Road to somewhere

Gordons is rolling out a legal apprenticeship scheme. Barbara Rollin explains why it is a
win-win situation for all concerned.

Recruitment is a serious issue for any business, especially in times of economic ­uncertainty. At Gordons we have decided that it is 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 meet all education costs for the qualification, as well as providing quality work experience. They will join us in September after having left school at 18 following their A-levels, and will take a different path into the profession by working and learning at the same time.

Managing partner Paul Ayre had the idea for the apprenticeship programme after watching a TV show about how the best jobs tend go to people from the wealthiest ­backgrounds. Inspired by this, and the fact that he was in a position to make a ­difference, Paul worked with the firm’s HR manager Karen Mills to set up the apprenticeship scheme. The intention is to run this alongside our traditional trainee solicitor programme – it is not a replacement.

Interviews were held during the half-term week in May. We involved people from across the business who gained their ­qualifications in the same way to gain a ­perspective from people who know what is involved.

Following success at interview 10 ­potential apprentices completed a week’s work experience at the firm in July. They undertook work in five departments and saw how the firm’s support services, such as the marketing and cashiers’ departments and the office management team, work.

We took this as an opportunity to shape the applicants’ views 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 applicants were expected to complete. This formed part of their assessment, meaning the process was tough.

Five apprentices have now been chosen, all of whom have shown a determination to ­succeed as well as the academic skills ­needed to cope with the qualification element of the training. They started work on 12 ­September, enrolling on the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) course at a local college to be completed via the day-release system.

The technical element will take four years, with two additional years’ training to be completed post-technical qualification.

Debt-end jobs

For the apprentices the scheme offers an opportunity to have the career of their dreams without having toamass the huge debt their contemporaries entering the ­profession through university will accrue. It is also a chance to get experience that may lead to better job prospects than those who follow the more academic route.

Currently there are many graduates in the marketplace searching for those elusive training contracts. For some these 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.

Now is the time to widen the perspective. Instead of sticking to the narrow path of graduate entry and qualification as a ­solicitor, it is time to consider alternative means to the same end. Solicitor or lawyer – it is just a question of semantics.
The apprentices have already taken that leap of faith. They have grown up in the past few years, seen job losses (maybe even experienced them first hand within their families) and know tuition fees are set to treble. Their already wide perspective is one of reality.

So what is in it for us? Well, the ­advantages are numerous. We have a real opportunity to shape and assist in the ­development of some bright people who may not otherwise have had the opportunities to pursue careers in law, as well as a ­tailor-made recruitment programme that teaches in ’the Gordons way’. We see it as a chance to make a difference and build a strong skill base of homegrown talent. I like to think of it as being something akin to a 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, among the first to do this in the legal profession, and are hopeful that our initiative will produce some bright and determined lawyers in due course.

Barbara Rollin is head of commercial property at Gordons