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Year 4 solicitor apprentice and her supervisor share their experience

Hear from Alex Barry, 4th year Solicitor Apprentice within Finance and Projects based in Manchester and her supervisor Simon Stubbs, Senior Associate with Pinsent Masons, as they share their experiences and discuss benefits of apprenticeships.

Alex’s response to apprenticeship questions:

Why you chose an apprenticeship route vs university/further education?

I chose the apprenticeship route because I liked the idea of learning in a law firm rather than a classroom. Whilst I would still describe myself as being academic, I recognised that an apprenticeship could supplement this through the experience of being involved in real life legal transactions and being surrounded by experienced, qualified lawyers. Being in a law firm, on a long-term basis, presents you with practical experience that you would not otherwise have had access to until after university. These include networking skills, becoming familiar with fee earning / billing processes, practical research skills, managing different communication styles depending on the audience and many more valuable skills. The other aspects of a debt-free education and earning whilst learning, were a bonus to me.

What was the transition like from school to starting an apprenticeship and learning on the job?

It was a smooth transition where the workload and responsibility increased slowly over time. During the transition, a lot of skills learnt from school / college were transferrable, such as taking the time to listen to those around you to further your knowledge. The key difference during this transition period is that with an apprenticeship / learning on the job, you can take a step further and instantly apply that knowledge to a real-life scenario. An example would be learning about duty of care in the tort law module. I instantly applied this knowledge to a contract provision at work dealing with such duty. As mentioned, another key aspect of the transition was the added responsibility and trust that you do not necessarily get at school / college. You have more freedom to manage your own learning and more accountability in your day-to-day role, enabling you to grow and, importantly, being able to push yourself and proactively seek out opportunities and tasks that you might otherwise not have the opportunity to get involved in until well into a training contract.

What attracted you to become a Solicitor Apprentice and to choose Pinsent Masons as an employer of choice?

I wanted the Solicitor Apprenticeship to be my route into law. I wanted to become a solicitor and whilst having considered the traditional university path, this route was more appealing to me. Traditionally, the time to become a solicitor takes around 6 years. The Solicitor Apprenticeship takes around 6 years but with the bonus of a wealth of experience alongside it. I wanted this opportunity to be worthwhile and within a great firm. Pinsent Masons operate on an international scale within a diverse range of sectors and clients. It was clear that Pinsent Masons could provide a unique level of exposure alongside the apprenticeship. Moreover, their values align with mine. They encourage their staff to become the best version of themselves through a healthy working culture and a clear focus on personal development through providing continuous training sessions and support.

How are you supported in your role?

Upon commencement of the apprenticeship, I was allocated a supervisor / mentor (who is also a senior lawyer in my team), and he has remained my supervisor for the duration of my apprenticeship, providing a steady source of support. My supervisor and the wider team have aided my development through constant support whether this be one-to-one or through our weekly team meetings. They have been key in providing direction through involving me in different transactions with added complexity and responsibility progressing over time. They have always prioritised my weekly study day where I solely focus on my studies. I have regular catch ups with the Early Talent team as well as my Skills Coach allocated by the University of Law. Alongside Pinsent Masons, the University of Law provide ongoing support through their tutors (whom you can ask questions at any time) as well as streaming live tutor sessions and Q&A’s as a part of each module.

Could you tell us more about your work-study balance?

I have a study day every Monday where I solely focus on my studies. This day has provided the perfect balance between studying and working. One day has always been sufficient for me, and I make the most out of it as well as utilising my evenings during exam periods. My team are used to me being around for 4 days a week, respect that it is a “study day” rather than a “work day” and the work is completely manageable within a 4 day period. Pinsent Masons places a strong emphasis on a manageable workload and my team regularly discuss our capacity in terms of what we have on and whether we have capacity for more work.

Could you tell us more about the social aspect of the role, inside and out of work, plus building a network and close working relationships with colleagues and other apprentices?

