When to decide where to qualify?

When I was a trainee I remember really enjoying getting involved with recruitment. One time I went back to my old university (Edinburgh) for the milk-round evening at the Balmoral Hotel (nice sandwiches) – and I gave a short presentation about life as a trainee.
This is going back a bit, but I do remember making a serious point about not deciding too early about which department to qualify into.
The story that I told was this: “When I was at Law School I spoke to a friend who was going to start a training contract at Ince & Co. She had a view that Shipping was THE area of law in which to specialise – so I decided on-the-spot that that would be a good department for me to qualify into at my firm: but what I hadn’t fully understood was that her future firm was a specialist in this area, so it was quite a likely route for her to take. Luckily my motivation only lasted a few weeks when I realised that of the 100+ newly qualifieds every year at my firm, there was a maximum of 1 job offered in the small and soon to be axed Shipping Department.”
The general point that I’m making is that unless you have a real reason (such as previous experience or a Masters, which I certainly didn’t) to want qualify into a specific department, then I think that it’s better to have a reasonably open mind at interview and if you are lucky enough to be offered a training contract, then do seats in your firm’s big departments. Like that, you spend the 2 years finding out about different types of legal work – it’s interesting how trainees’ thinking evolves during that time.
And during conversations with decision-makers in each of your 4 seats, it’s important to be flexible about qualification – you may qualify in a downturn, it turns out that there are more jobs available in Litigation than Corporate and it does look good to have been “taken on” by your firm after you qualify. So be open to what’s available, unless you have very strong motivation to specialise in something that your firm can’t offer.

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