I was a graduate and had already been at Fieldfisher for five years when I became an apprentice. I joined the firm in 2012 and worked in the Knowledge and Information team, which involved supporting lawyers by assisting with legal research queries, client intelligence reports and the distribution of the firm’s journal subscriptions (including the Law Society Gazette). Working in this role, I developed an interest in pursuing a career as a solicitor, and in September 2014 moved to the Regulatory Group in a paralegal role. Three years later I became the first solicitor apprentice in Fieldfisher’s London office.
I was attracted to the apprenticeship route for a number of reasons. The training is very different to the traditional route in that your academic study is running alongside the practical application of it. So while it’s a challenge, the two complement each other and you see how the academic applies in the real world. Also, you still get a degree that is paid for by your employer and you don’t build up university debt.
It’s a bit of a cliché but there is no typical week as an apprentice, which I think is a very good thing. My training involved working on a wide range of matters across numerous practice areas and included two client secondments. It’s that variety that has helped me to develop my skills to the level required of a newly qualified solicitor. One thing that does remain constant however is that one day of your time each week is devoted to the academic side of the apprenticeship. You really need this time to get through the amount of study involved – over the course of the apprenticeship you study for an LLB degree and for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
In the first four years I stayed with the regulatory team, but in the final two was absorbed into the trainee intake and rotated practice areas just like a trainee. As part of my rotation I gained experience in tax litigation, IP and was seconded to a client’s commercial team. This was really helpful in learning to be flexible and facing up to new challenges. Aside from working one day fewer per week (for study) I was treated just the same as a trainee, which makes sense as both trainees and apprentices are working towards becoming newly qualified solicitors and so the standards expected of both are equally high.
'One thing that does remain constant is that one day of your time each week is devoted to the academic side of the apprenticeship. You really need this time to get through the amount of study involved – over the course of the apprenticeship you study for an LLB degree and for the SQE'
I was part of one of the first cohorts of solicitor-apprentices nationally. Understandably, that meant there was a lot of uncertainty in the earlier years. For example, when I started out on the programme in 2017, the university that accredited my apprenticeship was unable to tell me how long the apprenticeship would be. I went into the apprenticeship eyes open to the fact that I would be a guinea pig.
Training via the apprenticeship route has significant benefits. You’re able to earn a living while studying and gain an LLB degree without incurring any debt. By training over a six-year period, you pick up so much practical experience and are able to look back and recognise how much you’ve developed. When you get to around the half-way point the level of your work is so much higher and that gives you confidence in the final years.
The length of a solicitor apprenticeship is definitely something to consider – you really have to be sure it’s what you want to do because you’ll have to stick it out for over six years! It’s a long time to spend juggling full-time work and study. Having now completed my apprenticeship however, I can say the pros significantly outweighed the cons.