Expert guidance for legal careers

A Guide for Newly-Qualified Solicitors in 2019

Are you an NQ solicitor or approaching qualification? If so, then this is an unmissable guide – shedding light on topics including the current legal market, qualifying and practicing offshore, Brexit, data protection, the recruitment process and more.

Read on for advice, tips and things you should consider to set yourself on the right path for your long term legal career.

Background and Brexit

On reflection 2018 was yet another year where the candidate was in the box seat. The 2018 cohort had a wide range of options alongside very high retention rates. Some law firms successfully retained 100% of their 2016 intake of trainees. If year on year trends follow then we should have between 6,000 and 7,000 more NQ solicitors admitted to the roll in 2019. We now have a record number of UK qualified solicitors at 146,000 and that figure is expected to reach almost 150,000 in 2019.

2019 is the year of Brexit. No one can be certain of its impact on the legal profession. Keith Blakemore, Senior economist for the Law Society Research Unit*, however, has suggested these main features in his most recent forecasts:

  • “UK legal services look to have been relatively buoyant through 2017-18, due to a combination of Brexit-related work, steady demand from UK businesses and an increase in work from non-UK clients taking advantage of the depreciation of the pound.
  • However, Brexit is likely to have a significant negative effect on the legal sector in the medium and longer term. This is largely due to the knock-on impact of Brexit on the wider economy as demand for legal services is mainly a derived demand.
  •  Our econometric model predicts 2.2% average annual growth from 2019-2025 with a soft Brexit. This drops to just 1.5% with ‘harder’ Brexit such as a Canadatype free trade agreement”.
Wide range of options alongside very high retention rates.

Translating this forecast into recruitment predictions for 2019 is complicated but we are expecting an increase in opportunity within areas such as Regulatory, Compliance, Data Protection, State aid and commercial contracts and agreements. 2018 has been

very consistent for Corporate, Real Estate, and Commercial Litigation. Good candidates haven’t struggled to secure the role they want in the City, regionally or Internationally.

At the time of writing, the 2019 market has yet to start but certainly clients are planning ahead and many are already interested in meeting with March / April NQs. We expect firms will want to see candidates early in the year again opening the possibility of transferring.

training contracts. The consistency in predicted work levels should allow law firms to get their recruitment strategy in place, however we would expect these plans to be tweaked should Brexit have a sudden impact.

Law firms continue to structure their internal recruitment processes slightly earlier than in previous years. Some firms are better than others at running these processes but with some firms retaining 100% of trainees, interviews are taking place internally as early as March and April.

This in itself presents problems as it coincides with the time you should be starting your final seat. If your 4th seat is your chosen legal area this can present some issues at both internal and external interviews due to a lack of technical, sector knowledge, and a lack of training in the subject. At this time interview tips and technique are important to secure a position (check out our Resources on interview techniques).

2019 is the year for Brexit.

“Look for ways to be innovative and stand out from the crowd”

Qualifying today – making the right choice

  • Key Global and regional legal hub
  • High-value cross border work
  • Mix of local and internationally qualified Lawyers
  • Growing offshore sector focused on BVI/ Cayman law


The international law firm market is long established in Hong Kong, with many firms having been there for decades. Its position as both a major international financial hub in its own right and as a gateway to the huge Chinese market make it a must have location for any firm with global aspirations.

The legal directories are dominated by the big Anglo-Saxon firms. Most are localised and practice Hong Kong law, fielding sizeable teams advising across multiple practice areas. These firms are typically instructed on the highest-value matters so you can expect to be doing work that is every bit as challenging (and sometimes more so) as that in a top firm in London, New York or Sydney.

Recent developments in the market have seen the rapid growth of offshore law firms in Hong Kong, with teams focused on advising Chinese clients on the BVI/Cayman law elements of major cross-border matters, and the growing influence of the ‘Red Circle’ of leading PRC headquartered firms.

Ex-pat lawyers moving into the onshore market will likely practice as Registered Foreign Lawyers until they gain admission in Hong Kong, meaning that there will be limitations on what you personally can sign off. In practice this is rarely a draw back for new entrants to the market as the requalification exams can usually be completed within the first year or two. Offshore lawyers will practice as Cayman or BVI qualified attorneys.


