Big firms talk up benefits of legal apprenticeships

Grayson: Deep talent pipeline

Apprenticeships offer significant benefits to both young people and their employers, allowing law firms to plan their staffing several years in advance, a conference heard last week.

Speaking at the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s compliance officer conference in Birmingham, Mark Grayson, chief operating officer of international firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner’s legal services delivery centre in Manchester, said it currently has eight paralegal and nine solicitor apprentices, having hired its first in 2015.

They start on the two-year paralegal apprenticeship on basis that, all things being equal, they will move to the solicitor scheme.

“Our apprentices are engaged, keen to learn, their progess is rapid and they are loyal,” he recounted. “They bring different skills and approaches that complement our traditional trainee route.”

He explained that apprentices provided “a deep talent pipeline” that allowed the firm to “plan several years ahead with certainty”.

Mr Grayson added: “The diversity it brings to our office creates energy and challenges norms.”

Fellow international firm Gowling WLG also started hiring apprentices in 2015, and Chloe Lloyd, head of resourcing, told delegates that it now has 15 paralegal and 12 solicitor apprentices.

Initially just in real estate, they now work in several practices areas in both the Birmingham and London offices. They too start on the paralegal apprenticeship and although there is no guarantee of a job once finishing a solicitor apprenticeship, that is the expectation.

Ms Lloyd highlighted the “diversity of candidates” the route attracted, providing an opportunity of a legal career for candidates who, for whatever reason, do not attend university.

By the time they qualified, they would have good knowledge of both their chosen practice area and the firm, she added.

There were financial benefits for both sides too – for the firm, training costs come out of the apprenticeship levy that they have to pay anyway, while the apprentice earns while they learn, and also have more opportunities to decide how to progress their careers as not all chose to go on to qualify as solicitors.

“But it’s not without its challenges,” Ms Lloyd acknowledged. “We are recruiting and welcoming people into our business for many of whom it’s their first job, certainly in an office environment.”

Gowling has a “comprehensive” induction programme about appropriate behaviour in the workplace, she explained.

But overall apprenticeships have proven “extremely beneficial for apprentices and the firm”, she said.

Mr Grayson added that the skills apprentices learned were “completely transferrable” into different fields of work if they chose not to continue with a legal career.

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