The number of traineeships offered by solicitors fell by more than a quarter in the last practice year, as the effect of the coronavirus pandemic took its toll, the latest figures show.

Traineeship statistics from the Law Society of Scotland reveal that the number of training contracts started in 2019/20 was 434, down 27% on the 591 traineeships begun in 2018/19. However, the Law Society has seen a higher than usual number of traineeships beginning in early 2021, suggesting some traineeships may have been deferred, rather than lost.

One area not to see a contraction was in-house traineeships, with trainee numbers holding steady year-on-year at 73. This means in-house accounted for a higher proportion of traineeships than it has done in recent years, making up 17% of traineeships in 2019/20 compared to 12% in 2018/19.

Admissions fell year-on-year, dropping 14% from 545 in 2018/19 to 467 in 2019/20, reflecting the impact that the furlough scheme had on trainees. Up to 40% of trainees were furloughed at any one point during 2020 and, while on furlough, were unable to complete the admission process.

Liz Campbell, the Law Society’s Executive Director of Education, Training and Qualifications, said: “While traineeship numbers and admissions have dropped significantly, we must put these figures in the context of an extraordinary year that saw the pandemic impact every aspect of our lives and profession.

“It is encouraging that we are already seeing traineeship numbers pick up at the beginning of the year, as it is not a time that we typically see many training contracts begin. This suggests some traineeships from last year may not have been lost, but simply deferred. Similarly, our admissions team is much busier than usual for this time of year and we expect to see a higher number of admissions than normal in the current practice year, as the profession plays catch up.

“It is also positive that the Scottish Government has recently committed to funding 50% of 40 legal aid traineeships. We are currently working with the government to implement the fund, which should be operational in the coming months."

She continued: “The overall outlook for traineeships does remain mixed, however, with the pandemic continuing to affect the profession and wider economy.

"With the high number of Diploma students accepted by universities this year and the drop in traineeships available, we expect that the percentage of Diploma graduates securing a traineeship in the coming year will drop from the average levels that we have seen over last five years of around 85%. We would urge all final-year LLB students to consider the current environment when deciding their next steps, be it the Diploma or alternative careers.”

For students and graduates looking for more information and advice, the Law Society is running a virtual Diploma fair and alternative careers event on Wednesday, 24 February. Find out more and register here.

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Trainee statistics

Get a feel for the traineeship market by reading our annual statistics on trainee employers, gender split and admissions.