Case study: Promoting social mobility in the legal sector through apprenticeships

Victoria DaveyIn 2011, we decided to take action to address the issue of social mobility within the legal profession by launching our Gordons Apprenticeship Programme.

It has been a source of great pride for the firm and has continually helped set us apart. Since its launch, the programme has won multiple awards and led to Gordons being described as 'leading the way on social mobility in the legal profession' by former Social Mobility Commission chair, Alan Milburn. In 2017 we celebrated the programme's first two graduates, both young women, who qualified as chartered legal executive lawyers.

Pioneering in the legal profession

We developed our apprenticeship programme to offer bright young people a different route into the profession without the need to attend university. We were the first law firm to offer an apprenticeship taking its chartered legal executive lawyers to the maximum Level 6 - an honours degree equivalent - rather than the Level 3 offered by similar schemes.

For many, the traditional route into the legal profession has been to attend Russell Group universities and obtain a traineeship. That's still the case for some, but for many young people that path is simply financially unattainable. There is a danger that by failing to look outside the traditional route we will miss a diverse talent pool.

We wanted to bring in a new generation of talented people with positive outlooks and excellent behaviours, and it doesn't matter where they're from or what school they attended. At Gordons, we believe in 'people first, lawyers second'. Our apprenticeship programme reflects that, and it is an approach that our clients and colleagues support and want.

We believe diversity and social mobility fosters an inclusive atmosphere where people want to work and develop. Creating an environment full of individuals with different outlooks on life and unique experiences to draw upon has developed a positive culture within the firm. This has not only helped to differentiate us from others in our sector, but also enhanced our client service and been met with positive feedback.

We have mentored our two apprentice programme graduates, Bryony Russell (left) and Megan Boldison, since they joined us after completing their A-Levels, and the experience of overseeing their development has been extremely rewarding.

Bryony Russell Megan Boldison

Looking ahead

Now they are qualified as chartered legal executives, we will continue to provide support, advice and guidance. Their career progression at the firm is potentially unlimited and we would like to see them progress as far as they can with Gordons, with the ultimate objective of becoming partners.

Despite our success, finding a legal apprenticeship is still difficult for young people. Many firms simply do not offer them and the level of competition for programmes like ours is increasing every year. If we are serious about improving diversity and social mobility within our sector, it is important that firms put steps in place to find talented young people and attract them to a career in the law, before they move onto something else and we lose them.

Apprenticeship schemes are certainly not an easy route into the legal profession. Standards are extremely high and it takes a great deal of commitment and hard work to succeed, from both the apprentices and colleagues helping to motivate and mentor them. Working full-time and studying is difficult, particularly when apprentices see friends, who may have chosen to go down the route of university and living at home.

We will only tackle diversity and social mobility issues by encouraging apprentices from different backgrounds to stick with the law and work hard to rise up the ranks into senior positions, where diversity is lacking the most. This will help shape firms in the future and ensure greater representation at senior levels which, of course, will ultimately lead to a more diverse judiciary - a distinct positive step.

Why shouldn't somebody go from an apprentice to partner at a law firm, or even become a judge? The answer is that they should and we all need to dedicate the time and effort to promoting diversity and social mobility wherever possible.

We remain as committed to our apprenticeship programme as we were when we launched it seven years ago. It is good for our people, our firm and our future.

About the author

Victoria Davey is partner and head of operations at Yorkshire law firm Gordons.

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