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COVID-19 and qualification: What does this mean for newly qualified lawyers?
Sinead McGrath tackles concerns about delaying qualification due to COVID-19 and the impact it may have on newly qualified (NQ) solicitors.
While the impact of coronavirus on the legal job market is still relatively unknown given the levels of uncertainty in the economy, some law firms are already beginning to look into delaying the qualification date of their second year trainees.
An announcement that your qualification will be delayed can be a demotivating and difficult decision to process, particularly given the hard work a trainee puts in over their training contract. A delay in qualification will likely mean a delay in salary increase as you would usually expect on qualifying as a solicitor. The uncertainty of knowing when you might qualify will also, no doubt, be unsettling.
However, despite this, there are some advantages to consider should your qualification be delayed.
In the current economic climate, job security is at the forefront of the minds of many. It is possible that as a trainee you could have even been furloughed and be concerned about what this means for the duration of your training contract and future job prospects.
An extension of your training contract will at least provide you with the reassurance that you will continue to have employment in the coming months. If you are in the position that you have been furloughed, then an extension to your training contract will allow you more time to develop the necessary legal knowledge that you may have otherwise missed out on.
Increase your knowledge
If your training contract is extended then, depending on the timeframe, it may be an opportunity for you to experience a seat you may otherwise have not. Alternatively, it may be an opportunity to spend more time in the department you wish to qualify in to.
It may be the case that you are working from home in the current climate and you may not feel like you are getting the full benefit of your seat, as you would do in the office environment. An extension would allow you to continue to make the most of your time in your current seat. You may want to qualify in to your fourth seat and feel that you have not had the opportunity to make the most of it, particularly when it comes to building important relationships with your team.
Opportunity to complete vocational training
Typically, before enrolling as a solicitor, you must have completed the Professional Skills Course (PSC). The PSC is taken through a mixture of both online and face-to-face sessions. Some parts of the PSC, such as advocacy, must be done face-to-face and this presents the challenge of completing the PSC before your training contract is finished.
To combat the pressures of completing the PSC, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority have announced that you can be admitted to the roll without completing the PSC, provided that you sit your required exams within one year. However, if you are in the position that your training contract is extended, then this provides you the opportunity to complete outstanding PSC modules before you commence a role as a newly qualified solicitor.
Top tips if you are concerned about your training contract, an extension or delayed qualification
The uncertainty of a delay can be unsettling. You may be thinking what does this mean for the legal job market? When will I be able to qualify? Will my firm have jobs for me to qualify in to following the delay?
If you are concerned about the uncertainty caused by a delay, it is important that you open up lines of communication with your firm and ask any questions that you have. By taking control of the conversation, you will be able to develop a clearer idea of what your firm’s position is, when they expect to review the position, and what it ultimately means for newly qualified roles in your firm.
Make sure you are talking regularly with your training principal and recruitment teams so that you can understand what is going on and how it affects you.
Speak with recruiters
If you are concerned about the job market as a newly qualified solicitor, reach out to a specialist legal recruiter you can trust to gain a deeper understanding of what the market looks like.
Keep up to date with the legal press and the Junior Lawyers Division
The JLD, the Law Society and legal press are continually posting updates about the effects of coronavirus on the legal sector, as well as practical guidance to help adapt to the work/life changes we are experiencing.
And on the topic of communication, if you have anything you are struggling with (personal or work related), please reach out to LawCare. LawCare is a charity providing free information and support to anyone in the legal community experiencing mental health and wellbeing problems.
This article was first published on 4 May 2020 by The Lawyer and is reproduced by kind permission.