How To Get A Training Contract As An International Student – Insider Guide

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In this post, you will discover key guidance and insider insights to help you secure a training contract as an international student.

You will learn both from my 15+ years of experience coaching international students to help them secure training contracts and from co-writer Ananya Agrawal, an international candidate who has recently secured a training contract with Clifford Chance.

The guide covers:

  • Key stages towards a training contract for international students
  • How to overcome common challenges faced by international students
  • Understanding the vacation scheme & training contract recruitment process
  • Law firms that sponsor international students for training contracts
  • Working visas 101 for international students seeking a training contract
  • How to leverage your unique background as an international student
  • How to increase your chances as an international student
  • Insights from international future trainee solicitors

This guide is primarily for the following international training contract candidates:

  1. Undergraduate students in the UK
  2. Postgraduate students in the UK (including PGDL, LPC, SQE, masters/LLM)
  3. Undergraduate and postgraduate students overseas
  4. Paralegals (or those working in other roles in the UK after study)

Key stages towards a training contract for international students

First-year undergraduate students

First-year schemes at law firms are run as internships or work experience to familiarise students with the firms’ work and culture.

They are usually unavailable to international candidates living overseas, however, undergrads in the UK can apply to these to enhance their CVs.

Undergraduate students from second-year law degree/third-year non-law degree onwards

Students at these stages can usually apply for a vacation scheme or training contract, but you should check the exact eligibility on each firm’s website.

These usually relate to a training contract that starts two years from the year your second/third/fourth year ends.

In all cases, you will need to check whether firms will sponsor you as a trainee solicitor and whether the dates of any vacation schemes clash with your student visa working restrictions (more on this later in this guide).

New graduates

You will need a graduate visa or other visa to be able to stay in the UK longer (and to work if you need money to live).

Some candidates choose to do a masters/LLM as a way to stay in the UK and apply for training contracts (see more on this below).

Another option is to return to your home country (or another country for which you can get a visa) and keep applying for direct training contracts. If you’re considering this option, you will need to check whether you can do interviews/assessment centres virtually, attend virtual events, law fairs, etc., and network virtually, too.

PGDL/LPC/SQE students

This will give you another student visa – and you will have the same considerations as undergraduate students from the second/third year (as above).

Masters/LLM students

This will give you a student visa – and, again, you will have the same considerations as for undergraduate students from the second/third year (as above).

There are pros and cons of doing an LLM as follows:


The main pro is that it gives you another year in the UK, during which you will be able to apply and interview for training contracts.

Of course, doing an LLM may also be a great personal experience and development opportunity, and therefore, it will be unlikely to harm your chances if you do one. However, you need to be aware of a number of cons and misconceptions if you’re considering that route.

Cons / Misconceptions

Firstly, a master’s is not an academic requirement for firms. As confirmed by graduate recruiters, it doesn’t improve your chances of a training contract in and of itself. The only way it might add a little to your chances is if there is a very clear alignment between the masters/LLM focus and specific practice areas that a firm is particularly known for.

Additionally, completing an LLM and even getting a good mark in it will not usually make up for poor earlier grades. Law firms will look at secondary and undergraduate education as the main indicators of your intellectual ability, not an LLM.

This can often surprise international students, as a master’s degree is not seen in the same way in the UK as it is in other countries.

Part of the issue here is that universities will market and promote their LLM courses, often in a way that can make it sound much more beneficial than it actually is.

The other big con is the amount of time it will take—often, this is underestimated, and there is not as much time for working on the pursuit of a training contract as the student had assumed. That said, there may be more time available during this compared to working in a full-time paralegal role, which is a common alternative after graduation.

Postgraduate work

Securing a paralegal and another role after graduating can enable you to afford to stay living in the UK whilst seeking a training contract. It will also give you relevant experience and help you develop your skills – both of which can strengthen applications and improve your chances of securing a training contract.

Candidates usually do this work on a graduate visa.

You can also look into potentially having the paralegal work classified as Qualifying Work Experience by the SRA as an alternative route to qualification as a solicitor.

