Welcome to our Advice for Newly Qualified Solicitors. You can purchase our Guide for Newly Qualified Solicitors from the Ten-Percent Legal Careers Shop.
If you are reading this and are due to qualify in the next 9 months, register as a Candidate with us. As soon as you qualify, you are a valuable commodity to your firm. You may think that you have no skills, are worthless, and unable to justify a salary you would like. People will tell you that it is very hard to find work as a newly qualified solicitor, and you should wait at least 3 years before moving.
Do not worry! It is a common tactic towards the end of a training contract for employers to “put you down”. This is to prevent you thinking about pastures new. They talk about loyalty, vague partnership promises, and usually discuss the high level of the firm’s overdraft with you. They then charitably offer you a position with the firm paying a low salary, but in line with your experience, and tell you to think yourself lucky to have employment at all.
This is where Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment can assist you. Although firms do not often advertise specifically for newly qualified solicitors all the time, there is a large market out there. You offer firms a service at a lower price, and you are extremely marketable. Recruitment consultants can assist you by getting in touch with firms in the area they know, or by sending an outline of your skills to firms in the area in which you are looking.
Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment allocate you a personal recruitment consultant, who liaises with you and the firms, puts forward your details to firms and arranges interviews, all without your present employer knowing you are looking elsewhere. We prepare your CV and tailor it according to the requirements of each post and firm you are applying to.
We do not chase candidates by telephoning, turning up at your home address (we know an agent in Manchester who did this) or bombarding you with messages. All correspondence is by email (unless you specifically request us to telephone or text as well – otherwise we only call in emergencies).
Available 12 hours a day by email (and telephone & text if requested – we appreciate you may not want to be called by a recruitment consultant at work), your consultant can also give you careers advice, and negotiate salary for you (something a lot of people dislike doing themselves).
Your present firm will not know you are looking until you hand in your notice, and you will move to a new firm that will appreciate your worth and give you respect as a solicitor, as opposed to remaining forever a trainee solicitor in disguise (a common complaint).
All of this is completely irrelevant of course if you enjoy working with your present firm, and if this is the case, stay there and good luck with your career – you are very fortunate to have a firm where you enjoy working and are appreciated! There is more to life than your next pay cheque and finding a practice where you enjoy both your caseload and the working with the other staff is strongly recommended.
However there are a lot of opportunities out there….. If you have any questions at this stage, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our confidential careers forum.
The best time to start looking for work is about 6 months before qualifying. You may be a bit despondent that no posts appear in the Law Society Gazette for newly qualified solicitors, or at least very few do. This is fairly normal these days, as firms get a lot of candidates via recruitment consultants or through individual speculative applications.
From the second year of your training contract, we recommend finding out or getting an indication from your current firm as to whether an offer of a newly qualified solicitor post is going to be forthcoming, and in which field of law.
For a September qualifier, you need to start registering with your chosen recruitment agent from about the middle of March onwards. Contact the agent again each month to check to see whether any progress has taken place. The normal busy period is usually in May and June, but firms start collating CVs and interviewing from March with a view to a September start.
If you are a January qualifier the normal time to start looking is late September or October. The Christmas break is normally very quiet, and it is important to ensure that interviews are arranged before then.
At any other time of the year we recommend using the rule of thumb and looking 6 months before your training contract is due to expire.
If you are planning to stay with your current firm, speak to assistant solicitors, secretaries or the office manager to try and gauge what the firm are likely to offer you. Most firms will be fairly standard, although some still try and get away with paying a lot less by referring to your lack of experience, whilst others pay very well to keep you. If you are at a very small practice, and are the only assistant solicitor, you need to speak to friends at other firms to see what the going rate is in the area.
Negotiating at newly qualified level really depends on the current state of the market. If you have offers from 3 other firms, or are aware of plenty of other firms who will want to speak to you, you can approach your current firm with confidence that you can pitch for a salary and if you don’t get it, then move on.
However, if the market is very poor, and you have no other offers and are not aware of any firms recruiting at newly qualified level in your area, you are at the mercy of your current firm, and need to be careful as to how far you push your wage demands.
It is always a fine line between pushing for a higher salary and avoiding conflict at the negotiation stage. You need to be able to justify your requirements for a particular salary, and it is important to be prepared for the meeting. Having vital facts at hand such as salary levels in the area, your billing rates, your expected billing rates, wage comparisons with colleagues, your plans to get a mortgage at a particular level, your longer term plans etc.. will assist tremendously. You need to be able to explain why you think that £25k is a reasonable level when the firm are only offering you £21k.
