Are you thinking about training with a smaller firm? Jennie Patrick shares her tips on getting a foot in the door.

  1. Investigate the possibilities: Large city firms are not the only place you will find a training contract. High street and medium firms can also take on trainees for limited places.
  2. Do your research: Smaller firms may not have such extensive websites and it will take a bit more time to learn about the firm in order to impress during the interview. However, that does not mean the information isn’t available. Keep an eye out in your local newspapers for any press releases the firm has made, check out their profile in Chambers and Legal 500 and ask friends and family what they know about the firm.
  3. Make contact: Get in touch with your local JLD group. Speaking to the trainees and newly qualified solicitors that are members of your local JLD is an excellent way to get an insight into your local firms. Take down the names and email addresses of those working at the firm you are interested in, you may be able to use these to get some helpful tips.
  4. Work experience: It can be easier to approach smaller and medium sized firms for work experience. They rarely have official vacation schemes in place. If you write in advance of a holiday period, sending a CV and a good covering letter you may be able to gain a couple of weeks experience in the firm. Note however this is likely to be unpaid experience but is a really helpful in-route.
  5. Get in the back door: I could shower you with examples of trainees who were offered training contracts after they started in the post room. A lot of smaller firms are happy to offer training contracts to those who already work for them in a different capacity. Some firms require trainees to work for them as a paralegal in advance of their training contract. The firms view it as an opportunity to get to know you and your work. Don’t see it as a slight on your ability to take an administration, secretarial or paralegal position, instead see it as your chance to shine.
  6. Consider part-time study: Often smaller firms will not sponsor the LPC and it will be up to you to finance it yourself. Part-time study can allow you to fund the course whilst gaining useful on the job experience. There are a number of options available such as three year training contracts which run alongside the two year part-time LPC or building up 6 months ‘time to count’ reducing your training contract to 18 months by working as a paralegal or ‘fee earner’ for 12 months or more. Research these options before committing to the full time LPC.
  7. Speak to your careers advisor: Careers advisors can be invaluable in helping you to find vacancies with local law firms, giving you helpful tips on interview skills and providing you with a winning CV.
  8. Attend as much as possible: If you hear about a legal careers day or a talk being given on a legal subject of interest to you – you should attend. Sometimes smaller firms are in attendance and if they are niche practices they may even be hosting the talk. These are perfect chances to meet people from the firms and ask the questions which will put you ahead of the crowd.
  9. Don’t be taken advantage of: It is possible that you will find yourself in a position where a firm has been dangling a carrot for you but it never gets close enough to reach. If they are serious about offering you a training contract then they won’t need to play games with you. If you are in this situation ask them to give you a timescale as to when they expect you to start your training contract and if you are still unsatisfied start looking around for a position in another firm.
  10. Persevere: It may be that you take a few years to get your training contract in place. You mustn’t give up though - the experience you are gathering in the meantime will be providing you with important life skills which you will find useful when your contract begins.