Taking a solicitor apprenticeship

Photo of solicitor apprentice and scales of justice
Solicitor apprentice Marc turned down five universities to work at Ashurst, where he's part of a close-knit group of apprentices and graduate trainees.

Marc Neilson is a solicitor apprentice in global markets at Ashurst. Before joining he completed the International Baccalaureate and was head of house at school.

Marc says...

I chose to apply to Ashurst after attending an information talk hosted by BPP and The Lawyer Portal, in which Ashurst was one of the three law firms presented. A member of the HR team talked me through the structure of the apprenticeship, and a couple of apprentices who were already working for the firm gave me an insight into how this translated to work ‘on the ground’. That initial conversation gave me a positive initial feeling for what the culture in the office would be like.

I loved the two work experience placements I carried out with different law firms, one focusing on patent research and the other on commercial real estate, so the idea that I might start out in this working environment at 18 rather than 25 appealed to me. However, I still decided to apply to universities at the same time and I’m glad I did so. By making my applications to universities first, I was well prepared when it came to the recruitment process for apprenticeships. Also, mentioning my five university offers on the application for Ashurst demonstrated my enthusiasm – it showed that, despite having other options, I was actively pursuing working for them.

A busy application period

The period during which I was applying for universities and apprenticeships, while spending six days a week at school and keeping up with my sporting commitments, was certainly busy! I’d advise anyone applying for apprenticeships to stay organised and aware of where you are in the process for each one, as well as what you’ve written or said in the earlier stages. During that period of high pressure, it can be easy to confuse which firm you sent which response to. A level of self-assurance – knowing and standing by what you’ve written previously – can be really beneficial when it comes to interviews.

Building confidence

Law includes a lot of client-facing work, and the ability to communicate confidently is something that I’ve found beneficial both throughout the recruitment process and during my time working so far. I’ve always been quite a confident person, but one way in which I developed this was through my position as head of house in my last year of school. In charge of about 110 boys aged between 13 and 18, I acted as the link between them and senior members of staff. As a result, I now find a conversation with a senior partner to be as easy as talking to a friend.

An education unique to the workplace

One thing I’d like to have known before beginning the apprenticeship is how little the leap between school and work would be – as long as you’re someone who takes school seriously. On the flip side of this, however, is the fact that I’m currently learning things that I would have had to wait another three years to discover if I went down the university route. I now know just how many people are involved in making legal processes happen, that something I previously expected to pass through one pair of hands might actually go through six.

A strong support group

For the first two or three days of training at Ashurst, the four new apprentices joined with the graduate trainees. This network of young legal professionals is a nice support group. We socialise with and help each other; there is no divide between trainees and apprentices. We even spent the evening at karaoke after a Law Society event a few weeks back!

Top tip: take your time

My final tip for anyone in the workplace, whether that’s an apprenticeship or work experience placement, is to take your time. I’ve found that my colleagues are impressed when I spend a bit longer on a task to make sure I complete it to a high standard, rather than rushing through and making mistakes. This saves them the hassle of having to correct simple errors such as punctuation mistakes (which can make a big difference in legal documents) and shows that I have a strong eye for detail.

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