What will working life be like?

What will working life be like?
What can you expect to do as an apprentice in a law firm?

You can now qualify as a lawyer through an apprenticeship. While some responsibilities are likely to be similar, the work that apprentices do on a day-to-day basis can depend on a number of factors, such as the type of their apprenticeship.

Types of legal apprenticeship

The most common type of apprenticeship now offered by law firms are solicitor apprenticeships. These typically last for six years and will encompass completing a law degree (a level 6 qualification) as well as the postgraduate assessments you need to qualify as a solicitor.

Legal services and paralegal apprenticeships will usually result in a level 3 qualification and will train school leavers up to take on roles in law firms that support the work of solicitors and lawyers.

Chartered legal executives do similar work to solicitors (though usually focusing on more public-facing work, such as conveyancing); school leavers can qualify to become a legal executive through apprenticeships (also called ‘the CILEx route’).

The day-to-day work of apprentices

Towards the beginning of a legal apprenticeships the responsibilities are likely to be largely similar regardless of whether you are training to be a solicitor, paralegal or legal executive. However, as apprentices get closer to qualification, they’re likely to gain more responsibility and carry out work that is more similar to the role of a fully-qualified lawyer or paralegal.

The day-to-day work of an apprentice, and especially for apprentice solicitors, will also depend on factors such as the size of the firm they are working for, and the department they are part of. For example, an apprentice working in a smaller, high-street firm and for individual clients will do different work to an apprentice working at a large, international commercial firm and for big corporate clients. Similarly, an apprentice based in a criminal law department is likely to get more exposure to courtrooms than one working on contracts in a corporate law department. Solicitor apprentices will usually do a number of ‘rotations’, spending time in different departments, and will be able to experience a variety of work through this.

Common responsibilities for law apprentices

Apprentices will balance their time between receiving structured training, usually through attending college or university, and working full-time at their law firm. Although everything that apprentices do will be supervised by mentors and tutors (especially in the early stages of an apprenticeship), their work will be real work that will support the work of more senior lawyers.

  • Training – throughout your working life you will be required to attend training sessions about the work you do and receive more of an education in law. This applies to support staff and solicitors alike. Apprentices may have one or two days a week dedicated to study, they may attend college or university in ‘blocks’ of a number of weeks, they may use e-learning resources, or a combination of the above. When choosing an apprenticeship, it’s important to look at how the training is structured and to choose one based on how you think you’d best learn.
  • Research – perhaps the most common activity in the legal profession. You may need to obtain information relevant to a case or some area of the client's work. You will be tasked to find this information, whether within the firm’s own library of documents or elsewhere.
  • Client interaction – as you progress in your career you may be given more responsibility and opportunities for client interaction. You may contact clients over email or the phone in order to assist them with documents or interview them. Later down the line, paralegal apprentices may find themselves able to offer basic legal advice.
  • Drafting documents – legal documents need to be comprehensive, clear and detailed. The process of writing legal documents is called ‘drafting’ and, after receiving training, apprentices are often given the chance to stretch their communication skills by drafting letters, contracts and other legal documents.
  • Bibling – collecting all the documents for a single transaction and putting them into one complete file. You may need to look up documents electronically on the company system or source paper copies. The papers will need to be presented in the appropriate order and format. Many firms will also use electronic bibling (computer files rather than paper).
  • Data room services – solicitors may request details or documents about a transaction or case that is being negotiated by another party. You may be asked to find documents or provide information by one of the senior members of staff. Data rooms are strictly controlled and often contain confidential information. You will likely be trained in the correct procedures.
  • Photocopying and filing – not an all-day task (hopefully), but making photocopies of important documents and filing are key to keeping accurate records of legal work.
  • Working with others

    Larger law firms tend to hire school leavers in batches and you may find yourself part of a team of five to ten apprentices. At some firms, solicitor apprentices can also find themselves in teams with graduate trainees. Training sessions may be held together, but it is possible that you’ll be split up as you’re rotated around different departments. Smaller law firms may only take on one or two school leavers at a time. You will be providing support to solicitors and will work closely with them, senior paralegals and supervisors.

    As a general rule, law firms tend to understand that the work is demanding and can involve long hours. As a result, you may find that there are organised opportunities for your team or the department at the firm to go out for social events.

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