Linklaters, Allen & Overy among firms collaborating in major new social mobility initiative

Scheme led by City of London Law Society aims to significantly grow number of solicitor apprentices from diverse backgrounds
Panoramic View of City London in UK.

Lukasz Pajor; Shutterstock

More than fifty prominent law firms are collaborating in a new initiative intended to significantly increase the number of solicitor apprentices entering the City of London.

Led by the City of London Law Society (CLLS) and officially launched today to mark Social Mobility Day, the programme is intended to “recruit … and develop committed solicitor apprentices, offering City firms access to diverse emerging talent for the long-term.” 

Known as City Century, the initiative was instigated by Linklaters managing partner Paul Lewis alongside leaders from five other spearhead firms – Allen & Overy, Eversheds Sutherland, Hogan Lovells, Norton Rose Fulbright and Osborne Clarke. Other UK firms taking part include Pinsent Masons, Addleshaw Goddard and Simmons & Simmons, alongside US firms like Taylor Wessing and Weil Gotshal & Manges. 

According to its website, City Century aims to “revolutionise the legal landscape by empowering students from diverse backgrounds to pursue a career they may have never thought possible.” 

Most of the firms taking part will have enrolled their first cohort of apprentices by this September. CLLS said in a statement that the numbers starting on this qualification path would then “double and increase significantly over the next few years”, with the scheme intended to have created at least 100 new partners by 2040. 

CLLS chair, Colin Passmore, said the programme would bring young legal talent into the City from a variety of different backgrounds. “This is a genuine initiative to tackle social diversity,” he said. “To see a collaboration of this size coalesce so quickly is inspiring.” 

He added: “We are delighted with the reception this initiative is having with CLLS members and other City law firms. We are very hopeful that the number of solicitor apprentices will increase dramatically from now on – this can only be a positive thing.” 

The programme will initially offer places to around 100 promising students. They will have the chance to qualify over a six-year period that combines working four days per week at a law firm with part time study at a law school, culminating in the apprentices gaining a law degree and taking the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations. 

City Century said the key benefits for its apprentices compared to the traditional trainee solicitor route include more extensive work opportunities and exposure, the ability to earn while learning and avoiding university fees and student debt.

Peter Scott, EMEA managing partner of Norton Rose Fulbright, commented: “As an industry, it’s vital that we support equal access to opportunities and progression and that apprenticeships are considered an equivalent pathway into a long-term legal career.”  

He endorsed the programme from his own experience, noting: “The apprentices who have joined us have made a really positive impact across our business. They offer a fresh perspective, are keen to learn and want to get involved in client work.”  

His firm recognised that apprenticeships are important for opening up access to careers in law and establishing a thriving and more inclusive legal sector, adding: “We are proud to support City Century, which will increase the number of solicitor apprenticeships.” 

The president of the Law Society, Lubna Shuja, also gave City Century her “whole-hearted support”, saying boosting social mobility was a key priority. “Alternative routes into the profession, such as apprenticeships, help ensure the best talent from all socio-economic backgrounds can join, progress and succeed in a rewarding career,” she said.  

Shuja added: “With careful planning and evaluation, apprenticeships can provide opportunities for existing staff to upskill or help to develop talent in support services. It’s fantastic to see City law firms coming together to unlock fresh talent from all backgrounds to benefit individuals who choose this route and our globally leading sector.” 

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