Never taken on a trainee? Some suggestions for how to grow your legal practice by taking on a trainee, without the full cost

While the overall number of traineeships being offered across the Scottish legal profession is steady (476 were registered in 2012-13), the majority are concentrated in large firms within the Central Belt and Aberdeen. As such, the Law Society of Scotland seeks to develop measures to support the sustainability of sectors located outside the Central Belt and those with a low uptake of trainees, such as legal aid and advocacy.

The Society understands that a key reason why there is a potential shortfall of trainees in some sectors and regions is because not all practice units are able to offer a standard traineeship, which is typically a full-time, two-year contract with a single organisation.

If your practice cannot commit to such a training contract, there are other options for creating a traineeship, including:

  • sharing a trainee with another organisation;
  • offering a secondment(s) within your traineeship programme;
  • creating a part-time traineeship.

These non-standard options are known as “flexible traineeships” and can be a great way to overcome any existing barriers to taking on a trainee, to grow your business and create new blood in your sector or region.

Trainee thumbs-up

This model benefits both the training provider and the trainee. Newly qualified solicitors Alasdair and Vajiha undertook flexible traineeships that were shared between criminal law practices and high street practices. The benefits for both them and their training providers were obvious.

“I have found the secondment element to my traineeship hugely beneficial,” Alasdair commented. “Most of the big commercial firms offer ‘seats’ in their traineeship programme. This is an opportunity that is not available to those trainees who are employed in a firm that specialises in one area only, such as, in my case, criminal defence law. The secondment element of the flexible traineeship provides an excellent opportunity for trainees to experience other areas of law in furtherance of a more balanced traineeship.”

Regarding her experience, Vajiha added: “Both my training organisations had already shared responsibility for a training contract for a previous trainee. They used the same arrangement for me. My training supervisors knew each other and had previously worked with one another. I would work two-and-a-half days with each firm and I would be made aware if any firm required extra assistance.”

Most flexible traineeship models are initiated by trainees or training providers via existing networks. For example, a newly qualified solicitor who undertook a flexible traineeship shared between an international blue chip financial firm (working in-house) and a well-known commercial firm noted:

“I arranged the flexible traineeship myself. I had been sounding out my employer for many months about a secondment to a private practice firm as part of a flexible traineeship… As a ‘part-qualified’ employment law practitioner, I got to know the employment law lecturer at the University of Strathclyde very well. He is also an employment law partner at a commercial firm. When I bumped into him at a subsequent training event, I asked if his firm would be interested in the reciprocal secondment. After he liaised with his senior management team and obtained a positive response, an agreement in principle was reached between the two organisations.”

Cost or benefit?

What are the economics of taking on a trainee?

Taking on a trainee may be less costly than you think and could help to grow your legal practice, while reducing future recruitment costs. The recommended rate for trainee solicitors is £16,700 in the first year and £20,000 in the second. Trainees must complete 60 hours of CPD within 24 months, 40 hours of which must be provided by a registered provider. A complete 60-hour trainee CPD (TCPD) package with a registered provider will cost approximately £1,200-£1,300. These costs may be reduced if practices choose non-registered providers to provide 20 hours of TCPD. A major benefit of a flexible traineeship is that these costs can be shared between organisations to suit each business.

For many practices, the benefits of taking a trainee outweigh the costs because trainees generate income and free up other fee earners’ time, allowing them to focus on more profitable work. Based on calculations from the Cost of Time Survey (2013), the Society estimates that on average a trainee may generate £96,000 in recoverable billable hours during the course of a traineeship.

The Author
To create a flexible traineeship, an application must be sent to the Society’s Admissions Subcommittee. The Registrar’s Department can provide support and assistance in this process by discussing what is possible and how it can work. To obtain further information, visit our website:, or contact Katie Wood on 0131 476 8162.   Sigrid Robinson is Policy Officer, Education & Training Department, Law Society of Scotland
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