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Allen & Overy’s solicitor apprenticeship programme launches

A&O’s first cohort of solicitor apprentices joined the firm in September.

A&O’s solicitor apprenticeship programme leads to qualification as a solicitor in England and Wales and is aimed at school leavers who have studied for A-Levels (or equivalent) but for a variety of reasons, which can include financial, have chosen not to attend university.

As Early Careers Recruitment Partner and Training Principal, and Chair of A&O’s Social Mobility Working Group James Partridge explains, it is an important step in broadening access to A&O and the legal profession more widely.

“When I took on this role, I started to think a lot about how we could offer different routes into the legal profession,” James says, “and whether we could build a legal apprenticeship scheme similar to those we already offer in IT and other business teams.

“It felt like a very A&O thing to do, to try and offer alternative routes into the firm. University isn’t for everyone – it can bring a huge amount of debt, which is a real barrier for lots of students, so apprenticeships provide an alternative option for people to earn a salary while gaining academic qualifications and becoming a lawyer.”

What is a solicitor apprenticeship?

Solicitor apprenticeships last for six years, during which the apprentices work within A&O teams while also studying for their degree (LLB (Hons) Law and Legal Practice), and professional qualification (the Solicitors Qualifying Exam, SQE). Their legal education is fully funded from the apprenticeship levy that A&O and all large employers in the UK already pay.

How we selected our apprentices

“This is a relatively new route into the legal profession so we worked with a number of organisations - UpTree, Causeway Education and Pathway CTM - to advertise the opportunity in state schools and social mobility ‘cold spots’ across England in order to attract a socio-economically diverse and high-achieving pool of students,” James says.

“The A&O brand isn’t that familiar to many school leavers, so we held events and application masterclasses, as well as using new channels like TikTok, to build awareness of A&O and the apprenticeship scheme. We were very impressed by the quality of the applications.”

Following the application process, a number of applicants were invited to interview at the firm’s London office.

“Selecting only six apprentices was the hardest part of the whole process,” James says. “The quality was so high – the interviewing panel were really impressed by the level of maturity and preparedness, particularly given that most of the candidates were revising for exams at the same time. Making offers to our apprentices was a fantastic day.”

In their first four years, apprentices will rotate into a different A&O practice group at the end of each year, as well as having opportunities to work with other parts of the business such as Fuse, Legal Tech, eDiscovery and Project Management. During years five and six, apprentices will rotate on a six month basis, in the same manner as trainees.

Building the apprenticeship programme

Laura Robinson-Barnard, Senior HR Manager, is working with James to manage the on-boarding, design and support process for the apprentices.

“Our apprentices are hugely capable and impressive, but they’re joining A&O without the experience of university or having been in a corporate environment before,” says Laura.

“Four of the six are moving away from home for the first time, so this is a major change – as well as having to juggle academic studies with A&O work.”

A team of people from HR, training, know-how and practice groups have been working not only on the programme of learning and development, but also on ensuring that the apprentices are supported during their transition into A&O.

“It’s been my favourite part of this whole process,” Laura says, “seeing the enthusiasm from everyone at A&O who has been involved.”

“We’ve had clients asking if they can partner with us on initiatives,” James says, “and potentially offer secondments as our apprentices gain experience, which is really exciting.”

But it’s not only the apprentices who benefit from this opportunity, he says. “I think we’ll learn a lot from our apprentices too – the different perspectives they will bring, different ideas about how we work and engage with clients – it’s exciting for the firm.”

Plans for the future

“We’ve put a lot of thought into the programme so I hope it’s a big success,” James says, “something we can share our experiences of with other businesses. I’d love to see more solicitor apprenticeships being rolled out across the City.”

Work is already underway on the next recruitment cycle; the application window opens on 16 December 2022 (see here for further information) and we will be running events with our partner organisations.

“There is so much talent out there – sometimes not in the obvious places, and sometimes in places where opportunities are limited,” says James. “It’s only fair that we work harder to find that talent and provide a variety of ways for individuals to build careers in our profession. I think we will all benefit from that.”