Skip to content

Get work experience through our Smart Start programme

Every year, we provide work experience for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Smart Start is more than just a week of support as participants are offered mentoring, tutoring and, for those going to university, the opportunity to apply for both financial and employability support. Find out more about the programme, who’s eligible and how to apply below.

Year 12 work experience – with a difference

Smart Start is Allen & Overy’s flagship social mobility programme, run in partnership with Causeway Education. It aims to raise the career aspirations of young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds (see who’s eligible, below). Smart Start gives them access to high-quality work experience, skills training, mentoring and funding opportunities. It is the only work experience scheme in the legal sector that is City & Guilds Assured.

How it works: The benefits of work experience with A&O

There are three elements to Smart Start:

  1. Smart Start Week, our in-person work experience for Year 12 students or equivalent; or
  2. Smart Applications, our online programme for Year 12 or equivalent students
  3. Smarter Futures, our mentoring programme for Year 13 or equivalent students who’ve completed Smart Start Week

1. Smart Start Week

Smart Start Week is held at our London office in July each year. It’s open to Year 12 or equivalent students who meet our criteria (see who’s eligible, below).
Over the course of five days, students take part in workshops and tackle challenges based on the Skills Builder Universal Framework. They’re supported by A&O colleagues, volunteers from our commercial clients and Smart Start Week alumni. 

What you get:

  • 1:1 calls to discuss your application, provide support and answer any questions (hosted by Causeway Education)
  • Insight into careers at an international law firm
  • Advice on drafting personal statements and how to make job applications stand out
  • Development of eight essential skills
  • Lunches and refreshments provided free of charge during the week and travel costs reimbursed
  • A completion certificate from A&O and, for those students who meet the City & Guilds benchmark, a certificate from City & Guilds, as well as a digital credential.
  • Access to Causeway Education’s UCAS support platform, OSCAR
  • Access to our Smarter Futures mentoring programme

2. Smart Applications

Young people who are unable or do not want to travel to London can apply for Smart Applications. The virtual work-related learning programme takes place in June/July each year. It’s open to Year 12 or equivalent students who meet our criteria (see Who’s eligible, below).

Smart Applications is made up of eight live webinars. These include sessions on university and apprenticeship applications and how to develop employability skills. Like Smart Start Week, Smart Applications is based on the Skills Builder Universal Framework.

Students don’t have to join all the webinars but our most engaged students are invited to a celebration day at our London office in August.

What you get:

  • Development of eight essential skills
  • Insight into careers at an international law firm
  • The opportunity to take part in mock interview and get feedback
  • Access to Causeway Education’s UCAS support platform, OSCAR

Smart Applications participants are not eligible for Smarter Futures.

3. Smarter Futures

All students who take part in Smart Start Week are invited to apply for Smarter Futures, which runs throughout Year 13.

What you get:

  • A dedicated mentor from A&O or one of our commercial clients through an online secure platform
  • The opportunity to apply for online tutoring sessions with Peppo Tutors in the run-up to your A level exams
  • The opportunity to apply for our university bursary programme (see below)
  • The opportunity to apply for three years of careers and employability support with upReach*

* Smarter Futures participants must meet upReach’s eligibility criteria.

About the A&O bursary

Smarter Futures participants going on to study at university can apply for our bursary programme*. Students do not have to be studying law or attending a particular university to apply.

What you get:

  • A GBP15,000 bursary, paid in instalments of GBP5,000 over three years
  • A dedicated mentor
  • Exclusive invitations to events and webinars with key speakers
  • A guaranteed interview for our A&O First programme for university students

* You will need to be accepted on upReach to qualify for the bursary – metrics include a household income below £42,620 and you will be asked to provide evidence to demonstrate this.

Smart Start’s impact

Since its launch in 2009, Smart Start has supported over 1,800 students.

Our bursary programme began in 2010, and in 2021, the scheme was extended to include A&O Accelerate participants. In total, we’ve awarded 30 bursaries to students. Of these:

  • 6 have been awarded training contracts at A&O
  • 1 is on our A&O First programme
  • 2 are A&O Brand Ambassadors for their university

Sixty-eight students joined us for Smart Start Week 2023. Of those, 100% rated it as very good or good in their end-of-week feedback. All those who took part strongly agreed or agreed with the statement: “The Smart Start Week will strengthen my personal statement for applications, e.g. to university.

