Preparing to qualify as a solicitor

Amy recently completed her training contract and secured a qualified solicitor role. Here she shares her advice with you on how to have a smooth transition from trainee to practicing solicitor.

Amy recently completed her training contract and secured a qualified solicitor role. Here she shares her advice with you on how to have a smooth transition from trainee to practising solicitor.

When you’re preparing to qualify as a solicitor, there are a number of things that you’ll need to consider; some much sooner in your training contract than others. Use this checklist to ensure that you are on the right track to qualify, and secure that all important, long-awaited, and well-deserved job title of ‘Solicitor’!

Choosing an area to specialise in

Far in advance of your qualification date, you should start thinking about what seats you enjoy, along with the type of work you find most interesting; such as drafting, negotiation, or advocacy, where your favourite area sits in the current legal market, and the potential for growth in that area. Some trainees find they have two areas they are torn between, which is fine – just consider how you would explain your commitment to multiple areas in an interview.

You don’t always need to have completed a seat in the area or office that you wish to qualify into – this can often be a benefit of qualifying with the firm you trained with, because the teams will really trust your reviews from other seats, if they haven’t had the chance to work with you themselves. If you have your heart set on a location and area, speak to the partners in these areas as soon as possible and make your aspirations known.

At Shoosmiths (a national firm with 13 locations) it’s easy to spend time getting to know people in your own office, but as a national firm, it means that the decision maker for the division you want to qualify into won’t always be based in your own office so building networks cross-office is just as important (think secondments!). It’s vital to keep in touch with people you’ve met during your training contract as this will help develop an internal network, which can be incredibly helpful upon qualification. Use LinkedIn to keep in touch with people outside your firm, but in your industry too.

Drafting an NQ CV

Most trainees will have overlooked updating their CV since they applied for training contracts. An NQ CV needs to contain the same elements as a ‘normal’ CV such as education, work experience, and interests, but it should focus heavily on your achievements over the past two years. List your seats, but not necessarily in chronological order – your chosen area or most relevant experience can be listed first.

Bullet points are your best friend when drafting your CV, because you want the reader to spot all of the key points at a glance. Look back on your trainee diary and seat reviews to remind yourself of key pieces of work, and skills you’ve developed, and include a list of them for each seat.

In the same way you did on training contract applications, remember to link your skills and qualities back to the role you are applying for – making it clear what you’ll bring to the team and firm, and how you’ll add value – talk specific figures if you can. If you are applying to your own training firm, and external firms, you may have two different CVs tailored to different roles.

Internal recruitment

Most internal NQ processes begin around four months before qualification. At Shoosmiths, the Graduate Recruitment team start talking to the second year trainees in February to understand their NQ preferences.

At the same time, they speak to all of the teams in the business to learn where there is likely to be an NQ vacancy come September.   In March, all second year trainees are invited to an NQ Preparation Day which is a chance to reflect on the training experience, set goals for the future, enjoy lunch with the whole cohort, and see a list of the highly anticipated NQ vacancies.

At this stage, it’s an indication of the roles that will be available – as a trainee this really helps you to start planning your next few months – and the likelihood of whether there will be a role available that you’d like to apply for. Vacancies are approved in the new financial year budget, and are advertised to second year trainees in an email from the recruitment team in May. Internally the application process is simple, respond to the recruitment team to advise which role(s) you would like to apply to and attach your CV. You can apply to as many roles as you wish, in any department, and in any office.

Interviews are then scheduled with partners from the teams. It’s a fair and open process, which will help set your nerves at ease.

Applying externally

If there are no internal roles available, or you are unsuccessful, you will have to consider the external NQ market. To prepare for the external market, research firms that undertake your chosen area, register for job alerts with firms and think about legal recruitment agencies.

Local JLD groups normally put on NQ careers events and these can be a great opportunity to meet recruiters in person. If there is not a role for you internally, the team at Shoosmiths offer assistance in finding a role by reaching out to their networks, and providing CV and interview advice, often called ‘outplacement’.

Interview preparation

Whether you are being interviewed internally or externally for an NQ job, it is still an interview and preparation is key. Think back over your seats and ensure you can confidently explain why you want to practice in a specific area of law – for the rest of your career!

Prepare for competency based questions and use your answers to demonstrate key skills relevant to the role. Include examples of projects you’ve worked on, and impressive work you’ve completed for clients. Think about your knowledge of technical law too, and be prepared to answer questions about how you plan to raise the profile of yourself, the team, and help to bring on new clients in the future.

Prepare a few questions to ask the interviewers such as what the team will expect from you in the next 6 – 12 months, what new technology the team may be using or any new clients that have come on board since you sat with the team.

Admission documents

At Shoosmiths, the graduate recruitment team provide guidance on how to complete the formal admission documents with the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) – called the AD1. The AD1 form is the formal confirmation of the training you have received at the firm, which includes evidence of your completion of the Professional Skills Course (PSC), and the training principal signs a declaration to confirm you have met all of the requirements needed to qualify.

The firm covers the cost of admission to the roll of solicitors (around £100) and your practising certificate application (around £200 depending on when you qualify), which is part of their commitment when they take you on a trainee solicitor.

If you’ve decided not to practice as a solicitor on qualification, and take another career route, you won’t need to apply for a practising certificate at this stage, but you will still need to complete the AD1 form in order to ‘sign off’ your training contract and qualify.


The most important advice I can offer you is to be open-minded through the NQ process (it’s usually happening over the last six months of your training, but it can feel like a lifetime), so making sure you look after yourself, and don’t stress the ‘small stuff’.

Confide in your friends, family and colleagues to check you’re making the best decision for you. It’s easy to get caught up in ‘playing the game’ by trying to work out what other trainees want to qualify into, how many roles there will be, and what the chances of securing a role is against others, but a little belief in yourself at this stage will go a long way. If you want to qualify into the commercial team, and so do four other trainees, but there is only one role – you need to give yourself the chance to shine. But, a plan B or plan C, is always good to keep in the back of your mind.

Overcoming hurdles, taking the long route around, and a bit of to and fro, is likely to still get you to the place you want to be, and you’ll be surprised to hear quite how many successful solicitors took a slightly unconventional route on qualification.

Finally, reflect on the training you’ve received, delivered by experts in their area of law, think about the colleagues who are now friends, and the solicitor that you are soon to be - be proud of your accomplishments. You’ve worked hard for this, and now you’ve got your whole career ahead of you!

For some additional tips and advice please watch our #ShoosmithsLIVE video or if you’re searching for your next legal role than you’ll find Dawn’s blog useful. 


This information is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. Please contact us for specific advice on your circumstances. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024.



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