Early CareersUniversity is old hat. Well, not quite, but young people are looking for different approaches to tackle their further education. Apprenticeships are, as we all know, becoming increasingly popular, but are firms doing enough to ride this new wave?

oung people are increasingly looking for alternative ways to start their careers without going down the traditional university path; this is an opportunity for employers but not enough are offering high-quality apprenticeships that genuinely provide people with the right skillset to progress their career. In the legal industry the first step on the career ladder is a notoriously difficult one. There’s fierce competition among university graduates to get a position in a law firm as a paralegal and they’re battling it out against thousands holding the same qualifications and little real-world experience. Then there are those candidates that went on to do the Legal Practice Course (“LPC”) in order to qualify to become a solicitor; though the number of candidates is lower, so too are the number of training contracts firms can offer.

A report by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, published in October last year stated that “not enough apprenticeships are providing advanced, professional skills in the sectors that need them most.” The Government’s Apprenticeship Levy backs this with the legislation encouraging employers to fund more quality apprenticeships come April 2017. The Government is introducing the levy to demonstrate its commitment to developing vocational skills and by 2020 it wants three million apprenticeships to have started in England. The levy recognises that employers play a substantial role in apprenticeships in ensuring the quality of training given to candidates, which is vital to the success of the UK economy.

At DWF we recognise the positive impact that training people in their current roles and offering apprenticeships can have on our business and have been offering apprenticeships since 2012. We were one of just a handful of UK law firms that were involved in the Government initiative to form the exclusive, employer-led trailblazer paralegal apprenticeship and helped develop the standards for law apprenticeships that ensure candidates have the correct knowledge and skills needed to pursue a successful career in law. Offering apprenticeships as a way to break into the legal industry has been successful for us, not just in terms of loyalty but in the type of people we have working with our clients; they understand the DWF way and they know the level of service we offer. Our apprentices are thriving and our people are supported in developing themselves.

Jennifer Farrell, paralegal in the commercial insurance team at DWF:
I began my legal career when I joined DWF as a national apprentice working in the commercial insurance department; I had no idea legal apprenticeships existed and was looking for a career that allowed me to use my English literature and language qualifications from school but that did not necessarily involve the traditional university route. It was a pleasant surprise when I saw the apprenticeship advertised as it gave me the route to a career that I really wanted and one that would offer real development.

While working full-time in a varied and fast-paced environment gaining valuable on-the-job experience, I completed both legal knowledge and legal competency qualifications, progressing onto the CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice – which I have nearly finished! Apprenticeships are a fantastic opportunity and I’m a true advocate of them as a route in, not just in the legal industry but in any industry. There aren’t enough apprenticeship programmes available that offer candidates industry recognised qualifications and those that do aren’t visible enough because employers aren’t as pro-actively involved as they should be in promoting them. Too often apprenticeships are overshadowed by traditional routes which is a shame because I have loved every minute of mine, applying my ever-growing legal knowledge throughout the working day, with the added dimension of understanding through learning and through working how law works as a business, not just an academic subject.

Dan Foster, FILEx catastrophic physical injury & occupational health at DWF:
I joined DWF as a lead paralegal in the catastrophic personal injury & occupational health team. Finding a training contract to become a solicitor had proved seemingly impossible so when I joined DWF it was to pursue a career as a paralegal. Once in my role, changes to the qualification routes meant I was eligible to qualify as a solicitor while in my current role, via the CILEx Graduate/Equivalent Means route, something my employer was very supportive of.

I was able to further develop my career through the qualification but also through promotion to senior paralegal while still learning – the equivalent to solicitor within the firm’s internal careers structure and pays similarly. I am now qualified as a Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives (“FILEx”) and will be admitted as a solicitor in July. Now I’m handling my own higher value matters, which shows the progression I’ve been able to make. Qualifying as a solicitor in the legal industry isn’t easy and certainly isn’t cheap – having an employer that has backed my development and supported my career progression has been immensely important.

Zara Salmon, paralegal in the regulatory team at DWF commented:
I chose to do a legal administration apprenticeship because I wanted to become a paralegal and an apprenticeship was a step toward this. Earning a wage whilst learning, becoming part of the working environment – which really builds self-confidence – and developing the necessary skills and experience required in my role were just some of the benefits. Apprenticeships are important because they enable young people to become more motivated, independent and “grow as a person” in a really supportive environment that can start a career.

My apprenticeship programme provided me with everything I needed to develop skills, build my experience and start my career. It was what I’d call the “ideal programme” – a clear progression path from the start and knowing what will happen at the end of the apprenticeship, being given plenty of opportunities to learn and become involved in new things and with sufficient support from the apprenticeship provider and my employer.

Oliver Bate is the Head of Learning and Development at leading legal business DWF, based in the firm’s Manchester office. He has 15 years’ experience in management and L&D and specialises in behavioural change in professional services. Oliver leads DWF’s people development strategy through developing behavioural understanding, business insight and legal technical knowledge. He also develops the firm’s emerging talent pipeline through training and apprenticeship programmes.