Participants completed a Skills Builder assessment before and after the week. The results show improvement in all eight essential skills, including a 16% improvement in listening, speaking and aiming high.

How to apply

The Smart Start Week and Smart Applications programmes open in January/February each year.  

Prospective Smart Start Week and Smart Applications applicants must first register for, and attend, an in-person or virtual Smart Choices session in March 2024. There, they will learn about the two programmes and how to apply - further details can be found on this page. Applications for Smart Start 2024 are now closed.

They can choose to apply for either programme or both. Places are allocated on a points-based system, depending on how many of the criteria the students meet.

Successful applicants for Smart Start Week are required to attend a launch day at our London office in May or June. There, they will meet fellow participants and hear more about the benefits of the programme. Students will also hear from our volunteers and take part in activities such as a mock interview.

What our participants say

“I really liked the way we could speak to the A&O volunteers, as this helped gain some insight.” - Smart Choices attendee

“I liked the mock interview and talking with lawyers within the firm, it made everything less intimidating.” - Launch day attendee

“The workshop gave me a clear view of the different skills that are applicable and needed when pursuing a career of law.” - Smart Applications participant

“It challenged me and put me out of my comfort zone, but the best thing was that I wasn't alone. My team and I almost became like a family at the end of it because we managed to overcome all the difficult tasks together, and I am very grateful for the experience. Thank you.” - Smart Start Week participant

“The best thing I’ve done this summer and I would recommend everyone who wants to become a lawyer to experience this.” - Smart Start Week participant

What our volunteers say

Every year, volunteers from A&O and our clients support our Smart Start programme. Ninety-five A&O colleagues, 35 client volunteers and eight Smart Start week alumni took part in 2023’s Smart Start Week. Here’s what some of them had to say about the experience.

Rob first volunteered for Smart Start as a trainee lawyer. As someone who attended state school and struggled to find work experience in the legal sector before attending university, he recognises the value of the programme.

He says: “I think it’s an amazing scheme. It gives students the eight Skills Builder essential skills, but also the ones we take for granted, like negotiating the transport system in London. It gives them the opportunity to figure out how to do these things for themselves. By the end of the week, you see them far more confident – confident to ask questions of those in senior roles, and happy to challenge each other in a respectful way.”

Jeremy has been involved in Smart Start since 2013, when he was a trainee lawyer. He says: “I have had a fortunate upbringing with access to all kinds of opportunities. The ability to give back is a big driver for me. There is great satisfaction to be had in helping the students identify and make the most of their talents.”

Helen is another of our repeat volunteers. As a business professional, she helps to open students’ eyes and minds to the different opportunities available at an international law firm. She says: “Exposure and interaction from an adult in a profession like ours can have a big impact on how a student thinks about their future and engages at school.”

Matt was the first person in his family to attend university and work for a professional services company. He says: “I want to make sure that students from backgrounds like mine have opportunities to succeed in firms like A&O. This kind of environment can be daunting, but in the end, it’s about making connections with people.

"I hope Smart Start Week demystifies the corporate world by humanising it, as well as reminding the participants that it takes all sorts of contributions for the firm to run. You don’t have to be a lawyer to have a place in the organisation.”

Who is eligible?

Applicants must:

  • have always attended a state-funded or non-fee paying school
  • be a UK national or EU national with settled status in the UK by the time they apply for university.

Applicants must also meet at least one of the following additional criteria:

  • come from a household where no parent or guardian has attended university
  • receive, or have previously received free school meals, Pupil Premium, Education Maintenance Allowance or a 16 to 19 Bursary Fund
  • be or have been in local authority care
  • be or have been a full-time or part-time young carer
  • come to the UK as a refugee or asylum seeker
  • come from a household where a parent or carer has served in the regular armed forces
  • be attending a school or college with:
    • below average A level or Scottish Highers points score, and/or
    • a low rate of progression to higher education.
Students who meet more than one additional criteria are more likely to receive a place on either programme.