Legal Recruitment from Ten-Percent Legal

Monday, March 23, 2009

Law Firms v Law Centres - training contract choices

Law centres v. Law Firms

Is there any difference between doing a training contract at a law centre or working for a part of your career at a law centre, than working in a law firm?

This question obviously relates to anyone about to progress or currently in a high street legal career as opposed to a city firm or commercial practice. Is there any difference between work you would do at a law centre or the training there or a local or small high street practice?

In terms of a career move, you will probably find that if you work in a law centre, you will get greater exposure and depth to a range of legal issues than you would working in a high street practice. It is also possible that the work you would do would be slightly more interesting than the work in a high street practice as law centres are more likely to pick up more interesting cases. However, the types of law you would deal with in a law centre are dramatically different to those you would expect to be covering on a daily basis in a law firm. Firstly, law centres tend to specialise in social welfare work, namely housing, welfare benefits, debts, employment and some family law.

High street practices on the other hand tend to avoid social welfare law as much as they can and focus more on the legal aid fields of crime, family and mental health.

The other factor to take into consideration is that the high street firms will also do non-legal aid fields so you would expect part of your training contract to include some form of conveyancing, wills and probate, commercial property, company commercial or similar. This will not happen with a law centre training contract or with law centre experience.

The other factor to bear in mind is that although both entities are dependent on generating income to keep going, the pressure in a high street firm to bill and bill well is much higher than the pressure in a law centre where there is still an environment that you are there predominantly to help the clients who are coming to see you, whereas in the high street, that is just not possible as they are very dependent on you billing a certain number of hours each day and if that helps the people you are seeing, great, but if not you are still justifying your existence.

The final point is the money. Law centres do on the whole pay better salaries to more junior members of staff than high street law firms. High street law firms sometimes think they pay well but in actual fact, don’t put it into context and forget that a salary of £16,000 is very unlikely to buy you any sort of mortgage or lifestyle that you could comfortably live off and then are surprised when somebody hands in their notice after six months. Law centres are more linked to local authority levels (although more senior salaries tend to be quite restrictive) and so have a more reasonable expectation of what you will need to live on and how long you will stop in a post if you are paid that sort of money.

In summary, in terms of career progression, you may be better off focusing on high street training contracts as opposed to law centre contracts as the law centre contract is likely to expose you to a much narrower area of law, and will restrict your movement in future years and also your salary level should you decide to move into private practice.

Jonathan Fagan is Managing Director of Ten Percent Legal Recruitment and can be contacted at cv@ten-percent.co.uk for any careers advice or recruitment needs.

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