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Training Contracts for Internationals

by Charles Nwabueze
Reading Time: 6 minutes

In one of our previous articles titled ‘Is Getting a Training Contract Difficult?’ towards the end of the post we explored the idea that an aspiring solicitor may have acquired the best grades at his/her university, have work experiences galore, have bespoke applications to the right number of firms, may have applied to the right firms and the applicant may have started applying at a good time, and yet might not get a training contract because of their status as an international student. As we said in that post and reiterate here, the heartbreaking truth is that in the legal world of the UK, being an international student makes it extremely difficult to get a training contract (TC). A lot of the firms find it burdensome to sponsor an international applicant’s visa. To level the playing field we have created UK’s largest database (400+) of verified past successful Vacation Scheme and Training Contract applications, shared by those who secured places in the most competitive law firms. If curious, you can click here to view what it takes to land your dream job – oh and if you register on Congrapps, you can see some of the for free!

For our discussion, this post will assume that to a certain extent there are only two types of international students: students who have a university degree in England and Wales (UK), regardless of whether it’s law or non-law related and overseas students who have a non-UK degree. This post is geared toward both categories. This is because the route to practising as a solicitor for both types of international students is similar with only a little difference. From September 2021, overseas students – including students without a UK law degree and lawyers from abroad – who wish to qualify in England and Wales can sit the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). The SQE allows you to qualify as a solicitor by taking the same exam as domestic candidates. The SQE requirements for an international student are that you need to hold a degree in any subject or an equivalent qualification (such as an apprenticeship) or work experience; complete two stages of assessment (SQE1 and SQE2); complete two years of qualifying work experience (QWE); and satisfy the Solicitor Regulation Authority’s (SRA) character and suitability requirements

For those international students who received their degree in the UK, the first requirement will not be an issue. For those with a degree or equivalent qualification from outside the UK, they’ll only be able to take the SQE if their qualification is shown to be equivalent to either a UK degree or equivalent UK qualification through a UK National Information Centre (ENIC) statement of comparability, or an accredited qualification at level 6 (or above) of the European Qualifications Framework. In certain circumstances even if you do not have a degree, you can take the SQE if you can show work experience equivalent to a UK degree. It must be said that this new route is designed to offer more flexibility to international students, as it’s possible to meet most of the requirements even if you’re not based in the UK. A case in point is that international students can do their QWE in any country, as long as it’s signed off by a solicitor qualified in England and Wales. Thus overseas candidates who already have work experience that meets the QWE requirements will not necessarily need to do a training contract. However, in the present times, law firms have decided to use training contracts as a valid form of QWE which brings us to the crux of this post  

Only Apply to Firms that Will Sponsor Your Visa 

If you are an international student you’ll need permission to work in the UK in the form of a visa, and as intimated earlier, unfortunately not all law firms sponsor visas for international students applying to their training programme. Thus you’ll do yourself a great favour if you research and apply only to firms that offer training contracts and sponsor visas for their international applicants. Yes, this means that the pool of firms you can apply to will reduce drastically. To show what you are up against, in 2018/2019, there were over 480,000 international students in the UK. Considering that in the UK you do not need a law degree to get a TC, you’re probably in competition for a training contract with most of your fellow international students. To further buttress the difficulty of this situation in the same 2018/2019 cycle there were only about 6,344 training contracts available; in a given year you can expect about 30,000 students to apply for those contracts. This means that the chances for a student to get a training contract whether he/she is a domestic student is already small. Now when you throw in our sound advice that as an international student you have to research and apply only to law firms that offer visa sponsorship to you, your chances of getting a training contract will shrink further. Is your chance even up to 6%? No please do not throw in the towel as it’s not all doom and gloom as the following top firms offer training contracts: Burges Salmon, Freshfields, Linklaters, Slaughter & May, Clifford Chance, Allen & Overy, Travers Smith, Dentons, Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper, Hogan Lovells, Ashurst, Norton Rose, Holman Fenwick Williams, Watson Farley Williams, Stephenson Harwood, Fieldfisher, Farrer & Co, DWF and Ashfords. If you are not entirely sure that the firm you intend to apply to offers visa sponsorship, email their graduate recruitment department to clarify their position on the matter.

Being an International is not a Negative 

While this post has been quick to point to the truth that being an international applicant in the training contract application cycle can be daunting, it will be poor of us if we do not tell you that you can use your international status as a strength. The key to viewing your status as a strength is to highlight how your internationalness makes you different from the domestic applicants and how this will make you an asset to the firm. In the marketing world, there’s a phrase known as a unique selling proposition or unique selling point (USP). A USP is the marketing statement used to sell a product or service to prospective customers, and unless your target market understands your USP, they may never know why your product is the one they should buy. In application of this to the training contracts programme as an international student when applying for training contracts among other things you should use your international status as your USP. The customers in this scenario are the law firms you are applying to, and you’ll need to make them understand the unique benefits you’ll bring to their firm if employed. For example, a global perspective, language skills, experience living and travelling abroad and the ability to adapt to different situations are qualities associated with international students. 

Send Only Excellent Applications 

Without being an international applicant, the competition for a space on a training contract programme is already daunting – not to talk more of when you’re an international student. When you’ve drawn up a list of firms that sponsor visas, the next logical step is to write excellent applications that will make it difficult for the recruiters to ignore. You must favour quality over quantity. It probably takes at least a day’s worth of work to produce an excellent TC application that will get the attention of the recruiter. To make great applications, we advise you not to make bulk applications. If you’re making bulk applications it most likely means your applications will not be unique, and every law firm is special and likes to see their uniqueness alluded to in the applications that come to them (Yes, we know law firms can be vain). The rule of thumb is if in writing your TC application, you can easily replace the firm you are writing to with another firm, then getting a TC at that firm will most likely fail. For every firm you are about to apply to, you should have done the necessary research that will help you uncover their practice areas, what makes them unique, their reputation, and so forth. Luckily for you, we have developed profiles for a slew of law firms; these profiles can help you land a TC. In delivering an excellent application you should communicate clearly why you want to become qualified in England and Wales. You improve your chances if you’re able to show an understanding of the benefits of obtaining a training contract in the UK and how the firm you are applying to fits into the UK market. 

Final Thoughts

Despite the challenges we have explored that you might face because of your status, you should believe that it is possible to secure a training contract and work towards that goal. Is it more difficult to gain a training contract as an international student? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Your persistence and display of great quality in your applications will make sure that your chances are improved. Also bear in mind that many of the people who have secured a training contract in the past were not successful on their first try, as such lose no hope and keep trying. 


Charles is a writer, practising lawyer and personal trainer who loves learning and developing himself. He graduated from Middlesex University, London with eight first-class grades in the second and third years of his law degree, and received a postgraduate offer from Cambridge University. He loves strength training, boxing and encouraging people to succeed in their pursuits (legal ones)


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