09/09/2011

Apprentices – Gordons introduces fresh route to career in law

Recruitment is a serious issue for any business, especially in times of economic uncertainty. At Gordons we have decided that it’s time to do things differently.

This year, for the first time, we are taking on a number of apprentices who will ultimately become Legal Executive Lawyers. The firm will pay them a salary and will meet all education costs for the qualification, as well as provide quality hands on work experience. They will join us in September having left school at 18 after A-Levels and will take a different path into the profession by working and learning at the same time.

The idea for the apprenticeship programme was that of the firm’s managing partner Paul Ayre, who was inspired to act after watching a TV programme about how the majority of the best jobs tend go to people from the wealthiest backgrounds.

Inspired by the programme and the fact that he was in a position to make a difference, Paul worked with the firm’s HR manager, Karen Mills, for a number of months to set up the apprenticeship scheme. The intention is to run this programme alongside our traditional trainee solicitor programme. It is not a replacement.

Interviews were held in the half term week in May. We involved people from across the business who gained their qualifications in the same way, in our desire to get a different, more real, perspective from people who know what’s involved.

Following on from success of interview, ten potential apprentices completed a week’s work experience at the firm in July. They undertook work from five different departments and saw how the firms support services, such as the marketing department, cashiers department and office management teams, work.

We took this as an opportunity to do things differently and to shape the apprentices’ view of a legal firm from a wider base than the traditional law only focus. In addition, each legal department put together a work pack that each apprentice was expected to complete and which formed part of their assessment, meaning the process was tough.

Five apprentices have now been chosen all of whom have shown a desire and determination to succeed as well as the academic skills to cope with the qualification element to the training. These successful applicants started work in September, enrolling on the ILEX course at a local college to be completed via day release. The technical element will take four years with two additional years training to be completed post technical qualification.

For the apprentices, the scheme offers an opportunity to get the career of their dreams without having to amass the huge amount of debt that their contemporaries entering the profession through university will accrue. It’s also an opportunity to get real, hands-on experience that may lead to better job prospects than those who follow the more academic route are seeing at the moment.

Currently, there are so many graduates in the market place still searching for that elusive training contract. For some it may never materialise but they seem reluctant to consider alternative ways of getting to the same end point being fixed on the Holy Grail of becoming a solicitor.

Perhaps now is the right time to widen the perspective. Instead of sticking to that narrow path of graduate entry and qualification as a solicitor may be it’s time to consider alternative means to the same end. Solicitor or lawyer – isn’t it just a question of semantics?

The apprentices have already taken that leap of faith. They have grown up in the last four years, seen job losses – maybe even experienced them at first hand in their families – and seen increasing tuition fees, which they know are set to treble next year. Their already widened perspective is one of reality.

So what’s in it for us? Well the advantages are numerous. We have the real opportunity to shape and assist in the development of some very bright people who may not otherwise have had the opportunity to pursue a career in law, as well as a tailor made recruitment programme which teaches in the Gordons way. We see it as a genuine opportunity to make a difference and to build a very strong skill base of home grown talent. I like to think of us as the talent spotting football scout!

Of course we are not alone in having apprentices. Many businesses have been taking on these types of recruits for years. We are, however, amongst the first to do this in the legal profession and we are very hopeful that it will produce some bright and determined lawyers in due course.