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Corporate Responsibility

Smart Start becomes the legal sector’s first accredited work experience scheme

04 September 2014

A&O’s Smart Start Experience has become the first work experience programme in the UK legal sector to be accredited by City & Guilds, the internationally recognised vocational education business.

Smart Start is A&O’s award-winning scheme to broaden access to the legal profession in the UK. Over the past six years it has provided over 700 London students, aged 16-17, from non-privileged backgrounds, with the chance to gain a real insight into the world of business and the opportunity to start building a network of contacts among business professionals.

The accreditation has been awarded by City & Guilds following a rigorous formal assessment. It recognises the outstanding quality of the work experience scheme, as well as A&O’s commitment to evaluating the students’ development and progression. This year, over 90% of participants said they felt more confident and ambitious as a result of taking part in the Smart Start Experience.

But, as a UK Government report published on Thursday, entitled ‘Elitist Britain?’, shows: 65% of people in the UK still believe ‘who you know’ is more important than ‘what you know’; and 75% of people think family background has a significant influence on life chances in Britain today.

That is why A&O launched the Smart Start Experience back in 2009, and co-founded PRIME, an alliance of law firms across the UK who are committed to broadening access to the legal profession. PRIME celebrated its second anniversary in 2013 and now has 80 members firms. It has been cited as a “benchmark access programme” by the UK government’s social mobility adviser.

A&O senior partner, David Morley, explains: “High quality work experience is a vital first step on the career ladder and is something that should be equally available to all young people, regardless of their background. City & Guilds accreditation is an important stamp of approval for the quality of our work experience programme and we’re proud to be the first law firm accredited in this way. It means the students who take part in Smart Start receive formal recognition of their work as well as benefitting from the invaluable experience the programme offers.”

Gary Woolton from City & Guilds commented: “As we went through the accreditation process, it became clear this is not just a one-week package. It’s a fully rounded training programme from application, completion of a challenge and selection, to the chance to develop the skills of the students via work placements, mentor support and further study.

“The commitment from everyone at Allen & Overy in making the programme a huge success was important in the process. It was that commitment that struck me most. The facilitators and volunteers got as much out of it as the students, and that is why it is a perfect match for City & Guilds; changing people’s lives for the better.”

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