Leading firms prepare to offer part-time working to all trainees

Gower: One-size-fits-all isn’t realistic

Two large law firms have said that they will offer all their trainees the opportunity to work part-time from September 2024.

Osborne Clarke already has a disabled trainee working part-time, while Eversheds Sutherland has offered this year’s summer students the chance to work part-time if they are taken on as trainees.

The law firms are part of the Project Rise initiative developed by the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division, which aims to make part-time working available to every trainee.

Alexandra Gower, partner and training principal at Osborne Clarke, said a disabled trainee working four days a week at the firm was currently completing his fifth and last six-month placement.

Ms Gower said it might also be “possible to accommodate” a trainee who wanted to work a three-day week, but it would need more work to develop a programme which “ticked the boxes” required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Trainees working for three days a week are likely to need at least three years to complete their contracts.

Ms Gower said the pandemic had accelerated the firm’s move towards flexible working, which in turn made it easier to manage part-time training contracts.

She said Osborne Clarke was still developing its approach to flexible working and had not fixed a minimum number of days for staff to be in the office, though the firm was “looking for people to be in the office more often than not” and there were clear benefits for trainees.

“When it comes to our working lives, we know one-size-fits-all isn’t realistic. That’s why it’s so important that we recognise the need for flexibility and can accommodate a variety of working patterns.”

Allison MacQuire, international head of recruitment, emerging talent and diversity and inclusion at Eversheds Sutherland, said the firm had “definitely had interest” from its summer students in working part-time.

She said part-time traineeships were a “huge opportunity” for the firm to recruit parents, carers, those returning to work and those with outside interests.

Ms MacQuire said it was not a single change but a “group of interventions” that would make the difference.

“It’s about opening up access to bring in different perspectives and different thinking.

“We have a highly diverse client base and we need to have our talent ready for the world we live in.”

She said a successful part-time programme for trainees would involve “some kind of give and take” on both sides. “We want people to succeed. It must be achievable, so people are not set up to be unsuccessful.”

Ms MacQuire added that Eversheds was setting up a Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) Academy which would open in January next year, and the new exam would help open up access to the profession.

Law Society president I.Stephanie Boyce commented: “Project Rise is striving to make qualifying as a solicitor more inclusive. We must take into account the lives of aspiring solicitors, as they could benefit from undertaking training on a part-time basis.

“In turn, this could see the profession opening its doors to candidates from other backgrounds, who may previously have faced barriers to entry and progression.”

Project Rise was launched after research published last year by Cardiff Business School and the Lawyers with Disabilities Division found evidence that disability had been largely overlooked when it comes to improving diversity and inclusion in the solicitors’ profession.

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