Remember that how you speak to the firm depends on whether a) you have other offers, b) you are bothered about remaining with the firm and c) you are simply trying to get a good offer out of them to put to other firms when attending for interview.
How much should you be earning for the firm? The golden rule for solicitors firms is 3 times your salary in most areas of law, although for example in personal injury you would be expected to be bringing in 6-8 times your salary in some firms. Others expect 3.5 times or 4 times your wage. The “one third rule” is based on your salary being one third, the firm’s costs and overheads being another third, and the firm’s profit the final third.
If you are attending for an interview at a firm other than your own, you will probably be asked towards the end of the interview what salary you require.
We get asked all the time by newly qualified solicitors as to how this needs to be approached. We recommend asking the firm what they have in mind initially, and then pitch accordingly. We do not recommend jumping straight in, which is the advice of some other recruitment consultants, especially if you like the sound of the firm. You can either overpitch or underpitch yourself, and this can have the unwanted effect of the firm deciding not to proceed further.
If you have to give a range without an indication from the firm, we suggest giving one with scope, ie; it allows the firm negotiation. Of course, if you have offers at a certain level, and do not want to take any post that goes below this, then the pitch is quite easy.
An example would be “I am looking for something in the range of £23-£27.5k”.
£23k would be your absolute minimum for the perfect job and firm, and £27.5k would be the figure you would really like but are unlikely to get. If the firm are interested they will probably pitch somewhere around the £25k mark. In order to answer this question you do need to have some idea of the levels of salary paid in your fields of law and geographical area.
Contact us for further advice on this area by emailing email@example.com
Staying with your current firm is understandable. Firstly better the devil you know, secondly this was the firm that gave you the offer of a training contract, and thirdly you may actually be quite happy with them! Our experience is that some candidates are quite happy with their current firm, and enjoy working in the location, with no complaints about the office and equipment, and that the people they are working with are very friendly. Some even stay and become partners in the much longer term.
Others are not sure and look around to see what options are out there. Others hate their current firm and spend the whole time trying to get out even during their training contract.
It must be said that in business there is no such thing loyalty on the whole, and anyone who tries to pull the “loyalty card” on you should be reminded that they are taking the benefit of your labour to profit from you. Whilst there is a moral issue that the firm you are with took a chance with you by offering a training contract, it is often better to consider the issue from the viewpoint of your own career. If it is going to be beneficial to you in the longer term to remain with the firm – offers of partnership or career progression that you believe are genuine, and the salary levels offered are good, then it is probably best to remain where you are.
Long term career plans are important to consider when you approach qualification, and in fact there is some merit in sitting down and writing out your goals. What do you want to get out of your career in law, where do you want to go, and in 5 years time, 10 years time and 20 years time where do you want to be? Is the field of law you are planning to specialise in the one you wish to stay in, or is it simply being done because this is what you ended up doing during your training contract?
Do you want to work for yourself, set up in business, or remain an employee? Do you plan to have children and raise a family, do you want to work part time in the longer term, do you want to look outside of law as well, are you aiming to be very rich, comfortable or is money not a factor for you?
It is very hard to consider these things at any time in your career, because often your choices are limited by certain factors, like LPC debts, or limited options due to geographical issues.
However it is important enough to spend some time thinking about. Decisions you make now will affect your career 20 years down the line. If you are thinking of relocating, it can be done at qualification, but similarly it can be done 1-5 years into your career without too much difficulty.
One of the questions we get asked every year is how easy it is to change fields of law, normally we get high street trainees wanting to become corporate lawyers, and corporate lawyers wanting to become high street solicitors. Neither think through the practicalities of such a change – the corporate lawyers think that everyone on the high street earns 50k, the high street trainees think the city firms will be interested in recruiting them for their conveyancing experience!
Our normal advice on this is to find a firm that offers a field of law you are capable of doing but also the one you wish to transfer into. You can then make moves once in a firm if possible. It is very difficult to change fields at qualification without any experience in the field you wish to change into.
Author: Jonathan Fagan MIRP MAC Cert RP LLM Solicitor (non-practising) – Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment (www.ten-percent.co.uk) – save time, skip the legal job boards and register with us! Jonathan Fagan is a specialist legal recruitment consultant, author of the Complete Guide to Writing a Legal CV and the Guide to Interviews for Lawyers. He has recruited for law firms across the UK and overseas in all shapes and sizes. If you have any questions that we have not covered above, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org