Joint initiative looks to introduce part-time training into the legal sector
A cross-firm scheme initiated by the Law Society of England and Wales’ Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD) is seeking to encourage more part-time qualifying opportunities to be offered as a matter of course in the legal sector.
‘Project Rise’ has been created as a direct result of the findings in the Legally Disabled? – The career experiences of disabled people in the legal profession research by Cardiff Business School and the LDD, which found clear evidence that disability has been largely overlooked when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the solicitors’ profession.
Eversheds Sutherland and Osborne Clarke are participating in the project and have committed to offering all successful candidates the opportunity to train on a part-time basis, starting from September 2024 (the intake they are currently recruiting for).
The project – supported by Aspiring Solicitors – is not exclusively designed to benefit disabled trainees. There are many people from diverse backgrounds who would benefit from having the option of completing their training contract part-time.
Osborne Clarke currently employs a part-time trainee and Eversheds Sutherland is offering its summer vacation students who obtained a training contract the opportunity to complete their training part-time.
Over the last six months, the firms have met regularly to discuss the motivations and challenges of providing part-time training contracts as well as collaborating and sharing their knowledge with each other.
Project Rise is aiming for part-time training in general to be implemented across the profession, either for training contracts or for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
The introduction of the SQE in September marked the beginning of the biggest change to how aspiring solicitors can enter in the profession in almost 30 years.
They must still undertake two years of qualifying work experience (QWE), but the requirements are more flexible than the old system of training contracts, with candidates able to complete up to four separate placements, working part-time or to whatever requirements are available, to accrue two years equivalent time.
The SQE could serve as inspiration for the profession to change how it trains its candidates, perhaps offering part-time, full-time, flexible and hybrid qualifying work experience to its junior employees as standard.
Law Society of England and Wales president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “Project Rise is striving to make qualifying as a solicitor more inclusive. We must take into account the lives of aspiring solicitors, as they could benefit from undertaking training on a part-time basis.
“In turn, this could see the profession opening its doors to candidates from other backgrounds, who may previously have faced barriers to entry and progression.”
Allison MacQuire, international head of recruitment, emerging talent and diversity and inclusion at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “Eversheds Sutherland is proud to be amongst the first two law firms to both commit to, and start implementing, Project Rise, having offered our summer vacation students the opportunity for part-time training.
“In particular we see this programme as helping those who may need agility in their working week, for example it might be those with a disability or those who are parents, or carers, or so many other talented individuals who have their own reasons or commitments for needing to train part-time. This will allow us to cast a wider net when recruiting and will welcome a broader and more diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds into our talent pipeline.”
Alexandra Gower, partner and training principal at Osborne Clarke said: “When it comes to our working lives, we know one-size-fits-all isn't realistic. That's why it's so important that we recognise the need for flexibility and can accommodate a variety of working patterns. Doing this will increase the pool of talent available to our sector.”
Notes to editors
On 1 September 2021, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) brought in the Solicitors Qualifying Exam.
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The Law Society asks for interested firms and other organisations to get in touch should they have an interest in offering part-time qualifying experience.
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