Samantha Hope is the Graduate Recruitment Manager at Shoosmiths, which is the fastest growing national law firm in the UK. She is responsible for managing the entire process of resourcing and developing trainee solicitors from initial attraction to qualification. HRreview caught up with her to discuss Shoosmiths’ early careers scheme.
Perhaps you can begin by telling me a little bit about your work with Shoosmiths?
I am the graduate recruitment manager at Shoosmiths and I run the early careers programme for our graduates from attraction to qualification. So for trainee solicitors that means going out to universities, running employment presentations and running insight evenings at our offices. I am also responsible for running the application and assessment system, screening, interviews and assessment centres.
I am responsible for the process after recruitment has taken place too, such as on-boarding and keeping candidates warm. Two years after candidates have been recruited they actually start work. The whole induction process, followed by the development of the candidates into qualified solicitors usually takes about four years, that’s from offer to qualification.
Everyone in the current climate is talking about the Millennial Generation and how difficult they seem to find it to stay in one job for long. How do you encourage people to stick out the four-year process?
The hardest part, when it comes to maintaining talent, is probably the bit in the middle, which is the two year wait from offer until they actually start. Law firms traditionally recruit two years in advance and that is because we recruit from penultimate year law and they finish their course and go on to do a post-graduate qualification before they even start with us.
We are seeing at the moment a slight increase in the amount of students that are pulling out at that stage. Our drop-out figures are still very low, around one a year, but we have noticed this more in the last two years than we did, say, in the three years previous to that. Looking forward this will be the real challenge, ensuring we engage with candidates who have been made an offer and whom we are now investing in. We need to be sure that they are actually going to start work on day one.
Are you finding that as a lot more people are graduating and a lot more people are graduating with good results that competition is becoming much more difficult to find good people now?
It is an incredibly competitive process for candidates, it’s also incredibly competitive for law firms who are competing against each other, firstly in terms of branding and making sure the right message is getting out to students and secondly in terms of keeping students once recruited.
Shoosmiths are an employer who are based in the regions, so we don’t pay as much as City firms, but we do compete with them, so students might often have us as a back-up choice. It is difficult sometimes to battle against the lure of City firms and the money they can offer. But there are many other positives which we can offer such as great work-satisfaction; by that I mean a good work-life balance, feeling valued and working with amazing colleagues.
Is it becoming more difficult to pick out the great candidates from amid the good candidates?
More and more people are graduating with a top degree, a 2:1 or a first, which is traditionally what you need, you end up with loads of good candidates. Google advise companies not to compromise on clients, so yeah, you can fill positions with good candidates, but sometimes it’s best to wait for outstanding candidates to fill the roles. This is quite a challenging task but it certainly resonates with what we want to do.
Does Shoosmiths run apprenticeship and internship schemes?
Apprenticeships are becoming more and more popular, we already offer Level 2 and Level 3 apprenticeships at Shoosmiths. These can often be based in the business support side of the firm, as well as in the legal teams. Legal apprenticeships are certainly becoming more common, allowing people to take a different route to becoming a solicitor. But, there are a lot of changes in the legal sphere at the moment, so we’re all waiting eagerly to find out what’s coming up next.
Looking into the future do you think a university qualification is going to hold less and less prestige and apprenticeships will become more and more commonplace?
Yes, and I think widening access to careers in law is a great thing. There should be more routes to enable candidates to become solicitors. People should be able to work their way through, or train their way through or learn their way through, whichever way they want to do it, we should be making routes for them. And with the launch of the Apprenticeship Levy, it seems that businesses will respond by taking on more apprentices, and this will open the level 7 solicitor apprentice route.