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WINNER: Gordons

Yorkshire firm Gordons wins this category for its legal apprenticeship scheme. The firm was one of the first in the UK to launch an apprenticeship scheme aimed at school-leavers from underprivileged backgrounds, and has now seen two intakes of apprentices join. The scheme sees Gordons approach local schools and colleges, present the scheme and invite applicants. Candidates are interviewed and undertake a week of work experience, which is intended to provide useful experience for unsuccessful applicants as well as select successful ones.

Apprentices embark on a five-year course of work and education that will train them to levels three and six of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. Gordons pays salaries to the apprentices as well as their course fees, meaning they will end the five years not only with a qualification but also with no student debt. Each apprentice is assigned to a particular team and moved around until they find the ‘right place’ within the firm to develop their skills.

The firm targets students from families with no history of higher education with five good GCSEs and three A-levels at grade B or above. The firm is now considering expanding the scheme to support staff and is establishing links with clients who run apprenticeship schemes to open the door for work exchanges. Clients are positive about the scheme and have responded well to the programme. Gordons hopes its apprentices will become partners in the future, providing the firm with a socially diverse, well-trained workforce.

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2ND: Baker & McKenzie

Baker & McKenzie has had a diversity programme for some time and is now turning its focus towards inclusion as well as diversity. In the past year the firm has introduced mandatory unconscious bias training programmes for all members of staff, intended to tackle biases at every level of office life.

Meanwhile, the firm’s UK Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) group has set up a ‘listening ear’ network, which can provide any member of the firm with advice on LGBT-related issues. The scheme was so successful that Baker & McKenzie’s North American offices have introduced their own listening ears. Baker & McKenzie is also awaiting ratification of its first global LGBT policy.

The firm is also involved in social mobility initiative Prime and held its first Prime week in August 2012. Students were given the opportunity to work with a client to show them a broader range of careers in law.

3RD: Norton Rose Fulbright

A three-year diversity initiative at Norton Rose Fulbright has seen UK female partner numbers rise from 16 per cent in 2009 to 21 per cent, while in the past 12 months women accounted for 62 per cent of top-level UK promotions at the firm.

The initiative had three core strands: a career strategies programme (CSP) which the firm believes is the first of its kind in the legal market; a career strategies sponsors’ programme for managers of CSP delegates to help them better manage and enable female associates’ career progression; and a broad spectrum of gender-related learning, development and networking schemes, including the Women in Norton Rose (WiN) network, aiming to increase diversity and retention of women. The network is also open to men.

Staff are given unconscious bias training and flexible working is key, with 11 per cent of all staff now working flexibly. Norton Rose Fulbright also puts emphasis on disability and ethnic diversity through involvement in schemes such as Prime.