Apprenticeships do not necessarily offer the full range of baked-in social events that might typically be associated with university life, although it is up to the individual to make an effort to become part of the team / firm and to get involved with social activities. The University of Law provide a range of different committees to get involved in. In addition, I am involved in several committees within Pinsent Masons. I am a part of a Responsible Business committee, focusing on inspiring young lives in the community as well as providing volunteer opportunities at local charities. I am also a part of the Information Security team, focusing on managing the threat of information security incidents. I have met many people from different backgrounds through being in these committees. In addition, the wide range of work at Pinsent Masons enables you to build strong connections with colleagues (including fellow apprentices) from different offices and sectors. There are also team and firm wide events which enable you to form and strengthen relationships with colleagues and clients.

Simon’s response to apprentice supervisor questions:

What is the benefit of having apprentices within the organisation and indeed your team?

I have always been a vocal promotor of apprenticeship schemes. A core benefit is being able to assist and work with people who might not necessarily have had the opportunity to go to university or, for whatever reason, decided that it was not the route for them, in order to help them develop professionally and personally. Apprentices (in whatever role) are integral parts of Pinsent Masons and, more importantly, are valued members of the team(s) in which they work.

We get the benefit of having enthusiastic people who have a passion for learning and the ambition to be a successful lawyer at an international law firm, and our apprentices get the benefit of world-class support, a strong network of apprentices, trainees and paralegals with whom to work with / bounce ideas off, and to develop their own professional and personal skills. It helps them find a voice in an environment which can be quite intimidating straight out of university / law school.

Describe your role as an apprentice supervisor?

I work closely with our apprentice and I am there to provide support and steer them in the right direction when needed, being someone to talk to whenever required, as well as liaise with the University of Law on topics such as course progress and exam results. I am also the buffer between the apprentice and the wider team when it comes to things like work delegation and matter management, to ensure that (because the scheme has been such a success!) their work is properly managed, explained and delivered.

It is important to note though that, as with the other Pinsent Masons teams, the whole team works with and helps our apprentice, as we all want them to be the best that they can be and to achieve the success that they are clearly capable of. In this sense, it is a group effort and we all work together to help not just our apprentice, but also support one another, during our day-to-day work, which results in an inclusive environment and one that is generally hierarchy-free, which in turn gives our apprentice (and those in other teams) the confidence to ask questions, overcome issues, develop as future lawyers, teammates and individuals and achieve their goals and ambitions.

What opportunities/project exposure are you able to give your apprentice?

Apprentices at the firm can get as much experience / exposure as they want. There really is no limit, although (understandably) the type and nature of work will vary as each apprentice gains experience and knowledge of the practice area that their team specialises in. One of the many great things about the scheme is seeing apprentices gain this experience and knowledge and take on increasingly complex tasks and roles as they progress through their apprenticeship.

Whether the work involves assisting fee earners on specific tasks, managing project documentation, drafting / reviewing documentation, liaising with other teams / fee earners, working with clients, attending meetings, representing the team and firm at business development events (internal and external), our apprentices are given the opportunity to get involved in pretty much everything that we do. We also encourage our apprentices to be vocal about what they want to get involved in / how they want to develop and we try and do everything we can to help them. After all, we want the apprentices to feel fully integrated into the team / firm and value themselves as highly as we value them.

Is there potential for apprentices to work directly with clients and do secondments?

Our apprentices work on client matters and, where appropriate, work directly / liaise with clients. This is something that we actively promote, as not only is communicating with clients a key skill (and sometimes very different to working with colleagues) but it also helps develop professional and personal relationships. This is particularly the case where apprentices work with people on a similar path to them and progress together on their careers.

Apprentices also have the same secondment opportunities as other members of the wider Pinsent Masons teams, such as trainees as fee earners. If an apprentice expresses an interest in a secondment and there is a suitable role available, there is no reason why they would not be put forward for it. It is important that apprentices get the same opportunities as everyone else and the fact that, on paper, their job title might be different is not (and will never be) a barrier to this. This is a key tenet of our “one PM” approach.

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