Nicola Stafford – HR consultant, early careers, Ashurst
What was the rationale behind starting an apprenticeship programme at your firm?
We recognised the many advantages of home-growing our own talent from an earlier stage, and those qualifying via the solicitor apprenticeship route will have triple the amount of experience under their belt than those from the traditional training contract route.
We also saw the solicitor apprenticeship as an opportunity to increase social mobility within the legal sector, and have been pleased to see a higher proportion of state-school educated applicants for our solicitor apprenticeship in comparison to our training contract.
What sort of preparatory work did the firm have to undertake to be able to start the apprenticeship programme? Have you used services of an external organisation?
We had to decide on the learning provider for our apprenticeship (University of Law) and work with them to confirm the structure of our individual scheme. We also worked with our legal teams to decide upon the number of apprentices we wanted to recruit. It was also important to start developing relationships with partner schools in order to raise awareness of our scheme amongst students.
Would you offer any insights when it comes to use of levy?
Our firm's levy pays for all training costs for our solicitor apprentices, meaning they are able to obtain their degree without any student debt and earn a wage simultaneously.
What approach did you take to recruitment?
Given the smaller number of apprentices we take on annually, our recruitment focus was forming direct partnerships with schools in order to promote our solicitor apprenticeship. We built relationships with school careers advisors and subsequently attended numerous careers fairs and facilitated workshops and presentations. It's great to see how awareness of the solicitor apprenticeship route has grown over the past two years alone.
What would you say to those who are unsure about taking on such new staff?
Our apprentices have adapted so well to the huge transition from school to a global law firm. They are enthusiastic, ambitious and heavily relied upon by their departments. It is so worthwhile putting your firm's apprenticeship levy (which would otherwise not be used!) towards something so positive.
How many apprentices have you got currently and will you continue expanding the programme in the future?
We currently have eight solicitor apprentices and are looking to take another four on an annual basis.
Rachael Peter – solicitor apprentice, Ashurst
What motivated you to pursue a career in law?
My motivation to pursue a career in law stemmed from the current global political climate, which led me to develop a keen interest in politics. When researching possible degree options at the beginning of year 12, I realised that a law degree would be best suited to my interests, after comparing modules with other similar degrees.
How did you get involved in the apprenticeship route? Where did you find out about this option?
I did not find out about solicitor apprenticeships until the beginning of year 13, as no students at my school had previously considered this route. I initially heard about this route from my school's careers advisor when discussing my future plans. He suggested a look into the apprenticeship route, as it would enable me to gain a degree qualification (which was very important for me) whilst working. I felt that this route would enable me to gain invaluable knowledge and experience regarding commercial law.
What was the most useful source of information?
I found there was not just one single most useful source, largely because awareness of the apprenticeship route is still growing. I used websites such as The Lawyer Portal, LawCareers.Net, AllAboutLaw and Prospects.ac.uk.
I also attended The Lawyer Portal apprenticeship conference in January which was extremely useful. I attended a talk at this event on interview skills, and it was helpful to gain advice from someone who is usually sat on the other side of the table!
Have you experienced any obstacles/difficulties when applying?
I think one of the greatest obstacles is the limited number of firms which offer the programme, as it is still a small (though growing!) number. Another difficulty was balancing applications and recruitment processes with studying for my A-Levels as they are both time consuming and so requires a lot of planning.
What does your standard day consist of?
Our working day at Ashurst starts at 9.30 am, though I try to get in slightly before to check all my emails and respond to any urgent queries. I don’t have a daily set routine as my workload fluctuates depending on how a deal is developing and what stage it is at. Some days are fast paced, involving doing smaller and more varied tasks. On these days, I will often draft letters and other ad hoc tasks. There are other days which are slower when I have one or two more time-consuming tasks which can take a few days to complete. It's important to keep the team updated on the status of my work and ensure I meet any set deadlines.
In terms of the skills you have developed, which ones do you find the most valuable?
It's hard to narrow this down to just a couple but I have thus far found time management to be the most valuable skill in the working environment. This is particularly useful for the apprenticeship where you need to balance your studies around your work. When working you will be given many different tasks which need to be prioritised by urgency, and time management enables you to meet all deadlines. Being concise is extremely useful too, because when attending calls you need to make succinct notes about next stages within a short period of time.
What advice would you give to someone starting their apprenticeship?
The main piece of advice that I would give is to ask questions. Even if you feel you should already know the answer, ask! Also, try to get into a routine with the studying aspect from the beginning, as it will be beneficial when you begin to get busy in the work side of the apprenticeship. It's also important to grasp all opportunities to gain experience of different kinds of work in your department, as it's the easiest way to learn!