Throughout school and the first half of sixth form, I had no real idea what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up.’ No one in my family had been to university and I didn’t know anyone working in law, so it was something to which I had never really given any thought.
I went to my local state comprehensive school and achieved 12 good GCSEs, although I definitely wasn’t a ‘Straight-A student’. I had decided to choose A-levels that I had enjoyed at GCSE but on learning that the English Literature course I hoped to take was full, I settled for studying law instead.
Law quickly became my favourite subject, which also gave me the opportunity to become involved in the Pathways to Law programme sponsored by the Sutton Trust. This two-year programme gives students from state schools the opportunity to explore what entering the legal profession might look like, through various talks, networking events and work experience opportunities. The programme really helped give me more of an insight into the world of law and helped me realise this was the profession I would like to go into.
The sixth form I attended was a grammar school, which I felt very much pushed the idea of the traditional university route as being the only way of having a successful career. Although I did apply to university and accepted a place at the University of Liverpool to study law, it was still something I wasn’t completely sure about and I was not entirely convinced that the university life would be for me.
One day my law teacher mentioned there was an open day at Hill Dickinson, the law firm where I now work. I duly went along, not really expecting to take much from it, but I was so wrong! It was on that day that I first heard of the apprenticeship option. A current apprentice gave a talk about the process and the rewards of the apprenticeship route. I knew immediately that the apprenticeship route was something I wanted to pursue.
Results day came and I surprised myself by obtaining A*, A, A. Ordinarily, I’d have been expected to go to university with results like that, and although I deferred my university place for a year as a back-up option, I had already decided by that point to go ahead with the two-year paralegal apprenticeship at Hill Dickinson. Five years later, I have completed my paralegal apprenticeship and am halfway through my solicitor apprenticeship - and I can 100% say that I have never looked back.
The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year course, at the end of which I will be a fully qualified solicitor with a lot of experience and without the need to secure a training contract. I am doing my apprenticeship through the University of Law, although this can depend which firm you work at. For the first few years of the apprenticeship, you study towards the law degree, which is delivered purely online through videos, live tutor sessions and weekly marked submissions. For the final years, you work towards the SQEs. As an apprentice, you are entitled to one day a week ‘off the job training’, which is a study day, although you will still also need to study at the weekends in order to keep up. You are also given a skills tutor at the university, who visits you quarterly and assigns you ‘competency tasks’, such as legal research skills, to work on alongside your modules.
The apprenticeship route is definitely not for everyone. Although one of the main enticements is that you can ‘earn while you learn’ without incurring the debts of going to university, it can be very hard-going to study for a degree while having a full time job and, of course, still finding time to socialise. If you are considering an apprenticeship, it is important that you realise early on that you will need to make sacrifices to your social life while studying and may not be able to join your uni student friends for every occasion.
I have gained so much experience since starting the apprenticeship and was very surprised to have been given so much independence from very early on. It has allowed me to build my confidence and make key contacts in the world of law, and the amount of support I am given by experienced solicitors and colleagues at Hill Dickinson is invaluable. I now have five years of practical experience under my belt, with another three years to go until I qualify.
Please feel free to contact me on Chloe.Baron@hilldickinson.com if you have any questions about following the apprenticeship route, I’d be more than happy to help.