How to overcome common challenges faced by international students

There are common challenges that international students may face that other candidates won’t.

However, with these additional challenges come opportunities because they can focus your mind and get you organised to take significant action around your pursuit of a training contract. This will give you a competitive advantage against many candidates who don’t face the same challenges and are not doing this to the same extent. This is where your drive, determination, and resilience can become your superpower.

There follows some of the main challenges and how you can overcome them.

Presenting grades/grading systems

It can be difficult to explain your international qualifications and grades as there is no one reliable conversion standard or method available.

Some law firms (for example, Clifford Chance) say that they are used to dealing with international applicants and can convert international qualifications to UK equivalents (including UCAS tariff) without candidates having to do so. These firms are also happy for you to explain your school or University’s grading system, however, if you keep it simple.

If you can’t find out if a firm will convert your qualifications itself, or if they ask you to explain them, then you should work hard to provide a simple and clear explanation.

Given that you know the system, it can be quite easy for your explanation to become complicated and not clear enough for someone who is unfamiliar with it.

I recommend you get someone else to read your explanation of the grading system and grades and ask them to explain their understanding of it back to you to ensure that you are presenting it all clearly enough.

It’s usually important you provide the context around your grading system and where your grade sits within that range.

No network in the UK

You may have no network in the UK, so you’ll have the challenge of building a network from scratch.

However, this is by no means a blocker for you, and you must be careful that this doesn’t become part of a negative mindset. Instead, you will need to develop your own network by joining groups, getting experiences, and networking with people (as set out later in this guide).

Also, remember that many UK candidates lack any sort of meaningful network to utilise and are therefore in a similar position to you.

Visa conditions & timing pressures

As discussed in the Visas 101 section below, it can be difficult to do some vacation schemes while on a student visa if they overlap with the academic term.

Additionally, international students have the added timing pressure of securing a training contract before their current (or next) visa runs out. Otherwise, they will potentially need to leave the UK. Whilst not fatal to the chances of securing a training contract, how you would go about it is often more restrictive and expensive if you’re living outside the UK (see more in the section below).

The key to dealing with this challenge is to create an action plan early. This plan should include how you will navigate any student visa and vacation scheme issues and what you will do each week/month to give yourself the best chance of success.

Living overseas when applying

Candidates living overseas can still apply for training contracts, although this can present additional challenges.

Some firms will allow you to complete interviews and assessment centres remotely online, but you should always check this with a firm’s graduate recruitment team before you apply.

Other firms may contribute to your travel expenses if they want you to fly to the UK for face-to-face interviews and assessments.

You also need to bear in mind that you won’t be able to apply for a vacation scheme if you don’t have some sort of visa (typically, this is a student or graduate visa for those who study and live in the UK).

Finally, you may be able to find some firms that run country-specific schemes, e.g. HSF’s Africa Clerkship.

Understanding the vacation scheme & training contract recruitment process

Most international students say it takes them a while to understand the various recruitment processes. So, in this section, we give an overview of the key parts of those processes.

Whether to apply for a vacation scheme or make a direct training contract application

An important decision to make during a training contract recruitment cycle is whether to apply for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract with a firm.

There are a number of factors and considerations involved with this decision.

Vac schemes

Different firms recruit their trainees in differing proportions from their vacation schemes—and some recruit most trainees via this route. So, when researching firms, you will want to find out the ratio of vacation scheme to training contract, and direct training contract, places.

As you will see in the Visas 101 section below, if you’re on a student visa, you may not be permitted to participate in some vacation schemes due to visa restrictions.

Also, if you’re working full-time, you may not be able to take enough time off work (or, for that matter, want to).

If either of these is the case, contact the firm’s graduate recruitment team to explain the situation and ask if you can apply for a direct training contract instead – or whether they have any other advice for someone in your situation.

Also, some firms may restrict vacation schemes to candidates at specific stages of study (e.g. second-year law and third-year non-law students), so you will want to check that too.

