It is no secret that securing a vacation scheme or training contract is difficult for everyone. But for candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds, the process can be even harder. The legal profession has historically underrepresented women, individuals from low socioeconomic backgrounds, people of colour and the disabled. This is made even worse for international students from less advantaged backgrounds who are also unfamiliar with the application process.
Candidates who fall into one or more of the mentioned categories can find applications and interviews daunting and feel like the legal profession is unwelcoming. Although law is evolving, the road to becoming a trainee at a top commercial law firm remains challenging for minority candidates. Luckily there are now several ‘diversity access schemes’ run by organisations and law firms which help candidates from disadvantaged backgrounds secure a training contract and break into a career as a legal solicitor.
This blog will explain:
- what a diversity access scheme is;
- who are the main organisations that offer these schemes; and
- how to make the most of the opportunities offered by these organisations.
You will see that, no matter your background, there is an organisation out there which can support you and ensure that you get a fair chance to secure a vacation scheme and training contract.
(Please note that this article will not cover mitigating circumstances, as that is covered in more detail here.)
What Are Diversity Access Schemes for Training Contracts?
A ‘diversity access scheme’ is an initiative designed to improve individuals’ access to the legal profession. The kinds of individuals who are eligible will vary from scheme to scheme. For example, the ‘Pathways to Law’ programme offered by The Sutton Trust states that only individuals who ‘attend, and have always attended, a state-funded, non fee-paying school/college’ are eligible.
Some organisations might have multiple diversity access schemes, and each program will offer different opportunities. For example, amongst other things, the ‘Articles’ scheme offered by Rare Recruitment provides one-on-one coaching sessions, whilst SEO London’s ‘Corporate Law Programme’ offers networking events. As you are not limited to one organisation or one scheme we would recommend applying to as many as possible as they will each help you in different ways!
For many of the schemes out there, you will be expected to go through a competitive application process to be accepted. Although this may seem intimidating (and you’re probably fed up of applications…), you should not be intimidated! These organisations have been set up with the specific aim of helping candidates. The main thing that they want to see is a real commitment to the career and to self-development!
Now that you know what a diversity access scheme is in the abstract, the rest of this article will focus on the diversity access schemes of three of the most prominent organisations in the legal sphere: Rare Recruitment, SEO London, and Aspiring Solicitors.
Rare Recruitment is a rapidly growing and complex organisation which offer programmes for candidates interested in law, consulting or finance. In law, Rare works with all of the ‘Magic Circle’ firms as well as several ‘Silver Circle’ firms. At the time of writing, Rare offers a suite of diversity access schemes for candidates pursuing a career in commercial law. For those in their first year (of a three-year course) at university, Rare offers:
- the Rare Foundations programme; and
- the Rare Articles programme.
For those who are still at school, Rare also offers:
- the Ladder to Law programme (in association with Hogan Lovells); and
- the Lead in to Law programme (in association with Slaughter and May).
And for those who are already lawyers, Rare offers:
Previously, Rare used to admit general applications to become a ‘Rare candidate’. As of writing, Rare does not appear to be accepting these applications – but we would suggest you keep an eye on their website’s apply page in case this changes.
How to Maximise Rare’s Opportunities for Applications
If you become a ‘Rare candidate’, you should ensure that you take full advantage of the general help that the organisation offers. Rare has an office in London where, on request, you can ask to have some practice interviews. These mock interviews can be immensely valuable when it comes to practicing your case study/presentation skills and answers to competency-based questions for real law firm assessment days.
If you have any interviews lined up at any of Rare’s sponsor firms, you should also make sure to ask Rare for any information they have on your upcoming law firm assessment centre. Rare often asks their candidates for information regarding what they experienced at interview. This is recorded and used by Rare to help other candidates prepare for their assessment centres. This information can give you a large advantage as you will have a better idea of what questions/situations to expect and subsequently how to prepare.
