Deciding which practice area to qualify into as an NQ is arguably one of the most important crossroads in any legal professional’s career…
The path you choose now will dictate the landscape of your professional life for years to come, so it’s certainly not a choice to take lightly. Taking appropriate consideration of your experiences during your training contract, your own personal preferences, and the conditions within the wider legal market are all essential for making an informed choice that will secure your future. Over the last 16 years, we have assisted countless NQs in finding the area that aligns best with them: read on for our advice on navigating your decision, as well as for market insights shared by our consultants that may impact the NQ jobs market for 2023.
Weigh up all the factors
Try to take an unbiased view of the different areas of law you worked within during your training contract. Which one did you enjoy the most, and why? Was there a practice area in which you particularly excelled, and received the best feedback? Is the area you are looking to qualify into stable and seeing growth? It’s equally important to assess your priorities; typically, some practice areas tend to be more demanding and require more out-of-hours work than others.
Try to separate the team and the firm itself from your decision, as your decision needs to be solely down to the practice area itself as opposed to the individuals you worked with. After all, this needs to be a decision that sticks; though changing practice areas later down the line is not entirely impossible, it’s far from an ideal situation. The process to change is difficult and will likely put you at somewhat of a disadvantage. For this reason, it’s crucial to ensure the choice you make and the area you opt for is one you feel has the longevity to give you fulfilment for the duration of your professional life.
Now you know what area, you need to decide whether it is viable or desirable to stay in your current firm.
It’s important to consider whether staying in your current firm is likely to be viable or desirable. Are they likely to have a job available for you in your chosen area? Do they have an abundance of qualifying trainees, without enough available jobs to go around? This is particularly important to consider given the impact of the economic climate, as some (though not necessarily all) firms may not be looking to keep on as many NQs as in previous years. Equally, consider whether the firm you have trained in is the right fit for you as an individual and whether you would be happy to continue building your career there. Do you gel with the team? Do their values align with your own? Salary may also be an important consideration in your decision too.
But, with all of this being said, the grass is not always greener. Both you and your existing firm have invested time into one another; a training contract is essentially a 2-year long interview, and being offered a position on qualification is an achievement in itself. If your firm feels like an ideal fit, you are satisfied with the work, you can see the opportunity to progress and feel embedded within the team, then remaining with them when you qualify is certainly advisable.
Ultimately, we would advise you to consider longer-term prospects over the short-term when it comes to securing an NQ position: it is better to qualify in the right area, even if it means having to move to a different firm to do so. If your current firm can’t offer you a role in your desired practice area, it may be advisable to consider looking outside it.
Finally, consider the market.
Market conditions can have a significant impact on the area you qualify into, and the firm you work for. It’s important for those professionals who are due to qualify to keep up to date with the market and vigilant to where the demand for roles and practice areas are. Our internal legal team have shed their light on the market for NQs as it stands, highlighting popular qualifying areas for both NQs and firms, as well as the factors that are increasing the competition for sought-after roles.
Market Insights from the Heat Legal division:
- Generally speaking, there seems to be a higher volume of trainees qualifying in 2023. This is likely a resulting impact of the Covid pandemic, as many training contracts were deferred. As a result, there is a lot of competition for popular qualification areas, especially as firms will tend to look internally in the first instance.
- From our experience, the practice areas that seem to be most popular with NQs this year are: Corporate, Commercial Litigation, Insolvency & Restructuring, and Clinical Negligence. As a result of the heightened popularity of these practice areas, qualifying into them and securing positions is likely to be highly competitive, as demand is high and there are fewer positions available.
- NQs should be aware that many firms will look internally for their positions in the first instance and, equally, there have been many professionals who qualified in the last 12 months and weren’t happy with the moves they made, resulting in some who are looking at around 1PQE, which increases the competition significantly also.
- On the flipside, however, there is also a strategic benefit to qualifying into a less popular area that has a shortage of lawyers, as this can allow you to operate in a niche where there will always be a demand for your service and, equally, will allow you faster and smoother progression.
- In terms of demand from firms, the areas that have most demand are Corporate, Restructuring & Insolvency, Commercial Litigation and Private Client. We would add that, for Personal Injury and Insurance Litigation, there are typically a fair few roles cropping up in this are, but there has been a lot of movement here recently, so it is likely this area may begin to settle down for a while.
- Restructuring & Insolvency is predicted to be in particularly high demand, as the impact of the post-pandemic economy has heightened the risk of businesses and firms closing down.
With all of this being said, it is difficult to predict what the NQ jobs market will look like with complete clarity this early on in the year. So, the best thing you can do is keep yourself informed and consider your options carefully to put yourself in the best position possible. And, if you need further support or advice, or if things don’t go your way when you qualify, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our experts for guidance.