Direct training contracts

Be careful not to apply for these out of desperation or rush them—either because you failed to get a vacation scheme from the last vacation scheme cycle or you didn’t apply for a vacation scheme in time.

Applying for direct training contracts can be good for you if:

  • Your term time dates clash with a vacation scheme.
  • You’re living overseas.
  • You’re already working and can’t take the time off for a vacation scheme.

An advantage of direct training contract applications is that they’re typically a faster process—you don’t have to wait between the application/interview/assessment stages and the vacation scheme, which can be months later. It’s usually straight to offer or rejection after the recruitment stages.

The common elements of the graduate recruitment processes

Every firm has a unique graduate recruitment process, which is best found on their graduate website.

Typically, however, the following elements may be found throughout the entire cycle.

  • Application Drafting
  • Psychometric Tests – for example, the situational judgment test/Watson Glaser
  • Video Interview (Virtual)
  • Interview/Assessment Centre – commercial case study; competency interview; group exercise; document checker; partner interview, amongst others.

For those living overseas who cannot attend in-person events, virtual platforms such as the firm website, LinkedIn, law fairs, and virtual open days are your best alternatives.

These are gold mines for you to identify key competencies the firm is looking for. Use this understanding to leverage your own international experiences to align with the firm’s requirements (more on this later).

Differences between UK & overseas recruitment

It’s crucial to understand how graduate recruitment at UK law firms may differ from the recruitment process in your home country.

For example, South Asian law firms usually conduct highly focused commercial and legal technical interviews during their hiring process. Competencies such as networking skills are often given minimal consideration for junior lawyers. Compare this with UK law firms, where emphasis is placed on evaluating a candidate’s holistic personality, with soft skills, such as communication, presentation, etc., playing a crucial role.

Law firms that sponsor international students for training contracts

One of the most critical parts for international students is often finding firms that sponsor international students for training contracts.

Some ways to identify such firms are:

  • Find information on their website
  • Search a firm’s social media channels
  • Email the graduate recruitment team to ask
  • Ask the question of the firm at events, law fairs, etc.

Check our list of firms below who have been known to sponsor candidates – it’s non-exhaustive, but it narrows the number of firms you might start to make enquiries of:

  • Allen & Overy
  • Ashurst
  • Baker McKenzie
  • BCLP
  • BDB Pitmans
  • Burges Salmon
  • Cleary Gottlieb
  • Clifford Chance
  • CMS
  • Davis Polk
  • Dentons
  • DLA Piper
  • DWF
  • Eversheds Sutherland
  • Farrer & Co
  • Fieldfisher
  • Freshfields
  • Gibson Dunn
  • Greenberg Traurig
  • Hogan Lovells
  • Holman Fenwick Williams
  • HSF
  • Jones Day
  • K&L Gates
  • Latham & Watkins
  • Linklaters
  • Macfarlanes
  • Milbank
  • Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Pinsent Masons
  • Reed Smith
  • Ropes & Gray
  • Shearman & Sterling
  • Sidley Austin
  • Skadden
  • Slaughter & May
  • Stephenson Harwood
  • Sullivan & Cromwell
  • Taylor Wessing
  • Travers Smith
  • Vinson & Elkins
  • Watson Farley Williams
  • Weil
  • White & Case
  • Willkie Farr & Gallagher

Networking to help you shortlist firms to apply to

It’s highly recommended that you network as part of your research into firms to apply to.

If you end up applying to their firms, these connections can also be invaluable sources of advice and support during the recruitment process. They will also get an on-the-ground, first-hand account of the firm’s culture.

Use the LinkedIn search bar to find international future trainees/trainees/lawyers at the target firm. Remember that most people who have secured a training contract have ‘Future Trainee Solicitor at XYZ’ in their LinkedIn bios, so search for that. Narrow your search by looking for people from the same country as you rather than just any international person at the firm.

Always have a solid structure to the content of your LinkedIn message. You want to introduce yourself, your reason for reaching out and specific questions you wish to know the response to.