Finally, we would recommend keeping in touch with Rare after you secure your training contract. Although Rare’s programmes are mostly focused on getting you vacation schemes and training contracts at their sponsor law firms, Rare also provides support for Rare candidates who are future trainee solicitors. This involves support with the LPC/SQE qualification and two-year training contract plus networking events.
If you are not a ‘Rare candidate’ in the general sense but manage to secure a spot on one of their specialised programmes (as mentioned above), you are in good hands! Rare does not accept many candidates onto their more specialised diversity access schemes and so you will work more closely with the organisation. It is likely that Rare will be reaching out to you to ensure you make the most of whatever scheme you are a part of. You should ensure that you take every opportunity given to you, whether that be an open day, one-on-one mentoring, or skills presentations. We promise that all of it will be useful at some point in your career!
SEO London is similar to Rare in that it offers multiple diversity access programmes. If you are at university, you may be eligible for either:
- SEO London’s Corporate Law programme; or
- The City Solicitors Horizons programme (SEO London is the delivery partner).
The Corporate Law programme is open to individuals at university who are from BAME or socially mobile backgrounds. This programme accepts many candidates per year and provides general help with the application process.
The City Solicitors Horizons programme is different. 50 candidates who are in their first year at university are selected for the programme annually. To be eligible for the programme, you must:
- have attended non-fee paying schools; and
- be the first to go to university in your immediate family; or
- be a care leaver; or
- have received free school meals in the U.K., or received any other financial assistance; or
- be a parent or carer; or
- be from a socially mobile background.
Although this may seem a lot you only need to meet the first criterion and one of the others!
How to Maximise SEO London’s Opportunities
The Corporate Law programme promises:
- events and networking;
- application and interview guidance; and
- training and insights.
The programme also offers you a limited number of application reviews. Candidates can reach out to a contact at SEO London and send their application in for review. These reviews are often very useful but you should make sure to use them sparingly. You only get a set number so make sure really polish your application before you send it in as you will not be making the most of this opportunity by sending in an application multiple times. Unfortunately they are also not going to be as detailed or thorough as our NCL application review service, but they will still help you.
As part of the programme, SEO London will also invite you to several presentations where you will get to meet particular law firms and learn more about them. The organisation will also coordinate internal training presentations where you will get access to a host of information about certain law firms which will aid you when writing your training contract applications and going for interviews. A lot of the information supplied to candidates during these sessions is hard to find online – you can think of these training presentations as getting the inside scoop on a law firm similar to if you had attended an open day with them. Although these presentations are useful you should remember that you need to continue researching the law firm afterwards – they are really helpful but they are not miracle workers!
You may also get the opportunity to book in some mock interviews with SEO London. These can come in different forms, but it is likely that they will be via telephone. To make the most of these sessions, you should try to book them once you have done some preparation and practice on your own. And make sure you leave enough time between your mock interview and your actual assessment centre to action any feedback you get!
The City Solicitors Horizons programme offers:
- a legal professional mentor which includes one-to-one mentoring;
- one week of work experience at one of the organisation’s 20+ sponsor law firms;
- weekly two-hour pre-interview and commercial awareness training;
- weekly negotiation training;
- three vacation scheme and training contract application workshops per cycle;
- application reviews and one-to-one mock interviews; and
- between one and three sponsorship firm events per week.
You should also remember that this programme lasts for three years so there is a huge amount of benefit to be obtained by getting on the programme in your first year! Just remember that this is a very competitive programme with only 50 applicants being accepted each year. On the City Solicitors Horizons website they indicate that you do not need to have legal experience and you do not have to be studying a law degree. But crucially they are looking for ‘motivation to pursue a legal career’. To succeed on getting in, have a look at some of our other blog articles, paying special attention to those that help you answer questions concerning motivation for a career in law.
If you get accepted into the City Solicitors Horizons programme you should ensure that you turn up for all of the sessions and workshops that are offered. Although it may seem like a lot, we promise that these opportunities are very rare and will turn you into a top candidate. You will get as much from this programme as you put in so throw yourself in and make the most of all the services offered to you!
