Having assisted many trainees find their ideal NQ roles within a variety of law firms, I thought it would be a good idea to share my views and include some tips for trainee solicitors who are approaching qualification.
If you are qualifying as a solicitor this year, then there’s a lot to think about.
Firstly, the obvious dilemma you’re faced with is which practice area to qualify into? I’ve recently spoken to a few candidates who qualified into a practice area they weren’t too keen on or didn’t have much prior knowledge of just to join the right kind of firm as a recruiter advised them to ‘get your foot in the door’. I couldn’t disagree more… yes, the firm you qualify at is important, but if you see your long-term career in law it is imperative you qualify into a practice area you have a genuine interest in. Needless to say, I’m speaking to these candidates as they’re looking for a move to a different firm and department having wasted time practising an area of law they are looking to leave and some still being considered as an NQ.
Should I stay, or should I go?
Once you’ve decided which one or two practice areas you like, you should be deciding if you want to stay at your current firm or if you are considering leaving then now’s a good time to think about what you would be looking for from your new firm. Naturally, your decision may depend on whether your current firm has capacity for an NQ in the desired practice area and how much internal competition you’ll face from other trainees.
What’s important to you?
Some NQ’s want the very best quality work, the prestige of a top International firm on their CV and the best salaries, whereas others may want a better work/life balance, career progression and more opportunities to network/business develop. Everyone is different, I always ask my candidates to carefully consider what criteria is important to them for their next move and to ideally rank them from most desirable to least.
Once you’ve an idea on what practice area/s you would like to qualify in to and what you want from your next firm then now is a good time to speak to a legal recruiter. Again, my advice is to do this sooner rather than later. September NQ roles are released once firms have completed their own internal process which is usually between March-May (although some firms may be earlier or later). It’s always beneficial to register early with recruitment agencies, as some partners know from an early stage if they will need to recruit for NQ’s externally and some firms like to get the first pick of the candidates on the market.
Agreed firms to approach
A recruiter should also be able to offer you information on law firms, the departments you are interested in (clients of the team, team structure, NQ salary, career progression etc) and offer you some suitable suggestions and information on which firms to approach dictated by your list of priorities for your next role. Once you have an agreed list of firms you can decide whether to approach the firms of interest or wait for roles at these firms to make your application. The recruiter should be in constant contact with the firms to understand when they have completed their internal process and if there is a need for external applications.
A good recruiter should assist you with the completion of your CV or be able to offer constructive feedback on your CV if they believe it needs improvement. I always advise candidates to ensure their CV is clear and easy to read with education and qualifications, followed by career history, which includes details of your training seats, paralegal and vacation experience (if any) and non-legal work experience. I then recommend a section on business development/marketing experience as my clients see this as vitally important even from someone so junior. If you have received any special achievements or have anything else you are keen to include that you believe helps your application then include it here. Finally, a section on hobbies/interests. I tend to compose a personal profile for my candidates which tends to highlight key experience and achievements.
The interview process differs per firm and department. Some people prefer an informal chat, others prefer a more formal interview and some even technical testing. This is where you really rely on your recruiter to have the relationship with the firm to be able to prepare you accordingly for each and every interview.
At MJN Legal, we meet with our candidates face to face to fully prepare them for each interview and prior to this we send our candidates a detailed document containing information on the firm and bespoke interview advice and tips dependent on the firm and partner/s interviewing. We offer sound advice on how to conduct yourself during the interview process and assistance on what questions to ask the interviewers.
Following completion of the interview we take both candidate and client feedback and are in communication with our candidates to guide them as to the next steps of the process and when they will take place. If at this stage a candidate is unsuccessful we ensure we get detailed feedback for them and use this to work closely with them to improve their performance for next time.
Handing in your notice
If you have decided to move firms on qualification and have managed to secure an acceptable NQ offer, then comes the daunting task of informing your current employer who has invested both time and money in you during your training contract that you are leaving. At MJN Legal we understand the stresses that can come with this and we happily to assist our candidates with advice on how to hand in your notice and what to say to your current employers to leave as amicably as possible.
As you can see there is quite a lot to consider when approaching qualification. Choosing the correct recruiter can be imperative. Choose the right one and they will give you impartial, honest advice, help you decide which firms to approach, which practice areas are particularly buoyant, assist you with your CV, properly prepare you for each interview and assist with handing in your notice. Choose the wrong one and you’ll have to juggle the stresses of work with preparing for interviews without any advice or help. Make sure you are selective with which recruiter you use. It’s always worth asking for a list of testimonials to see if they come recommended by your peers.
For further information on the NQ process, to register with MJN Legal, or for a confidential conversation about the legal market and expected NQ salaries, please contact Michael Niven on 0161 759 4690 / firstname.lastname@example.org