You may well not get responses from everyone, but remember that you only need one to make a big difference to your pursuit of a training contract.

Working visas 101 for international students seeking a training contract

Important: All information included in this post is subject to change (and doesn’t constitute advice) so you must do your own research and get clear on which visas best suit your specific circumstances.

There are 3 main visas for most international candidates:

  1. Student visa
  2. Graduate visa
  3. Skilled worker visa

Student visa

This has replaced the Tier 4 (General) student visa and is for students with a place on a course provided by a licensed student sponsor, including both undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

It lasts up to two months after course graduation, meaning it could potentially be used for a summer vacation scheme after graduation.

You can’t work more than 20 hours in any one week during term time, but this restriction doesn’t apply during holiday times (i.e. outside of term time).

Therefore, the 20-hour term-time working restriction can prevent you from undertaking a full-time vacation scheme – in winter, spring or summer. You will need to check specific term-time dates and vacation scheme start and end dates carefully.

Graduate visa

This allows you to stay in the UK for two years after finishing your undergraduate or postgraduate studies.

The visa is tied to you rather than a job, so it will allow you to work in multiple roles, such as paralegal and legal assistant or non-legal roles, after finishing your studies.

It also potentially makes it easier to get those roles in the first place, as the law firm or organisation does not need to arrange your visa for you.

It’s not a suitable working visa for a training contract.

Skilled worker visa

The main working visa available for training contracts for students with an international background is the skilled worker visa. It was formerly known as a Tier-2 working visa.

It’s not usually available for vacation schemes.

The visa means you’re eligible to work in the UK for up to the time period your firm/organisation deems fit.

To get this, you must have a job offer, and the law firm will need to confirm that the role is eligible for a skilled worker visa, which a training contract often is.

There are a few conditions that need to be met, most importantly a minimum salary level and certain English language requirements (you should always check these as they’re subject to change).

How to leverage your unique background as an international student

Having an international background does not put you at a disadvantage in the training contract recruitment process, despite this being a common misconception). Instead, it gives you the opportunity to bring a fresh perspective, background and unique experiences to the table.

Here are some ways you can leverage your background into unique selling points.

Knowing multiple languages

City law firms work internationally, with international clients and international colleagues in offices around the world. Your ability to converse in several languages bolsters your application to these firms.

Willingness to relocate to different jurisdictions

As an international student, you have built an adaptable mindset by moving countries. Think of how you have adjusted to a different culture, environment and ways of thinking, to demonstrate the key skills law firms are looking for.

Willingness to challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone

A key trait firms look for is resilience – the ability to stay calm and collected when faced with a stressful situation. Leverage real-life examples from your home country or international experience to showcase your ability to step out of your comfort zone.

Cultural sensitivity

As an international student, you have transcended at least two cultures. Embrace the cultural sensitivity you have built as a cornerstone of your skill set.

Show how it enables you to seamlessly engage with individuals from diverse backgrounds and collaborate effectively within diverse teams. Highlight your ability to cultivate common ground, fostering understanding and harmony across cultural boundaries.

Global outlook

Highlight your global outlook, and sell yourself as a global citizen with a perspective that spans continents. Cultivate commercial awareness, especially in pivotal jurisdictions such as the UK and USA, eg. Securities Markets.

International work experience (legal or non-legal)

Explain what your international work experience entailed and the significance of the international firms or organisations you have been a part of.

This can be clarified by explaining the organisation’s reputation in the home country, e.g. ‘AZB & Partners is a Tier 1 Full Service Law Firm in India’.

Political landscape

You may choose to highlight your interest and understanding of global politics as a driving force behind your desire to pursue opportunities in London, especially when posed with the ‘Why London?’ question.

Showcase how the city’s status as a global hub for political and governance discourse aligns with your passion and offers an ideal environment to further enrich your expertise.

Commercial business landscape

Highlight your expertise and interest in international business, trade, and specific geographical regions or sectors.

