We know that some larger firms and in-house organisations tend to recruit their trainees a significant time in advance (often up to two years). We also know that many smaller firms, and smaller in-house organisations, tend to recruit ad hoc or just in time.
We do not take a view on when employers recruit their trainees. This is a matter for the organisation to decide dependent on their business needs.
Before considering anything else regarding trainee recruitment and selection, training organisations considering a trainee vacancy should undertake a job analysis. Whilst – to the busy practitioner – this may sound like needless bureaucracy it is, in fact, a useful tool. A job analysis needn’t be too extensive but it should help you answer some big questions:
- Do I really need to hire someone?
- If so, need that person be a trainee solicitor?
- What sort of work will they be doing?
- What sort of person do I need?
Job analysis is crucial in recruitment and selection but also important after the candidate has become an employee. Job analysis plays a part in: work design, job evaluation, and performance management.
There are three elements to job analysis:
(ii) Job descriptions
(iii) Person specifications
The first stage is to determine whether the post you want to recruit for is a genuine vacancy – you should be able to define clearly the nature and purpose of the job and whether you need it filled.
A trainee solicitor position is more than just a job – it is a two-year obligation and requires significant input by the training organisation (e.g. quarterly reviews, support to undertake Trainee CPD, and – most importantly – the achievement of the PEAT 2 Outcomes).
The research stage should challenge some of the assumptions you may have about the job, about the way the job should be done or about the kind of person who should do it.
Once you are clear there is a genuine need for a trainee solicitor role, in order to acquire the information about the job and what you need from a person suited to the job (knowledge, skills, attitudes and values) you should consider the role and your organisation. This can be done by answering the following questions:
- What is the trainee solicitor going to do?
- How do I expect the role performed?
- What skills are required? At what level do I need those skills performed?
- How will the role be organised (e.g. working week etc)?
(ii) Job Description
This does what it says on the tin: describes the job. Organisations may have their own standardised formats for job descriptions but they generally include the following sections:
- Identification data: Job title, department (if appropriate), pay, location
- Organisation data: To whom will the employee be responsible? What will they be responsible for?
- Job summary: a brief of why the job exists
- Job content: an explanation of the principal duties with brief summarised descriptions
- Sundries: any unusual arrangements (e.g. a need to be mobile, odd working patterns etc)
Getting this stage right is important because it helps make selection (and ongoing performance management) far easier for the organisation whilst also giving those who wish to apply for the role a good idea of what they are actually applying for.
Example of a job description for a trainee solicitor.
Sheffield & Associates
Job title: Trainee solicitor
Department: Dispute Resolution
Main purpose of job:
To provide legal support to solicitors at the organisation in the Dispute Resolution Department. The trainee solicitor will develop in line with the PEAT 2 Outcomes and complete the required TCPD.
1. Participation in interviews at client meetings
2. Performing legal research
3. Participation with, and working on, client files
4. Draft documents
5. General legal support for solicitors
6. Prepare and present professional work tailored to a client’s needs
7. Participate in team meetings and attend networking events/get involved in business development
8. Keep up to date with law and practice
9. Complete the required amount of TCPD
10. Any other duties within the scope and spirit of the post required, and any other duties which the trainee solicitor requires to undertake to achieve of the PEAT 2 Outcomes
Expansion on duties:
This job description provides an outline only and may be amended to take account of changes at the organisation. Objectives and expanded duties will be discussed at the PEAT 2 Quarterly Performance Reviews. Given the nature of the work of the Department, the successful candidate will be expected to travel around Scotland and, from time to time, work antisocial hours.
This basically sets out ‘what would the ideal person for the job be able to do’. What is covered in a person specification will differ from organisation to organisation but usually covers the following areas:
- Personal qualities (usually linked to organisational competencies or behaviours)
- Or, on occasion, academic attributes, business attributes, and personal attributes
Many organisations state minimum requirements (usually described as ‘’Essential criteria’’) and other requirements which would be useful for a candidate to have (‘’Desirable criteria). This is very useful for both the training organisation and the prospective employees. If a candidate does not meet an essential criterion they shouldn’t really be applying for the role (and the organisation can discount the application).
