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Apprenticeships – a law firm perspective

By 6 October 2021No Comments

Apprenticeships allow law firms to attract a broader and more diverse range of candidates. We speak to Sarah Morton at PRIME member firm Addleshaw Goddard about how apprenticeships fit with the firm’s commitment to widening access to the legal profession.

What sort of apprenticeships do you offer at Addleshaw Goddard?
We offer two apprenticeship schemes at AG, and recruit periodically for both.

Our Paralegal Apprenticeship is a two year programme aimed at people who want explore a career in law. The qualification is level 4, the equivalent of the first year of an undergraduate degree. After completion of the Paralegal Apprenticeship there are many opportunities for an apprentice to develop their career in law even further such as progressing on to the Solicitor Apprenticeship (with exemptions so it would take less time), further study to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive or even pursuing a career in managing other Paralegals.
Our Solicitor Apprenticeship is a 6 year programme which offers a route to qualifying as a solicitor without having to go to university. Apprentices towards a Law degree, go on to complete the SQE and a training contract and at the end of scheme qualify as a solicitor.

Why did you set up an apprentice scheme?
Opening up new pathways into the profession as an alternative to the traditional training contract route is important to AG and the TST. Apprentices bring diversity and new ideas, helping us to implement new and more efficient ways of working. Many of our apprentices would not have joined our firm in the past, and their ideas have brought a fresh perspective. We have also found that some of the strongest performers in our TST have come through the apprenticeship scheme.

How do apprenticeships fit with Addleshaw Goddard’s commitment to widening access to the legal profession?
At AG, we are committed to opening up pathways into the profession and have run apprenticeship schemes for over 8 years, recruiting over 45 apprentices. Our schemes target school leavers from any background who join us often as an alternative to University. Alongside opening access to the profession, we are also committed to ensuring real progression opportunities within the Firm for our apprentices, as described below.

We have adapted our recruitment process to attract a broader and more diverse range of candidates. We have introduced an anonymised recruitment approach, whereby interviewers do not get access to a candidate’s CV, and ask an agreed list of questions to remove the risk of unconscious bias.

Have the apprenticeships been successful?
Apprenticeships have been extremely successful. Since 2013, we have welcomed over 45 apprentices onto our schemes. In September 2021, we welcome our seventh cohort of apprentices into the Firm.

Following the successful completion of their apprentices, our apprentices have gone on to a variety of different roles. Some of our apprentices have continued with legal qualifications and a number of our former apprentices are in the final stages of their qualification as a solicitor. This includes our 2017 Solicitor Apprentice cohort who will join the Firm’s trainee solicitor population in September 2021, and who will be the first in the Firm to complete the new pathway to qualification, the SQE. Alongside this, some of our 2013 and 2015 apprentices will shortly qualify via the CILEx pathway.

As well as more traditional legal careers, some of our former apprentices have moved into less traditional roles. Two of our former apprentices have gone on to management roles, one as a manager in the Innovation and Legal Technology team, and a second in the TST’s leadership team, leading the Firm’s paralegal team in Scotland.

What can apprentices expect?
Our schemes provide individuals with invaluable work experience in a top commercial law firm whilst studying towards a legal qualification. It allows them to start their career in law without having to go to University.

Apprentices can expect to gain a breadth of experience through having the opportunity to work in different practice areas over the course of their apprenticeship. They also have the opportunity to gain experience of working with legal technology to deliver their work, which may include the option to be seconded for part of their apprenticeship into Addleshaw Goddard’s Innovation and Legal Technology Team.
Outside of their day-to day role, apprentices will develop broader non-legal skills through being involved in a range of activities such contributing to the team’s dedicated wellbeing or diversity and inclusion networks, supporting with the Firm’s charity events or sports teams. We also encourage our apprentices to act as AG ambassadors at apprentice events, for example attending events at the Law Society, or live broadcasts to school.

What is your approach to apprentice recruitment and have you had to make any changes as a result of COVID?
All of our apprentices are from a variety of backgrounds, which supports our diverse culture and brings together a broad range of talent and creative thinking. Broadly speaking we are looking for bright, enthusiastic and well-rounded candidates that can draw on experiences that would show they have the ambition and commitment to succeed in a legal career. No legal experience is needed and many of our apprentices have had experience in other sectors such as retail.

We run our recruitment process in conjunction with our apprenticeship provider. We assess candidates with a range of assessment tools to enable them to demonstrate their skills and strengths. This includes an application form, creative media entry, interview, group activities and other competency based exercises. We recognise that candidates develop relevant skills from a variety of experiences, not just academic or work experience. During the recruitment process, we encourage candidates to draw on any relevant examples to demonstrate the skills we are looking for, including from hobbies, their social or home life.

During the pandemic, we recognised that many applicants were impacted through cancelled work experience or placements and furlough as well as academic disruption. Because of this, we adapted our process to provide additional support to candidates during the recruitment process. We hosted assessment centre preparation evenings during which we talked applicants through each assessment, and shared tips on how to prepare and be successful. We then ran short networking sessions with current and former apprentices, so that candidates could gain further insight into the role and ask questions on the recruitment process. We also gave candidates the opportunity to complete the assessment centre in our offices, recognising not all had access to IT equipment at home.

What support do you offer to unsuccessful applicants
Unsuccessful candidates each receive an individual phone call for a member of our Leadership Team to let them know about their outcome, together with feedback on each element of the assessment centre. We also encourage candidates to ask questions and are happy to provide advice and guidance on future applications.

We also invite unsuccessful candidates to attend the team’s external employability programme, Discovery to support them developing skills for with future legal roles.