Showcase your understanding of international commerce and law by highlighting commercial awareness around your home jurisdiction/other jurisdictions.

Emphasise how this knowledge positions you as a valuable asset for a global law firm.

Diversity & inclusion

Emphasise the diversity mindset and values you embody and provide evidence of your commitment to fostering inclusivity and belonging within the workplace.

Showcase your research into a firm’s specific D&I initiatives and demonstrate alignment with its related goals and culture.

How to increase your chances as an international student

It’s crucial to build as much relevant international legal and non-legal experience as early as you can, including through activities in law school/undergraduate degree.

Moot competitions

Participate in internationally recognised moot competitions such as the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition or the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot.

These will help you develop and showcase advocacy skills and legal knowledge, and to network with students and professionals from around the world.

ADR competitions

Engage in international Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) competitions like the ICC Mediation Competition or the International Negotiation Competition

These will help you develop core skills around negotiation, mediation, and arbitration while also building connections with ADR practitioners globally.


Secure internships at international law firms, multinational corporations, or organisations such as the United Nations or international NGOs to gain cross-border experience, expand professional networks, and understand the complexities of global legal practice.

Research assistant roles

Take on research assistant positions at international law schools or research institutes to delve into global legal issues, collaborate with scholars from diverse backgrounds, and establish connections within the international academic community.

Living abroad

Highlight experiences of living in different countries to demonstrate cultural fluency, adaptability, and understanding of global perspectives, which are highly valued in an increasingly interconnected legal landscape.

Summer schools

Attend international summer schools or legal programs hosted by prestigious universities or organisations like The Hague Academy of International Law to deepen legal knowledge, engage with leading experts, and network with students and practitioners from across the globe.

Volunteering for international organisations/NGOs

Volunteer for international organisations or NGOs working on global legal issues such as human rights, environmental law, or refugee rights to contribute to meaningful causes, develop leadership skills, and expand professional networks within the international community.

Networking as an international student

Actively participate in international events, utilise online platforms to connect with professionals worldwide, attend global conferences, join international student associations, and seek mentorship from experienced practitioners in the global legal field.

How to get support & feedback as an international student

For international students aspiring to become solicitors, accessing tailored support and resources is crucial.

Here are some we recommend:

University support

  • Start by utilising university career services, which often provide guidance on visa requirements, job search strategies, and networking opportunities specifically for international students.
  • Joining international student societies within your university or law school can offer access to events, workshops, and peer support networks geared towards navigating the legal profession as an international candidate.
  • Connect with university alumni who have transitioned from international student status to practising solicitors. They can provide valuable insights and mentorship based on their own experiences navigating the legal job market.

Professional support

  • Explore professional associations like the International Bar Association or the American Bar Association Section of International Law, which offer resources, events, and networking opportunities tailored to international legal professionals.
  • Online forums, social media groups, and LinkedIn communities dedicated to international students pursuing legal careers can provide peer support, advice, and insights into job search strategies and employer expectations.
  • Seek guidance from international student support services, internal and external, which offer assistance with visa regulations, cultural adjustment, and language support.
  • Participate in professional development programs run by law firms to target international candidates aspiring to become solicitors. These programs often offer mentorship, skills development workshops, mock interviews, and networking opportunities tailored to the needs of international students. For example, A&O’s India M&A Course.

Law career events

Lastly, attend career fairs, networking events, and industry conferences focused on legal careers.

These events provide opportunities to connect with recruiters, legal professionals, and law firm representatives who can offer valuable advice, insights, and potential job opportunities for international candidates.

Insights from international future trainee solicitors

Finally, we bring you some insights from international candidates who have already successfully secured a training contract.

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Matt Oliver

Matt is a former FTSE 100 in-house lawyer, an experienced legal career coach and MD of Trainee Solicitor Surgery. He provides entry level law careers advice to students and graduates through his writing and mentoring. He also offers private one-to-one coaching to those struggling with training contract and vacation scheme applications, interviews and assessment centres. Find out more about Matt's 1-2-1 Coaching >>>>