The bulk of aspiring lawyers may still take the traditional training contract route, but training in-house is an alternative
What’s the difference?
A number of FTSE 100 companies now offer training contracts or are keen to formalise their programmes. A good example is BT, which is increasing its presence on the graduate recruitment circuit by visiting campuses and promoting its training scheme.
As in private practice, an in-house training contract must comply with Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) rules. Therefore trainees at BT must still undertake three seats to qualify as a lawyer.
In most cases the choice of seats is more restricted than in a law firm as they must suit the business’s needs. BT requires aspiring lawyers to complete commercial and litigation seats in the first two years, with the option of corporate, employment or competition for the third. That said, within a company work is often passed between teams more freely, making it likely that the trainee will cover a broader range of topics within that field.
Some in-house programmes offer a secondment to a law firm to ensure the training equates to that in private practice, as well as complies with SRA requirements.
For most in-house training programmes, the trainees are required to complete three years to allow them to simultaneously study the Legal Practice Course (LPC) part-time. It is worth noting that many companies will not accept applications from people who have already completed their LPC. BT only accepts applications from law students, or non-law students if they have completed the Graduate Diploma in Law. It also offers full sponsorship for the LPC with the University of Law.
Many in-house training schemes are offered on an ad hoc basis to people already working at the company. Live events company the NEC Group, for example, has developed an in-house training contract for paralegals that show promise, while ITV initially introduced training contracts to reward legal executives.
One myth of training in-house is that it could damage your chances of working in private practice in the future. However, although it is less common to take the ‘reverse-route’, it is not unheard of. Moreover, with the vast exposure and inside knowledge that is gained by working at the heart of a business, you may find you are well equipped with the skills and legal acumen to have a successful career in a law firm.
Indeed, the legal issues faced by in-house trainees are for the most part the same as in private practice. However, they relate to the company you work for, not a third-party client, which enables the in-house trainee to develop strong commercial awareness. In-house trainees are also often given a lot more responsibility in a shorter amount of time than a trainee in a law firm.
Often the hardest part of training in-house is finding out about the opportunities available. The Commerce & Industry Group (www.cigroup.org.uk) has a list of organisations that are registered to offer training contracts, but there is no guarantee that all the names on the list offer contracts every year, or to external candidates. Students must be prepared to put in enquiries about training programmes and speculative applications, which will take a lot more time and effort than a standard private practice application.