Aspiring Solicitors differs from Rare Recruitment and SEO London in that it is solely focused on commercial law. Whilst Rare Recruitment and SEO London also have finance/banking and consultancy streams, Aspiring Solicitors is only for those who wish to pursue a career as a commercial solicitor.
To take advantage of the opportunities that the organisation offers, it is highly recommended that you apply to be a member (as most opportunities require membership). The kinds of opportunities that Aspiring Solicitors offers include:
- the Virtual Diversity Law Fair Series;
- AS Aspire;
- AS Access Programme;
- virtual coaching;
- mentoring schemes; and
You will note that the deadline to apply for some of the opportunities has passed. Do not worry! You should register to become a member and then keep your eyes peeled for when new opportunities become available (many of the same schemes will begin to take applications in a few months).
How to Maximise Aspiring Solicitors’ Opportunities
The first step is to become a member. This will ensure that you have access to all Aspiring Solicitors events and you will be signed up to their mailing list. The mailing list makes organising things easier as you will be notified when certain opportunities start accepting applications.
After you have become a member, you should look to capitalise on any opportunities that are immediately available to you. Your first port of call should be to look at the virtual coaching that the organisation offers. As an Aspiring Solicitors member, you will have the opportunity to reach out to legal professionals at a variety of top law firms and ask for help. The help you receive will naturally vary from person to person but you should expect to receive at the very least some insight into what it is like to work at a particular firm or in a specific department.
Alternatively or in addition to the virtual coaching, you should also apply to any schemes or competitions that are accepting applications. Although you may not want to participate in a competition, Aspiring Solicitors’ commercial awareness competition gives you the chance to develop your commercial and legal knowledge and potentially win work experience at a major law firm – an uncommon and exciting opportunity.
If you are accepted onto one of Aspiring Solicitors’ more bespoke schemes, you should ensure that you engage in all the opportunities offered. Although you may feel overwhelmed by the number of coaching or firm presentation sessions on offer, try to attend as many as you can. Even if you are unsuccessful in one cycle your knowledge will carry over to the next cycle and be just as useful – so do not feel like these sessions go to waste!
Over the course of this article, we have looked at what a diversity access scheme is and who some of the main providers are. We have gone into detail about what Rare Recruitment, SEO London, and Aspiring Solicitors offer and how to take advantage of some of their programmes.
- A diversity access scheme is a programme designed to widen access to the legal profession. They are typically aimed at helping people of colour, socially mobile candidates, and individuals with disabilities.
- Rare Recruitment has some of the best bespoke diversity access schemes on the market but spaces on these programmes is highly limited. Applications to become a Rare candidate are currently not open; keep checking their website to see when this changes.
- SEO London offers two main schemes: the Corporate Law programme, and the City Solicitors Horizons programme. The Corporate Law programme will be the easier to get into out of the two (albeit still highly competitive). The City Solicitors Horizons programme is arguably the best diversity access scheme out there and offers some of the best opportunities to candidates.
- Aspiring Solicitors is the only organisation out of the three focuses solely on commercial law. It has a range of different schemes and opportunities but many of them are time-sensitive. You should sign up to their mailing list or put reminders in your calendar to ensure you do not miss out.
- You can become a member of all three organisations (and more). We recommend being a part of as many of these organisations as you can – the more opportunities you get, the faster your journey to a training contract will be.
We hope you found this article useful – if you did, please share it with other candidates who might find it helpful!
You can learn more about how we can help you secure a training contract here.
- Our Application Database has >95 examples of successful applications for >70 different law firms for £14.99 each. Each application includes expert line-by-line commentary by our team of qualified solicitors from US, Magic Circle and Silver Circle firms to help you craft your own perfect application and secure a training contract.
- Our Practice Case Study will help you turn your assessment centre into a training contract offer. This realistic mock case study takes 45 minutes to complete. It includes >15 pages of expert feedback which will teach you vital commercial content that you need to know and help you to assess how strong your practice performance was. It costs just £19.99.