A successful candidate is expected to possess all the essential criteria and to be capable of, or have the potential to be trained to, an acceptable standard in the desirable criteria. Requirements must be: realistic, justifiable and non-discriminatory.
For instance, a stipulation that says a candidate for a trainee solicitor role needs to have an LLB or have completed the Pre-PEAT Training contract and, by the commencement of the training contract, the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice is realistic and justifiable. A stipulation that says a trainee solicitor needs to have attended a certain school or university is not realistic nor is it justifiable.
Top tip: Job descriptions and person specifications should be carefully drafted to ensure that only requirements that are relevant to the role are included.
Person specification example - bad
Gage Whitney Pace LLP - Trainee solicitor. Person specification.
- A minimum of a 2:1 LLB from a reputable university
- 5 Highers (A or B)
- Previous work experience at our organisation
- Leadership position at a university society
- Links to local area
- A strong desire to learn
- Enthusiastic and ambitious
- The ability to complete assigned tasks effectively and promptly.
- A cheerful personality.
- A smart and tidy appearance.
- Excellent attention to detail.
- IT competent
Gage Whitney Pace LLP’s person specification isn’t great. It excludes many potentially great candidates. The lack of delineation between Essential criteria and Desirable criteria means that it looks that candidates must meet every single one of the criteria above.
University: The requirement to have a 2:1 LLB means that those who have undertaken the PrePEAT Training Contract cannot apply nor could someone who has done a non-law undergraduate degree. The reference to a ‘reputable university’ likely links to pre-conceived ideas about certain universities.
School: Many universities now look at the ‘’whole candidate’’ rather than the grades. Relying on high-level school grades will likely limit applications from a large number of excellent candidates and undermine fair access. This is explained below.
Extra-curricular activities: Many students require to work during their degree so requiring a leadership position in a university society is very specific. It is possible to broaden this out to the benefit of all.
Work experience: It seems extremely specific to insist that applicants must have undertaken previous work experience at the firm.
Attributes: The attributes are not particularly specific. It isn’t clear, for instance, what ‘IT competent’ means. Many of the other attributes may be necessary for the firm to insist upon but greater detail would be useful to both the firm and the applicant.
Person specification example - better
Sheffield & Associates – Trainee Solicitor (Dispute resolution team)
- Prior to the commencement of the traineeship
- 2:1 degree or successful completion of Pre-PEAT Training Contract.
- Position of responsibility held at university, work or elsewhere
- Work experience at a professional services firm
- Full UK driving licence
- Demonstrable evidence of creative thinking
- Excellent written work using plain English
- Proven ability to speak in public
- Team player
- Commitment and dedication
- Good social and people skills to assist with business development
- Ability to analyse, interpret research and convert learning into clear advice
- Intellectual curiosity
- Academic prizes
- Strong school grades
- Demonstrates commercial awareness
- Good IT skills (specifically Microsoft Office)
- Ability to understand situations from client perspective
- Understanding of the business environment
- Awareness of law firm economics
- Demonstrable interest in dispute resolution
Sheffield & Associates’ person specification is considerably better.
Their educational criteria are more refined – asking for a 2:1 (from any discipline) and also references the Pre-PEAT Training Contract. At school, level the only reference to school grades is under ‘desirable’ rather than ‘essential’ criteria.
Many – though not all – of the attributes required have considerable detail (‘Excellent written work using plain English’, ‘Proven ability to speak in public’ and detailing IT needs).
When looking for work experience, the firm notes professional services experience is desirable and has drafted the position of responsibility more widely.
The use of essential and desirable criteria will help candidates with their application and the firm with their recruitment and selection too. The desirable criteria allows for very firm specific qualities too (e.g. ‘demonstrable interest in dispute resolution’. This could be evidenced in a number of ways).