Conversation between colleagues

Are you sitting comfortably? The ups and downs of seat rotations

Whether the rumour mill is hard at work or the gossip amongst trainees is slim pickings, a whispered “I’ve heard the seat list is coming out next week…” is all it takes to reliably pique everyone’s interest.

So, how does the seat rotation process work? Is it time to get your (Shellac, Pretty Poison) nails out and sharpen those (safety scissor) daggers? Or maybe keep your cards close to your chest? More importantly, how can you make the most of the process?


At TLT, demand for trainees outstrips supply, which means that teams have to make the best case for business need to offer a seat in their team – so you can be sure you will be busy! The number of seats corresponds with the number of trainees - usually up to 6 in London and up to 17 in Bristol.

The process goes something like this:

  1. The seat list is published (everyone panics);
  2. Each trainee going into their second, third or fourth seats is asked to complete a form stating their top 5 preferences (more panic accompanied by subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to scope out the likely competition from other trainees);
  3. Priority is generally given to fourth seaters, then third seaters, then second seaters and new trainees are allocated whatever seats are left, which I think all will agree is as fair as fair can be. The vast majority of the time, trainees will get one of their listed preferences (everyone breathes a sigh of relief…unless…)
  4. Unfortunately, and inevitably, sometimes more than one person within an intake will want the same seat. It is then the unenviable task of HR to co-ordinate how this will pan out. If this is the case, and you are going into your third or fourth seat, HR will invariably have a meeting with you if it looks like you may not get your first or second choice and discuss your options. Ultimately, a decision has to be made in the fairest possible way and will be based on many different factors; ranging from whether you have yet completed a contentious seat, to what business areas of the firm you have yet to experience. Fortunately, at TLT, there is a no ‘double seat’ policy and so many seat options that your experience is bound to be diverse whatever happens (everyone is a little sad all the excitement is over for another 6 months).

Eeny meeny miny moe…

You may have started your training contract with a dream of winning lawyer of the year in a specific practice area, or, you may be open to receiving your accolades in any number of areas. Either way, here are some tips about how to approach seat rotations to make it a less bumpy ride:

  • Talk to people. The chances are that before you go into a particular team, you will only have at most a limited knowledge of what it is like to work there day to day – how the work is divided; whether the trainee usually runs matters on their own or assists with larger projects; if/where the team is looking to expand…etc. The team leader is the most obvious source of information. They will be passionate about their practice area and more than happy to chat with you. If you know you will be lower down the pecking order and it will be a popular seat, it also gives you a chance to register your interest with them for next time and you can use the opportunity to ask whether there are any other seats which would be complimentary in case you are not successful in securing your first choice this rotation. Another useful source is the current trainee, who can give you the most accurate account of what it is actually like to be the trainee in that team and give you the heads up on things like whether it is acceptable to transform your desk into a mini Santa’s grotto at this time of year…
  • Think about that contentious seat. Even if you are fairly convinced you do not want to end up on the traditionally more fiery side of law, as the SRA requires you to do at least one contentious seat, it is best to think about this early on so that you do not limit yourself when it comes to the all important final seat.
  • Don’t play games. It is tempting to second guess what the trainees ahead of you might be putting as their choices and attempting to work out whether as a result you should put your fourth choice as first choice to avoid your fifth (or seventeenth) choice…but it’s a dangerous game to play. Be straightforward and put down what you want, in the order you want it. Whether you discuss your choices with the other trainees is up to you, but being open from the beginning can save you from any awkwardness later on. It’s also worth remembering that everyone is entitled to change their minds.
  • Keep an open mind. You never know until you try it. It’s an old adage but as applicable to the season of seat rotations as any other. Don’t be put off if you do not get one of your top choices – it could end up being your favourite seat, or something you will come back to if the area you thought you would qualify into has changed beyond recognition by the time you come to qualify. Worst case scenario, you will be equipped with the knowledge that that area is not for you and gained valuable experience in the process.


(Maeve joined us as a trainee in Bristol in March 2012 after studying Chemistry and Law at Bristol University and completing the LPC at UWE.)