What was the rationale behind starting the apprenticeship programme?
Muckle LLP has had apprentices in other areas of the business for many years and has always supported this initiative. However, we felt that the introduction of solicitor apprenticeships could open the door to people who might be turned off the profession by high university fees. We knew the SRA and the Law Society were working on an alternative career path - allowing school leavers to obtain a law degree and qualify as a solicitor whilst working - and we wanted to be at the forefront of that. We have also been encouraged by the success of the apprenticeships within the accountants' profession and were eager to replicate this.
We chose the solicitor apprenticeship over a paralegal one because we wanted to be transparent about the career opportunity available. Potential candidates need to know what they are applying for and what support they can expect.
What sort of preparation did you do? Have you used the services of an external organisation?
The first step was to find the right provider to deliver the apprenticeship. We spoke to a number of local providers and some outside the region, but it wasn’t easy to get off the ground. Then we spoke to CILEx Law School and City, University of London, who were happy to get involved, and together we contacted other law firms.
From the start, we were keen to work with other firms, some of which are now part of the consortium known as NESA - North East Solicitor Apprenticeships – comprising Muckle LLP, Bond Dickinson LLP, McDaniel & Co Solicitors, Quality Solicitors Smith Roddam, Sintons Law and North Tyneside Council.
Our aim was to open up the profession to a broader talent pool, and we felt that solicitor apprenticeships were a fantastic opportunity. Working as a group also meant the apprentices had a peer group.
Working with law firms on a project like this may be unusual but the support, passion, and commitment of everyone involved has been amazing. While we may be competitors in business, together we have a greater opportunity to develop young talent. We will continue to work together to provide learning and development opportunities for the NESA group of apprentices.
Can you offer any insights about using levy?
Using the levy has been a pretty straightforward process. The training providers are a good source of advice and the apprenticeship service account has been easy to navigate.
What approach did you take to recruitment?
Recruitment is an important part of the process and CILEx Law School were really helpful in promoting this new opportunity across the North East. Companies within NESA followed up with local schools to ensure school leavers were aware of the scheme. We have also published details of the scheme on our website and asked CILEx Law School and the national apprenticeship agency to do the same. Muckle LLP hosted an open day, with the other law firms also in attendance; over 50 students, plus parents, came along.
What advice would you give firms about the process?
For firms outside the region that are already considering this, our top tips would be:
- Identify suitable academic partners
- Speak to parents and students to understand their needs
- Encourage local law firms to work together to deliver the scheme.
We would also advise being transparent about how demanding the apprenticeship is so candidates are prepared, understand the work involved and have the qualities required for the role. The apprenticeship involves four days of work and one day of studying for six years. The academic element should involve around 22 hours per week.
What have been the main benefits of taking on apprentices?
Today the average student leaves university around £50,000 in debt. The burden is likely to be even greater for law graduates, with university costs and the prospect of the LPC to consider. It means that a career in law is becoming less of an option for many school leavers, no matter how much they have to offer. Through this disenchantment, our profession risks losing talented people to other sectors. Through our apprenticeship route, the aspiring solicitors gain not just the academic and technical skills but also the practical skills required to become a lawyer and students can do all of this without paying any university fees.
For us, it means we have fresh new talent joining the firm that we can coach, guide and develop. We were encouraged by the calibre of candidates, their maturity and self-motivation. By week three they were allowed to attend client-facing meetings.
For the region, it means we are creating more equal opportunities to enter our profession. Now those who have the desire and ability can become a lawyer, regardless of their financial position.
How many apprentices do you have, and will you expand the programme?
We currently have five apprentices doing Level 2 or Level 3 Business and Administration and an IT apprentice completing an IT Level 3 qualification.
We initially planned to recruit two solicitor apprentices but the quality of candidates was so high we took on three, all of whom have now started. We are definitely open to expanding the programme in the future.
Muckle LLP apprentice - Ben Evans
Law had been a career interest of mine for the majority of my teenage years, based mainly on the work of a family friend who is a solicitor and who would tell me stories of the more interesting cases he worked on.
As I grew up, I kept my interest in law and began to look at universities and for work experience opportunities - one of which involved shadowing a barrister for a day and going into court to watch the proceedings regarding a road traffic collision. This pushed me even further towards a career in law as I found the whole process fascinating - from seeing the amount of preparation, to the dialogue with the judge.
My main source of information for further education and career opportunities was through my sixth form at Durham Johnston. I first heard about this specific apprenticeship in an email from my head of sixth form, but researched it further myself.
The CILEx Law School website contained the most relevant information about how to apply, but the introduction sessions held at Muckle were also very informative.
The only obstacle I experienced was the time management of attending interviews and assessment days at different firms in the build-up to exams, but this was not a major problem. The earlier in the year these could be held, the less problematic it would be.