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Burges Salmon - apprenticeship case study

Rationale behind the apprenticeship programme

We wanted to be at the forefront of driving change for the profession, so Burges Salmon was involved in the employer-led trailblazer group that worked closely with training providers and regulators in creating three new apprenticeship standards for the legal profession.

The idea of a level 7 solicitor apprenticeship also caught our eye, and we wanted to ensure the apprenticeship would produce high quality solicitors.

Aside from being part of the trailblazer group, the reasons for recruiting apprentices aligned with our business strategy to deliver the best mix of advice, service and value to our clients.

Apprenticeships give us access to the best talent in the market, particularly at the school leaver stage where we did not want to miss out on talented individuals. This was also in line with our strategy to widen access to the profession.

Where we found useful information

We worked closely with our training provider, BPP, who’d had previous experience in the sector and has therefore been a good source of information and guidance.

Being part of the trailblazer group was also a good resource for information on apprenticeships. We also shared information with other firms that shared our ethos.

Preparatory work

A key challenge for us was deciding at what level to offer our first apprenticeships. Taking apprentices for the first time was a learning curve for both the employer and the individuals.

Six years is a big commitment for both parties when, at that point, there were still unknowns about the end point assessment and how solicitor apprentices would align with our trainee recruitment.

Other practical points to consider included:

  • the location of training - can your apprentices get there easily?
  • what form will the training take - classroom learning or webinars?
  • which day of the week will your training provider run their programme on? It's important to ensure this fits with business requirements. If you’re training current employees, it's also important to clarify how flexible they can be on the study day.  

Integral to the programme was buy-in from partners and the infrastructure available within our paralegal unit to ensure quality training, work and supervision for our apprentices.

By ensuring our apprentices received the same standard of training and met the same grade requirements as others, we showed partners and other businesses that the training contract and apprenticeship were of the same standard, and in no way would apprenticeships dilute talent in the wider profession.

Use of levy

We don’t see the apprenticeships levy as a tax, but as opportunities for your business. Explore where apprenticeships can be used for talent acquisition and development - it’s ok to start small. If you can claim the levy, we would recommend speaking to a training provider as they can offer guidance without commitment.

Recruitment

Legal apprenticeships are a new opportunity and we recognised the need to engage with parents and teachers as well as candidates in order to receive quality applications. We hosted an open evening and invited local schools, careers advisors, students and parents.

We worked with our training provider to ensure the evening was as informative as possible.We produced material that could be handed out at school events and we created an ‘apprenticeships’ page on our website. We also used local media to publicise the opportunity.

We kept the application process open for six weeks between March and April, capitalising on National Apprenticeship Week and avoiding exam periods.

We realised that assessment centres can be daunting so we designed ours to give candidates exposure to the firm and its culture, as well as making them feel at ease throughout the process. The assessment day included presentations and an informal lunch to demonstrate that the process is a two-way experience.

As this was the first time we had recruited apprentices, we made use of our training provider’s experience, helping us recognise qualities and traits that show themselves in different ways when compared to a graduate process.

Main benefits of apprenticeships

We have been able to tap into an area of talent that we have been missing out on. Apprenticeships also align with our business strategy to deliver the best mix of advice, service and value to our clients.

We recommend speaking to a training provider with experience in your sector for advice on the possible opportunities for your business.

One year in and, so far, our current legal apprentices are exceeding our expectations and adding real value to our business, so we are very glad we introduced apprenticeships and look forward to recruiting more in the future. 

Future plans

We currently have four legal apprentices who are completing a two-year Level 3 paralegal apprenticeship and have agreed with our provider for our apprentices to complete an additional module to top up to a Level 4 apprenticeship.

We have a further four legal apprentices joining us in October 2017. Applications will open for our 2018 legal apprenticeship in October. We are also committed to offering the Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship following the completion of the Level 3 paralegal apprenticeship.

Burges Salmon apprentice: Elliot Hawes

Elliot HawesOne of the main reasons I have pursued a career in law is that it is a source of continuous challenge. I wouldn't want to be in a vocation where I was still in my comfort zone after five years of practice.

As I studied law throughout my A-levels, I realised that law is forever changing, there are new precedents, legislation and events such as Brexit which continuously alter the legal landscape. That, combined with changes in technology and society, makes for a job where there will always be new information to consider in each case or transaction.

‘I thought apprentices were engineers or manual traders’

I had always disregarded apprenticeships and my heart was set on going to university. I knew that whatever my profession was going to be, it would be academic based.

While I was at school, I didn't know enough about apprenticeships and thought apprentices were engineers or manual traders, which did not interest me. I found out about legal-based apprenticeships at a college careers event so I researched the idea and decided to apply for a few just to see how far I could get in the application process.

A particularly helpful source of information was an article which gave an overview of how the apprenticeship would run. I then went to a Burges Salmon open evening which was very insightful, despite the scheme being at quite an early stage in development.

Going into a firm like Burges Salmon was daunting at first. However, everyone was very welcoming and the process was quite straightforward.

‘I set up a network of people who consistently needed my help’

I work in the paralegal unit of the firm which is centralised. When I started, there was no standard day as such, as we were taking work from different departments. After a few months, however, I had successfully set up a network of people who consistently needed my help.

Mostly, I complete work for disputes so a lot of bundling, document reviews and proofreading. I have also picked up a few monthly costs tasks. If I am not doing those things I am most likely making bibles for banking or visio diagrams.

‘... so much more confident in pretty much all aspects of my work’

As far as the newly gained skills go, professionalism is the most valuable to me. I'm so much more confident in pretty much all aspects of my work.

If I don’t know how to do something or have made a mistake I don’t find myself worrying as I know how to deal with these situations in a professional manner. Outside of work I believe I’m a lot more mature and much more confident in handling myself in situations I would have shied away from before.

And what would I say to those at the start of their apprenticeship? Seize every opportunity that arises and make the most of your time at the firm. Paralegal apprenticeship is the perfect way to try out the profession without committing completely to it and deciding whether this is the job for you.