What was the rationale behind starting an apprenticeship programme at your firm?
The whole process started as a discussion among HR managers from law firms in our local area. Many of the firms here noticed there was a shift in graduate recruitment.
Young people who want to enter the legal profession are put off by the cost and limited availability of the training contracts. This means that the demographic of people applying for training contracts is narrowing. As a group, we were keen to see what we could do differently.
We’d also seen how successful accountancy apprenticeships are as another professional services area, and there were also the changes from the SRA in its Training for Tomorrow work. This provided real drive and vision in our group of firms from the Newcastle and North East area about what we wanted to do. The whole endeavour resulted in formation of the North East Solicitor Apprenticeships consortium – NESA.
What sources of information did you use when looking for advice?
We have got some experience with apprenticeships already, specifically in the business administration side and IT. We had awareness of what value they could bring to the firm, and the quality of those candidates was often exceptionally high.
In order to develop the solicitor apprenticeship programme, we wanted to work with a local university, but unfortunately this was not possible at that time. We therefore started looking at other providers like Cilex to offer help.
What sort of preparatory work did the firm have to undertake to be able to start the apprenticeship programme?
We had to put in place the structure of how we would train apprentices in the firms and how we would look after them. There was a lot of consideration of their first seat and their first supervisor.
CILEx and the City Law School provided some training on supervising and mentoring skills which was helpful. We wanted to make it easy for the apprentices to just get into the world of work and the law.
There’s a lot to take in at the beginning, so we wanted to make it as easy as possible. We were aware that the first year is probably the hardest in getting to grips with all the aspects of work.
What approach did you take to recruitment?
With the other interested firms, we created NESA for this purpose. We recruited under that umbrella, and worked with CILEx and City Law School. We agreed on the academic thresholds and approached as many schools in the local areas as possible to inform them of the opportunities.
After that, we organised an open day where candidates could come to chat with firms and ask questions. The candidates applied generally to NESA, not to the individual firms. The application sift was followed by the assessment day and we took forward candidates as individual firms for interviews.
Sintons were going to recruit only one apprentice, but we ended up recruiting two. We were absolutely blown away by the enthusiasm, the quality and general maturity of the candidates.
We were also keen to keep trainees and apprentices together in the same cohort, so they all did the same induction. At some point, they’ll all be newly qualified together so this decision was logical.
What has been your experience with using the levy?
Essentially we’ve found the levy system difficult to navigate, but it’s potentially the same with anything new. I know there’s lot of training and seminars available for companies, but when you went through it all, it was quite confusing. We collaborated with other firms where possible. The levy was certainly a really good incentive for us.
How many apprentices have you got currently and will you continue expanding the programme in the future?
We have two solicitor apprentices at the moment and are hoping to expand the programme in the future. There’s a lot more interest so we’re considering next steps for 2018. We are hoping that this process will enable us to get the best young talent to come on board.
Leah Greenwell - solicitor apprentice
What motivated you to pursue a career in law?
Law was a subject I was always interested in, but my Sixth Form did not offer it as an A-level. After realising the subject I had applied to study at university wasn’t for me, I tried to switch to a law degree, but the course had been overfilled. The only option would be to reapply next year or undertake a law conversion course.
How did you get involved in the apprenticeship route? Where did you find out about this option?
After deciding to leave university, I realised how competitive law really is and I wanted to do something that would separate me from other people.
Without any qualifications in law, I decided to start from the bottom and at least gain some work experience. Looking at the websites of local law firms, the solicitor apprenticeship was advertised. The chance to work within a law firm without a degree and have the chance to study at the same time seemed too good to be true.
After always being told that university would be a part of my life route, it seemed a bit of a shock to those around me to change course and apply for an apprenticeship. However, the apprenticeship route was exactly what I was looking for and I felt it would have been foolish not to apply and at least give it a go.
What was the most useful source of information?
I found the most useful source of information could be accessed on each firms’ website. You get to know the nature of work each one does and their company values.
Each firm is very unique and you will find you are drawn towards some more than others. The post of solicitor apprentice was broken down into what qualifications you needed, and some details about how the programme would work, which, of course, differs across each firm.
What does your standard day consist of?
Being a part of the insurance litigation team, my day predominantly consists of using our case management system ‘Proclaim’. Using this system I correspond with clients, process all documents relating to a matter and set tasks to complete before a deadline.
My day often includes reviewing medical records, analysing witness statements and drafting documents.
In terms of the skills you have developed, which ones do you find most valuable?
Working as well as studying means you’re gaining valuable skills all the time. You learn to manage your time efficiently, having to balance your studies, working commitments and family/social commitments. However, working alongside your studies means that you are constantly putting your knowledge into practice, or sometimes just understanding why a certain process has taken place.
What advice would you give to someone starting their apprenticeship programme?
Always prepare for any interviews you have. Learn about the firm you are applying to and get to know the nature of work they do. Also consider the questions you may get asked about yourself. Sometimes it’s difficult to think of all the things you have achieved on the spot.
Try and gain some work experience before your application. It will give you more areas to discuss within your application and at the interview stage.