Securing a training contract to qualify as a solicitor is a challenge and usually requires strong academic qualifications. Typically, you'll need a 2.1 or a first-class degree to qualify at a top firm.
There are lawyers with 2.2 degrees, but the reality is that your 2.2 will be a hurdle to getting a training contract – particularly at the largest law firms.
The good news is that being a corporate city lawyer is not the only kind of lawyer you can be. There are plenty of other types of firm and qualification routes which will ultimately lead to a fulfilling legal career.
If you have a 2.2 degree, it is sensible to be realistic. Law firms receive so many applications for training contracts that the top firms use a filtering process, setting out strict application parameters.
At larger firms, candidates with 2.2 degrees are commonly sifted out of the recruitment process at a very early stage, usually at the start of the initial online application.
Candidates who do not have the highest A level grades may also find that they are excluded at this stage too, despite having a 2.1 or higher degree.
It is not impossible to make an application to firms who state that they require a minimum of a 2.1 degree but you will have to be tenacious and persistent, making personal contact with the graduate recruitment contact at that firm.
They may accept your application with lower-than-expected grades by considering your CV and being persuaded that you have something to offer them.
Here are some tips on how to move forward with your legal career if you have a 2.2:
If you struggled to achieve a 2.1 because you are not strong academically, you should take a moment to consider the realities of work once you’ve secured a training contract.
The hours are long, the atmosphere competitive and the pressure to carry out work quickly and accurately can be immense.
If you did not achieve a 2.1 due to missing deadlines or because you did not apply yourself adequately, you should also think about whether you are prepared to do things differently at law school and then as a trainee.
Waiting to apply for your training contract until you’ve completed the LPC could work in your favour, if you only marginally missed a 2.1.
You will have to weigh up if paying for the course as an individual, or waiting to see if you can secure a training contract which offers a paid-for LPC, will be more beneficial to you financially in the long term.
It's not just City firms that offer training contracts. The Government Legal Department, the Crown Prosecution Service and many in-house legal departments also do so, for example.
Smaller firms are more likely to consider the full CV of a candidate, rather than relying on more rigid screening processes. Some are happy to interview candidates with a 2.2.
Once you have qualified, you may find that you are then able to apply to the larger firms.
If you have a genuine mitigating circumstance which led to a 2.2 degree, it is worth making this clear to recruiters.
You will need to supply proof of your difficulties (for example, a doctor's note or university letter) and show how your circumstances impacted on your ability to study.
All candidates should make the most of networking opportunities in order to stand out from other applicants, but this is particularly essential if your academic qualifications are lower than ideal.
You will need to go beyond the easy and obvious – everyone will go to the careers fair. Try attending Law Society events as well as seminars put on by law firms, barristers' chambers, estate agents or business networking groups. Also consider student-specific debates and lectures organised by your law school or Legal Cheek.
Get involved with pro-bono work, join Oxfam’s Junior Lawyers Against Poverty division or sign up as a LexisNexis Student Ambassador, Westlaw Student Representative or Legal Cheek Campus Ambassador. These may take up time away from your studies but could be the additional differentiator you need.
Consider law-related charities such as the International Law Book Facility, the Access to Justice Foundation, LawWorks and law advice centres, all of which have various student positions which can work alongside the LPC.
This kind of involvement shows a willingness to participate and volunteer, as well as giving you exposure to lawyers from whom you can learn.
Some charities work with some very senior lawyers – so this kind of work, as well as being fulfilling, can help to build your network.
Work experience can demonstrate a real application to your desired career, as well as an understanding of clients and their business needs.
To get the best work experience placement possible, make sure you carefully research the area of law that your chosen firm works in. Demonstrating that you have specifically chosen that particular firm (rather than it being a generic application) will help you succeed.
If you are unable to organise anything specific, try attending court, observing the process and familiarising yourself with the idiosyncrasies of the legal system – particularly if the firm to which you are applying is involved in the case.
Were you a member of any clubs or groups? Did you manage a budget or large data lists? These are the kinds of skills that prove you have what it takes to be a lawyer, aside from legal training.
Being able to manage a project or a budget, chair a meeting full of people, or persuade others to vote for you are the kinds of things that you need to highlight to make your application stand out.
Employers like to hire candidates with commercial awareness.
This could be gained by working for non-legal businesses in the area which your chosen firm works. For example, if you were applying to a niche IP firm, consider getting practical experience to demonstrate knowledge of their clients or potential clients.
Alongside attending networking events and seminars, consider creating an online legal space where you can learn from other big players in your chosen field and start to give your opinion.
Some lawyers are very active on LinkedIn and Twitter and, particularly on Twitter, it is usual to get involved in discussion with people you don’t know. On LinkedIn, the normal etiquette is to be introduced in person first.
Follow industry-specific magazines, websites and hashtags (such as #ukemplaw if you are interested in employment law) to gain information.
Follow people on Twitter (or LinkedIn) that you have met at events and give your own thoughts using the event hashtags.
This can be both fulfilling in its own right and help you create a good first impression; when your CV reaches the hiring partner they may have already heard of you.
If applying for a training contract with a 2.2 – or without having taken the LPC – is not working for you, you could consider becoming a chartered legal executive and then a solicitor by taking CILEx qualifications.
You could also consider a variety of other law-related careers to gain more experience, including paralegal or legal secretary roles in a law firm.
You could also apply for roles at legal publishers and technology providers, such as LexisNexis or Thomson Reuters, or advisory and regulatory work at charities or regulatory bodies.
Don’t give up! You can't escape the reality that having a 2.2 degree will make securing a training contract a greater challenge.
But you can embrace that challenge, accept that you might take slightly longer to qualify and use that time to build relationships, gain knowledge and truly prove that you are determined to succeed as a qualified lawyer.
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