  • Internationally, demand for NQ solicitors is highest in the Channel Islands offices of the global offshore law firms. A buoyant market combined with a relatively low level of internal trainees means there are plenty of
    opportunities for Corporate, Banking, Funds and Commercial Litigation NQ solicitors. This has led to firms beginning their hiring process earlier, with some of the larger ones expected to start interviews as early as February for September 2019 qualifiers.

    Expectations are high so the firms do lookfor strong training in a good commercial law firm but opportunities here are not limited to those with big-City credentials. Trainees at top national or regional firms are often successful in securing roles which offer a clear route to high salaries and international work without the drawbacks of life in the City.

    Elsewhere, a limited number of NQ roles come up with international firms in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. They do tend to be heavily sought after so typically, training with a City or International law firm will be expected, but for high-demand practice areas with less City bias such as TMT/IP or construction there may be room for compromise.

    Vacancies in these locations are more adhoc and less predictable so it pays to register your interest early. They will typically come to the market later however, perhaps May/June for September qualifiers, since many firms will have to consider their own trainees before looking externally.

    For more information on international opportunities for junior lawyers, ask us for a copy of our Guide to Building an International Legal Career or download a copy in the Resources section of our website

Very much enjoying the firm…and the work is of great quality, so very happy here. - Corporate NQ, Jersey (Ex-City Trainee)

Qualifying today – Timeline and choo sing a recruiter

January / February 2019
You will by now have engaged with recruiters through LinkedIn, social media, referrals from friends. Check their profile and see if their skills and experiences match the requirements for your career. Check your chosen recruiter’s recommendations on LinkedIn and seek good personal recommendations from friends and fellow solicitors who have been through the NQ process.

It is okay to speak with previous year trainees to find out who they would recommend and choose a recruiter who has proven experience in advising NQs in your chosen area/location and sector.

It is very important to control your recruitment process. Limit the amount of places you send your CV and maintain a firm control on who has access to your CV.

Try to start discussions with your current firm about your final seat. Investigate if you can make that seat work for you and your chosen practice area on qualification. As mentioned earlier if you are really focused on a certain area of law try to create a situation where you can practice a double seat.

At this time work with your recruiter to produce a strong CV that is tailored to the positions that you are targeting. Consider including a profile that highlights your motivations and career ambitions. Also consider who you will use as referees and make sure that your academic certificates are accessible in case they are needed. Also ramp up your professional social media activity and raise your profile both online and within your local community.

March / April / May
At this point start to investigate internal applications. Opportunities should start to be opened and discussed and your partner and principles should be in a position to identify 2019 vacancies. At this stage it is good to start making applications and attend interviews. Get some detailed interview coaching and support from your recruitment consultant. Try to think of ways to get marginal gains on other candidates to secure the position you want.


If you have not secured a position in your chosen location /  discipline continue to keep a watching eye on your local market. This is also the time to widen the search into different geographical areas or a second choice discipline.


If you are still available in august widen your search with recruiters to ensure you are visible for when those final September positions are released. Open yourself to Opportunities on LinkedIn.


Start your new position.

for a confidential conversation about the NQ market please contact the team at Origin Legal by telephone on

+44 (0)1206 233500 or email us at [email protected].

Current Vacancies

Origin Legal offers a comprehensive legal recruitment service to candidates and clients encompassing all levels across all disciplines.For details of current vacancies visit

  • Private Practice
  • International
  • Paralegal and Support Services
  • Legal HR
  • In House


Origin Legal is recognised as one of the UK’s leading providers of legal jobs at all levels for lawyers, legal executives, solicitors and paralegals.

To find out more about the NQ Market, discuss your options or to register an interest, please contact the team at Origin Legal on +44 (0)1206 233500:

Jason Nottage Director Midlands and Home Counties North E: [email protected]

Andrew Porter Director East Anglia, Essex and Herts E: [email protected]

James Wheelhouse Senior Consultant South and South West E: [email protected]

Jason Horobin Head of International and Offshore Division E: [email protected]

Stuart Phillips Senior Consultant London E: [email protected]

John Ambrose Senior Consultant London E: [email protected]

Sarah Stant Senior Consultant South East E: [email protected]

Natalie Stock Consultant St Albans E: [email protected]

Clare Traverse  Consultant North West and Scotland E: [email protected]

All approaches are treated in the utmost confidence and no details are ever released to any of our clients without the candidates advance approval. You can view more resources via our website

About The Author

Picture of Stuart Phillips
Stuart Phillips
Picture of Stuart Phillips
Stuart Phillips