Jenny Chapman is currently working as a Solicitor Apprentice for the global law firm, Kennedys. Speaking to Jenny we were able to gain a fascinating insight into her life as a solicitor apprentice. She also explained the advantages of doing an apprenticeship and shared her tips on entering the legal profession at the age of 18.
The idea of university isn’t appealing to everyone and legal apprenticeships are an equivalent opportunity to a career in law.
What’s the process of doing a solicitor apprenticeship, and how does this differ from the university route into law?
Traditionally, the route to qualifying as a solicitor begins with a three-year law degree, or a non-law degree, followed by a law conversion course (known as the Graduate Diploma in Law). The next step is to complete the Legal Practice Course and then a two-year training contract with a law firm. Once you’ve completed these steps you will have achieved qualified solicitor status.
This route is due to change in 2021 with the introduction of the Solicitors Qualifying Exam. This requires completion of a law degree (or equivalent study), passing the two Solicitors Qualifying Examinations and completing a period of recognised training which totals two years.
Through a solicitor apprenticeship, qualification as a solicitor is also achieved. However, academic study and practical workplace learning is combined together over a total of six years.
The timeframe to qualification is actually no different to the traditional route, as the solicitor apprenticeship route also requires you to complete a qualifying law degree and pass the two Solicitors Qualifying Examinations. However, the practical training within the workplace happens at the same time as the academic study. Each apprentice also builds a portfolio of tasks completed to evidence their progress and skills gained within the workplace.
What support do students receive throughout their apprenticeship at Kennedys?
My team are very supportive of my development as an apprentice. They ensure that I am given many opportunities to develop. This enables me to gain exposure to a range of tasks and the types of matters that my team deals with.
I have been given countless excellent opportunities, including working on a file for three years, which Kennedys went on to win in the Court of Appeal.
The quality of work I am given is fantastic. I am given a lot of responsibility and independence within my role. However, I am still supervised to ensure that I am able to learn from the experienced solicitors within my team. I am learning from leading lawyers every single day.
The legal apprenticeship courses involve 20% ‘off the job learning’ and I have one day a week to study and complete my academic learning through BPP University. These are a mixture of independent online learning, teacher-led classrooms and face-to-face skills sessions.
Each apprentice is also allocated a supervisor within the workplace, and two coaches at BPP University. I meet regularly with my university and my supervisor to ensure that I am progressing on the course.
How can apprentices get involved in the wider culture at the firm?
Apprentices are encouraged to attend any internal and external training events to encourage development of both legal and academic skills. Training sessions can often cover technical areas of law or wider insurance issues to ensure that apprentices are able to develop both technical skills and understanding of the insurance market.
This also ensures that we are able to assist clients as comprehensively as possible. It is extremely valuable to have presentations and workshops from people who are experts in the subject matter, from both people within the firm to external barristers. This mean we are able to better understand the practical application of the things that we study.
Apprentices at Kennedys are also encouraged to network and I have had exposure to clients since the first week I joined the firm. I am encouraged to attend meetings, conferences and court hearings to gain as much experience as I possibly can.
Apprentices are encouraged to attend social events, such as lunches and after work drinks with their colleagues across different teams. Apprentices are also encouraged to take the lead on these events; for example, I was supported to organise the Manchester office’s Christmas party for approximately 120 people. It was a great success and I received positive feedback!
What would you say are the advantages of doing an apprenticeship in general and at Kennedys specifically?
The experience apprentices can gain through working alongside a team of excellent lawyers for 6 years is incomparable to any other route to qualification. I am able to apply my academic learning to my role as an apprentice and the skills I learn at work assist with my academic learning. I am developing a rounded knowledge of all aspects of the profession to support my qualification as a solicitor.
At Kennedys the teams really trust their apprentices and this has enabled me to gain confidence with the work that I produce. Apprentices feel very valued within their role and that they are contributing to the team. I have never experienced two days that are the same and there are always new challenges and skills to learn.
Another positive of the apprenticeship route is that apprentices earn a salary. The academic learning is also funded by my employer through the government’s Apprenticeship Levy, so I will qualify as a solicitor debt free. It usually costs upwards of £65,000 through the traditional route.
For any students that are considering the apprenticeship, but may be apprehensive, what advice do you have?
The idea of university isn’t appealing to everyone and legal apprenticeships are an equivalent opportunity to a career in law. It is normal to be apprehensive about starting a role in a law firm at the age of 18, but colleagues appreciate that you may need extra guidance and support in the role in order to get started. However, saying that, I have never been labelled as ‘the apprentice’ and apprentices are integrated as part of the team very quickly and given practical experience from day one. It is very rewarding to see how I have progressed since beginning my apprenticeship.
In my opinion, apprenticeships can offer a lot more than university, as it is the real life experience that gives apprentices an edge. At times, it can be very challenging to work four days a week in a global law firm and one day a week completing a law university degree, but there is support in place to ensure that this is achievable.
I had no experience of law or insurance when I applied for my apprenticeship, but this did not matter as the firm provides support and training to ensure that people from all diverse backgrounds are given an opportunity to do well.
Visit www.kennedyslaw.com/careers-at-kennedy to find out more about solicitor apprenticeship opportunities at Kennedys.