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The clash question: should I stay or should I go?
Adam Hattersley offers advice to trainee solicitors worried about not being retained by their firms.
As they approach the end of their training contract, most junior lawyers ask themselves ‘the clash question’: should I stay or should I go?
For most, this is a personal and subjective question. It will depend on your experience during your time at the firm, your long-term career ambitions, and the relationships you have built with your colleagues. This, however, is only one side of the coin.
The pressures of securing a training contract have long since passed and you have had nearly two years of hard work on a steep learning curve. But now, a troublesome question looms on the horizon - ‘Will I be retained at the end of my training contract?’
Many trainees wanting to stay on at their firm will be reluctant to explore the jobs market in fear of this filtering back to their employer, but this carries its own risks: if the end of their training contract comes without confirmation of retention, trainees could very quickly find themselves unemployed.
There is currently no statutory minimum legal notice period for any fixed-term contracts, which includes training contracts. This is no comfort for young lawyers, who have fought so hard to reach the point of qualification and are often burdened with student loans, overdrafts, credit card debt, and rent payments. Leaving it until the very end of the training contract before receiving confirmation of retention is simply too big a risk for most trainees to take.
So what can be done to try to combat this? One simple solution would be to arrange an honest and frank meeting with the relevant partner at your firm to see if there is an intention for them to keep you on. This isn’t always possible and with a changing legal landscape it is difficult for a firm to make these assurances months in advance. Nonetheless, at the very least it will show your intentions of wanting to stay.
Another practical solution would be to make use of your legal network. Get in touch with colleagues and friends at other firms to ascertain whether there are any newly qualified openings coming up; often the wider team will be aware of a role long before it is advertised. You can also find out whether that firm’s culture or work profile would be a good fit for you. A CV with a recommendation from someone already at a firm is often better received by recruiting partners.
It is also worth considering contacting a legal recruiter to consider your options. As with all things, quality can vary massively. We are all used to those inbox messages for roles in practice areas you have no experience in and asking you to move across the country. So, beforehand, ask if anyone in your network has a recruiter that they would personally recommend – it’s your best bet for making an informed choice.
The Junior Lawyers Division are tirelessly trying to introduce a retention notice period at the end of a training contract, but until this is taken up by firms, these tips will go some way to trying to ensure you enter your life as a solicitor with more certainty and security.
Adam Hattersley is a member of the national executive committee of the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society.
This article was first published by Solicitors Journal on 8 September 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission.