Making Work, WorkWomen in Law

Are you up to speed with the new routes into the legal profession? It used to be that apprenticeship opportunities were for college leavers and covered only paralegal roles, but things have changed. Increasing numbers of businesses across the UK have been launching apprenticeships, particularly since the government introduced a levy in 2017 for any employer in the UK with an annual pay bill in excess of £3 million that could only be spent on training apprentices.

What are legal apprenticeships?

In the legal sector, this has led to many law firms launching Law Society- and SRA-approved ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship schemes. This means it is now possible to join a top law firm in a potential fee-earning role without having first gone to university. Effectively, legal apprenticeships provide opportunities to gain on-the-job experience whilst studying to qualify as a legal professional.

Law apprentices gain professional legal qualifications, which can be right up to solicitor level, alongside paid employment in a law firm. For qualification as a solicitor, this means learning alongside earning on the job for six years.

Legal apprenticeships – Kennedys case study

Apprentices typically spend one day a week studying and the remaining time working in much the same way as a paralegal or trainee would. “I spend my Mondays studying at BPP University and the remaining four days of the week working in the office. During the week, I attend training events and courses, but the majority of learning is done ‘on the job’ and as you progress through your role,” explains Caitlin, a Solicitor Apprentice in Kennedys’ Cambridge office.

Kennedys were one of the first law firms in the UK to offer a legal apprenticeship and are now in their seventh year with their legal apprenticeship programme moving from strength to strength. In 2019, Kennedys won Best Degree Apprenticeship at the 2019 School Leaver Awards, making it their third award in three years. With over 60 apprentices across their offices, Kennedys actively recruits from schools and colleges, welcoming people from the age of 18.

Hannah Worsfold, the HR Manager responsible for Trainees and Apprentices at Kennedys, was clear that whilst the firm does benefit from the apprentice levy, there is another real benefit to offering an alternative route to qualification via an apprenticeship. “It allows Kennedys to reach people from a much wider range of backgrounds who more accurately represent the diversity of our client base. Kennedys has a strong focus on legal innovation and welcome ideas from all levels of the firm and a more diverse workforce brings a variety of perspectives and ideas.

“We believe our apprentices are the talent pipeline for Kennedys and offering an alternative route to qualification provides an opportunity for young people to earn whilst they learn.

“I believe this is a driver for young people who do not wish to take the university route and incur student debt but would rather enter the workplace at the earliest opportunity. This is reflected in our application numbers, as we usually receive circa 600 applications across all of our offices”.

Ross Bell, a Senior Associate at Kennedys who is also an Apprentice Supervisor, was equally positive about the benefits of employing apprentices. “Apprentices are an important part of Kennedys’ future and they offer advantages over traditional recruitment of litigation assistants and lawyers.

“Apprentices – compared to either litigation assistants or trainee solicitors – usually have no legal or working background/are starting from scratch. They therefore require an intense level of training and supervision to ensure learning in a swift directed fashion but their progress can be remarkable and I have enjoyed working with apprentices who performed exceptionally in their roles having been provided with responsibility from day 1.”

Legal apprenticeship – Cartmell Shepherd case study

This is echoed by Holly Moxon, a solicitor apprentice halfway through her second year of the apprenticeship with Cumbrian firm Cartmell Shepherd. She notes, “the law is often different in practice and theory, so being able to learn both at the same time has been very beneficial.

“The skills and tips that you pick up in the office on a daily basis are incomparable to what you can learn reading from a textbook”.

In Cartmell Shepherd’s case, an apprentice was not something they had necessarily been seeking, with the proposal driven by then 20-year-old Moxon.

Moxon originally had a place at university to study law, but soon realised that the traditional university route was not for her. Still wishing to qualify as a lawyer, she began working at Cartmell Shepherd in an administrative role before making the apprenticeship proposal to her bosses.

Peter Stafford, managing partner at the UK 200 Group legal firm, said: “We were impressed by Holly’s initiative when she brought the proposal to us.

“Solicitor apprenticeships have until now mainly been provided by larger city firms, but we could see no reason why it shouldn’t be something we offered here at Cartmell Shepherd.

“Holly has been a great addition to our team and has worked hard to complete her first year of study.

“We’re passionate about investing in high-quality training and development for all of our staff, along with recruiting local people with talent and potential.

“The apprenticeship route serves both of those criteria very well, so this is certainly something we would consider again in the future.”

Adoption of legal apprenticeships by the legal industry

The legal industry still has a long way to go in terms of widening access to the profession. The number of firms and in-house legal teams offering apprenticeships is growing but there are notable absences in the top firms, and where apprenticeships are offered, the number of positions on offer is far fewer than trainee positions.

Apprenticeships are on offer in Magic Circle firms, but not to qualify as a solicitor, with Linklaters, Freshfields and Clifford Chance offering paralegal and legal project management options. Clifford Chance and Slaughter & May both expressed their decision to maintain solely training lawyers using the traditional training contract method when the option for solicitor apprentices was first introduced in 2016.

Solicitor apprenticeships are more widely on offer in the Silver Circle and other Legal200 and Legal500 firms. Firms such as Mishcon de Reya, CMS, Eversheds Sutherland, Dentons, Irwin Mitchell, Pinsent Masons, Withers and Addleshaw Goddard, to name but a few, all offer solicitor apprenticeships.

There is no central database of all apprenticeships but a few of the key firms are listed here. As with training contract applications, it is often a matter of searching individual firms in which you have an interest and determining what opportunities are on offer.

How will the introduction of the SQE change things?

The introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) in 2021 will also apply to apprentices, with the apprentice providers we spoke to not envisioning this will affect the numbers applying.

Interestingly, Carol Fish, Director at Cartmell Shepherd, observed that students qualifying by the more traditional route (university, law school and a training contract) “will not have the opportunity to have the in-depth experience on the job that an apprentice will have had.”

Given apprentices will have had six years client-facing experience by the time they sit SQE2, compared to a more traditional two, could solicitor apprentices be actually better placed to successfully pass the SQE? We will watch this space with interest.

What’s next?

At present legal apprenticeships are for those who want to qualify as solicitors, as well as non-qualified paralegals. The Bar Standards Board has been consulting on opening up new pathways to qualification outside sitting the bar vocational course, and in 2019 approved a new training regime for barristers opening up four routes to qualification, which includes an apprenticeship. These new pathways come into effect in September 2020.

So far as in-house apprentice positions, that is harder to gauge as there is no central database of companies and businesses offering legal apprenticeships, outside of the government’s list of places actively recruiting. We know that councils, including Bristol City Council, employ solicitor apprenticeships as well as the in-house legal teams of FTSE 100 companies such as ITV.

With university fees continuing to be high and job prospects for graduates becoming more competitive, it is expected that competition for apprenticeship places will increase. Once the current cohorts have successfully qualified as solicitors in 2024 and onwards, no doubt more firms will take up the mantle.

What do you think about legal apprenticeships? Does your firm offer them? Are you an apprentice yourself? Let us know your thoughts @ObeliskSupport.

FIRST 100 Years of Women in law - book review
Women in Law

On Monday 23rd December 2019, we celebrate the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women to become professionals in the UK. The First 100 Years project is the national campaign celebrating this centenary, focusing primarily on the progression of women in the legal profession since 1919. First 100 Years has been celebrating this centenary throughout this year in many ways, one of its latest being the newly released FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law, which is the first book of its kind telling the story of women in law throughout the last 100 years in an accessible and informative way.

About First 100 Years

Set up in 2015 by Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith, the First 100 Years project has been building an archive to tell the previously untold stories of the pioneering women who made history in the legal profession. From the first female solicitor, Madge Easton Anderson, in 1920, to Elizabeth Lane, who was the first woman appointed a County Court judge and then the first woman appointed to the High Court, right up to the present day with the first female President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, and future firsts, like future president of the Law Society I. Stephanie Boyce, who will become the first President from a BAME background in 2021.

First 100 Years is a multimedia project, telling the history of women in law in many ways to ensure as many people as possible can learn about the stories in a way that suits them; from the filmed biographical interviews, a podcast series, a unique music commission to an artwork commission for the Supreme Court, and now a book, there is something for everyone to learn about the inspiring female pioneers that shaped the profession today. The purpose of the project is not just to understand the history of women in law, but to use this to provide the context for promoting further gender equality in the profession, by assessing progress so far and how far we still have to go.

FIRST

FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law seeks to capture the lives of female pioneers in law, past and present, to ensure we do not lose the stories of these incredible women. It does so following the format of the First 100 Years timeline, podcast series and exhibition, decade-by-decade, delving into the broader themes of each decade, including the wider historical context that impacted women’s place in the profession. It also goes further into the many stories of the individual women including biographical information and both archival and modern day pictures of the pioneers, making it a highly informative and entertaining read.

Lucinda Acland, a long-term volunteer on the project and the host of the First 100 Years Podcast series, and Katie Broomfield, an academic in the field and a champion of the project, have brought together archival material, material produced by the project through the video and podcast interviews and their own research to create this book. FIRST is the product of over five years’ worth of efforts in building the archive, which was not an easy task.

The project’s founder, Dana Denis-Smith, often refers to the fact that what she thought would be a history project, turned into an “archaeological dig” to unearth the stories because women’s achievements often go unacknowledged and their stories rarely told, so finding out many of the stories took a lot of work. The writing of the book itself, however, was done in a very short amount of time. It was originally not intended to be released until 2020 but due to an incredible amount of interest, the task was brought forward and the authors got it done in a matter of months in time for the centenary celebrations, and we are so pleased they did as it has been a huge success!

There was a hotly contested debate around the title, from the authors, publishers, editors, proof readers and the First 100 Years team. Being the first of its kind, it was important to ensure the title hit the correct tone. It had to transcend the purely feminist literature section of a library and be a credible history book in its own right, irrespective of the fact it featured women. In the end, it was actually The Attic editor Laure Latham who came up with the simple yet effective title: FIRST: 100 Years of Women in Law. It captured the essence of the project, with the name of the project in the title, but also the simple word “FIRST” alluded to the women featured as “firsts” in various ways, and is also signifying that there are many achievements for women in law to come – this is just the beginning.

Why is FIRST so important?

Ultimately, women need to understand their history to be able to place themselves within it. It has become apparent to the First 100 Years team over the past few years that, understandably, people could not accurately estimate how long women have been in the profession, or have known the many anecdotes that have since been shared, such as not being allowed to wear trousers in the courtroom, having no female lavatory facilities or women frequently being asked to make the tea in meetings. It is only by understanding the background can we both recognise how far we have come and make sure we fight to ensure history does not repeat itself. As Baroness Kennedy says in her testimonial of the book, “this is a vital and stunning piece of our history…the absence of women in the system of law was a gross impediment to justice” and we must ensure women’s place in the profession is cemented.

The Next 100 Years

As The Secret Barrister says in their testimonial of the book, “[FIRST] offers not only a unique celebration of the progress achieved by women in the law, but a vital reminder of how much work there still is to do”. Despite the progress of the last 100 years, there are still barriers to be broken and progress to be made, and there are plenty of plans in the works for The Next Hundred Years! You can get involved by following us on social media @First100Years and @Next100Years_, checking out all the many resources we have on our website www.first100years.org.uk and contacting us at [email protected].

Make sure to get your copy of the book by going to www.first100years.org.uk/our-new-book/

Here’s to the Next 100 Years!

Making Work, Work

On 12 July 2010, Obelisk Support was founded. Now one of the fastest-growing independent businesses in Europe, Obelisk Support has become a leading legal services provider with a purpose – to make human first a priority. To celebrate how far we have come with our clients and consultants, here is a true story that illustrates how putting human first and how working differently can make a big difference in the legal world.

This UK-qualified lawyer trained at Walker Martineau in 1980 and went on to work 20 years at Sinclair Roche & Temperley, first as a solicitor and finally as a managing partner. In 2002, he became partner of two subsequent law firms until in 2005, his career changed course and he worked seven years at Ince & Co. In May 2014, he was made redundant.

He was 30+ years PQE.  Not an easy proposition in a market hungry for younger lawyers.

Three months later in August 2014, he contacted Obelisk Support and became an Obelisk legal consultant. His first job at Obelisk, with a large banking group, came in 2015 and, as it was successful, he started getting more confident working as a freelance lawyer. In 2017, a global law firm interviewed him for a senior experienced project finance lawyer position. He couldn’t do it right then, because of other commitments, but if they would wait a few months, he could.

Impressed by his expertise, the global law firm offered him a flexible hours job that he started in January 2018. Based on his experience in similar projects, he was able to scope the job and kept his team updated as and when he was progressing on the complex documents. A freelance career gave him the control he needed at a stage of his life when the legal industry is not the most supportive.