firms as far afield as North Wales and Milton Keynes, although not much activity in London at the moment. How long it stays busy for is another matter entirely.
- Legal aid has been withdrawn from most areas of civil law now for well over 5 years as far as I am aware, so the cuts bit is not particularly relevant. There is no legal aid funding for most areas of family law unless violence has been alleged or it is care work, but it is unlikely to be withdrawn from these areas any time soon. Please tell me someone if this is just optimism on my part. Family law funding has altered and firms usually do mostly private work which can be quite lucrative.
- Care work (public law in family) leads into local authority family law work so even if the high street law firms stop doing it in future there will always be plenty of local authority work out there plus charities hoovering up any cases law firms cannot cover – flexible hours, a pension, good annual leave and very lucrative locum work are usually on offer in local authorities due to high levels of absenteeism.
- I think the better way of looking at the question is to ask whether you are interested in family law work. You ought to be aware of this from work experience. If you are not, then this is not a decision you can actually make based on objective evidence. Secondly how much do you want to earn from a legal career? Family law is not a very high earner unless you end up working for Russian oligarchs or celebrity footballers. Commercial law areas are much more lucrative. Of course, law may be a vocation for you rather than an income generator and if this is the case then family law is a very good area to get into.
- I love the idea of Duncan Lewis (or indeed Irwin Mitchell) being considered a great family law department but a small high street law firm not being considered as such. Have you based this on any objective evidence? Some smaller sized law firms have infinitely better departments than the large practices.
- Bird in the hand and all that – if you have a training contract offer it is usually better to accept it than to wait and see what else crops up, but nothing to stop you holding it and then if something better comes in considering that as well. Not particularly ethical, but as you don’t appear to have the information you should have to hand in order to make a decision then I am not sure what else you can do. Perhaps get 2 weeks work experience asap in a family law department and see if it is for you?
PS – it is not particularly notable that you have a first class law degree – some universities seem to be handing them out all over the place now and unfortunately they are not given the same credibility they once were – a bit like A* and A at GCSE and A Level. A better guide on your academic prowess is to indicate straight A*s at GCSE, plus straight As at A Level and then a 1st class degree. That seems to be the new norm for a lot of higher level law firm training contract applications..
Jonathan Fagan is MD of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment and a non-practising solicitor. He regularly writes on the legal profession on the Ten-Percent website and the Legal Recruitment blog.