Pathways to success
A clear understanding of the apprenticeship scheme is a key driver for its success, as Michelle Tunney explains
The solicitor apprenticeship scheme is an investment. Any firm looking to take on apprentices needs to view them as the future of the business from day one.
While the driver for our apprenticeship programme at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (BCLP) is to recruit high performing individuals and offer them an alternative to the traditional solicitor qualification route; our apprenticeship scheme also aligns with the firm’s objective to increase employee diversity.
We can offer individuals an alternative pathway into law to attract and recruit a range of diverse talent which we otherwise may not have recruited.
We recruit both apprentices and trainees streamlining our internal apprenticeship process to mirror traditional trainee onboarding.
This means in the final apprenticeship years, our solicitor apprentices will join the trainee rotations – assisted by the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). This will ensure all solicitors qualify through the same route.
A key driver of success is a clear understanding of the apprenticeship. To achieve this, we’ve implemented a guide which is shared between the teams and identifies a rotation plan for apprentices; a technical framework; and a study plan.
Each solicitor apprentice also circulates a biography prior to their seat rotation identifying their background, areas of the business to which they’ve had exposure and their completed and ongoing objectives.
Targeted presentations provide an overview of the scheme identifying the roles of the apprentice, the apprenticeship manager and the team. Each apprentice has a regular monthly one-to-one with their manager and quarterly discussions about their development.
We also ask for regular feedback from the teams in which they are working. The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) requires apprentices to complete a portfolio of work. To help them do this firms need to identify the types of work apprentices will complete.
I recommend that firms look first at their internal processes to see whether there’s scope for work to be processed and streamlined.
Ensuring the right work is carried out by the right person is key. You need to identify the areas and levels of complexity and ensure the correct channels of supervision are in place.
Firms considering recruiting solicitor apprentices need to look at the different options available, and decide whether to recruit them on the six-year trailblazer or take them through the paralegal apprenticeship. As an employer, we chose the latter.
Our apprentices complete the end point assessment (EPA) on the two-year paralegal apprenticeship before being nominated, as part of our internal promotion process, to progress onto the solicitor apprenticeship.
Six years is a big commitment to a career you may not yet know whether you will enjoy. The option to continue after two years allows time for the individual to make a decision whether to continue, bearing in mind the intensity of balancing work with study.
However, there’s no difference between the two routes in the time it takes to qualify as two years are deducted from the solicitor apprenticeship if the paralegal apprenticeship has been passed.
Firms should ensure their business is the right firm for the candidate because it’s key that they understand, and can contribute to, its culture.
The initial six months are a steep learning curve, during which the apprentices learn to adapt to an office environment, while learning key skills such as financial management and balancing competing deadlines.
We recognise the need to constantly review our structured training programme, which covers both technical and the range of soft skills.
During the paralegal apprenticeship, when apprentices develop an understanding of our business and its clients, they are trained in drafting and other skills until they eventually run their own matters.
By the time they are seeking promotion onto the solicitor apprenticeship they should be working at the level of a paralegal.
Then, during the solicitor apprenticeship, the complexity and value of the transactions increases giving opportunities to build negotiation skills and increase technical knowledge.
Michelle Tunney is the apprenticeship manager at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner (Manchester) bclplaw.com