Law: The Apprentice

By Jon Gregson

14 January 2014 at 12:44 BST

UK law firms are bypassing university and hiring students from university after a campaign by the UK Government to encourage companies to take on apprentices. Is this the way forward for NewLaw? Jon Gregson discusses the Weightmans approach.

Law firms are training apprentices. Sheelanohanachandran2010

Can you succeed in law without going to University? Law has traditionally been seen as a career path only accessible via the conventional University route, but that is changing.  In 2013 one of the most exciting and dynamic changes for our business wasn’t just a merger or new senior management but a new approach to recruitment with the appointment of the first Level 4 Legal Apprentice in the UK.

Having left school with 3 As at A-Level but not attracted to a typical undergraduate education, our apprentice Jordan, clearly had the intellectual ability to study law but needed the opportunity to decide whether practising the subject was right for him. That opportunity provided itself through our training partner Damar Training and their quest to identify our potential apprentices. 

After being told “you’re hired” Jordan joined the employment team in July 2013 and in doing so allowed us to dip our toes into a new untapped talent pool. With a structured programme of learning set out over the course of 2 years the Level 4 Legal Apprenticeship allows us to focus Jordan’s practical training in a similar way. As Jordan studies different modules and topics we can mirror his workload to provide him with practical examples to supplement his development.

Jordan’s introduction to the team saw him experience the basics of the firm, our client’s and ways of working whilst acclimatising to the strange new world of full time work and part time study. However it was not long before his flair and desire to learn and develop began to shine through and we were able to understand the real benefits of having a legal apprentice. In a short space of time and in response to an increase in work, Jordan has begun the transition into a fee earning role and is getting to grips with the building blocks of employment law.

Upon the completion of his Apprenticeship, Jordan will be well placed to progress as either a legal executive or step back into the more traditional route to qualify as a solicitor. With the experience, skills and opportunities his Apprenticeship will provide Jordan with enviable choices. So this is all very well for the legal apprentice but what do we, as an employer, get from the approach and will Jordan find his career affected from missing the conventional university route?

Firstly we have a flexible resource that we can move around within the team, as and when the workload demands. For example, if we have a large amount of administrative or support work that needs doing we can utilise Jordan. Having started his Apprenticeship in our support team he understands the importance of this type of work and how to actually do it, something someone brought in as a paralegal or junior fee earner won’t necessarily be able to do.

If we need a large volume of management information or fee earning carried out for clients, Jordan has the necessary ability and application to carry this out. Essentially, wherever and whatever work that needs doing, Jordan is developing the breadth of experience and expertise to carry it out seamlessly.

Secondly, we have suddenly opened the door to a whole new field of potential employees. With rising university costs not everyone can afford tertiary education, some just don’t suit the student lifestyle and some just don’t know whether law is right for them.

Through the use of apprentices we can offer opportunities to all these types of school leavers. It is naïve to think that there are not some potentially high quality lawyers out there who just need to find a different way to open the door to their careers. Legal Apprenticeships are one key to opening those doors. By employing an apprentice whilst they are still on that cusp of blending education and working life, we gain the opportunity to mould them into “Weightmans people”. We can instil them with our values and core ways of working whilst also allowing them the opportunity to decide whether this really is the career for them.

If it works then we all benefit (even more so with the Government providing some assistance with training costs for those under the age of 19). If it doesn’t work then at least we can all say we tried, but crucially for the apprentice, without the cost of university and the legal practice courses eating away at their finances and with at least one potential career tried and ruled out.More and more emphasis is being placed on Apprenticeships and ways to nurture another generation of talent. For law firms this is unchartered ground, in fact Weightmans is the first law firm in the UK to provide this scheme, and so far, the sailing has been smooth and nothing but positive.

Following Jordan we have now recruited our second Level 4 Legal Apprentice, Natassia, together with a number of Level 3 Legal Apprentices. In total we have 15 apprentices and are looking to recruit a further 10 across the practice nationally.Through the scheme we are investing in the future of some very talented individuals but also the future of the firm. On the basis of what we have seen so far it will seemingly be in safe hands.


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