Law Career Guide

Solicitor Apprenticeships: An alternative path into law

Contrary to popular belief, there is more than one way to become a lawyer. And whether you come from a legal or non-legal background, or consider yourself a practical learner over a theoretical one, there is no one way – or right way – to kickstart a career in law.

We spoke to Zara, a first year Solicitor Apprentice, to learn why she chose to take this route, and to find out her top tips for anyone who is thinking about taking the apprenticeship route into a legal career.

Get a holistic view.

When it came to pursuing a legal career, Zara was only familiar with what most call the ‘traditional’ route; going to university to study a Law degree, and then completing an LPC before moving onto a training contract with a firm. But one day, a Solicitor Apprentice gave a talk at her school, and after learning of their experience, she was inspired to find out more.

“I realised that the apprentice route was an equally respectable pathway. And it was more suited to me. Studying law and practicing law are very different, and being able to do both at the same time while learning on the job and being hands-on was a very exciting prospect to me.”

Compare and contrast.

 Zara reached out to more professionals on LinkedIn – from university and apprenticeship backgrounds – to get a deeper understanding of different journeys, from both sides.

“Six years on a pathway is a big commitment, so it’s important to be sure you pick the right path for you. If you’re someone who is suited to theory and academic work, university might be the right choice. But if you like the challenge of balancing learning and on-the-job experience, then an apprenticeship could be a better-suited option. Both have their strengths, and both have their challenges; but it’s about understanding which is right for you.”

For Zara, the solicitor apprenticeship route ticked all the boxes. She wanted to kickstart her career earlier and put her theory to practice sooner. But there was a big question mark over finding the right firm for her.

Be resourceful.

From Legal Cheek to Legal 500, Chambers and – Zara used free resources to learn as much as she could about solicitor apprenticeships and the firms that offered them. But in keeping with untraditional routes, it was TikTok that helped her realise A&O Shearman could be the firm for her.

“I’d seen A&O Shearman mentioned as an exceptional firm during my research. But one day I came across a solicitor apprentice from the firm posting about her experiences on TikTok. I saw how much exposure she was getting, the kinds of cases she was contributing to, the high-profile clients she was working with, and all at such a young age. It was then that I really decided to delve deeper into the firm.”

Think about what’s important to you.

As Zara discovered more about life at A&O Shearman, she realised it was a place where she could truly excel.

“It was important to me that I could make a valuable contribution from early on in my career. Reading testimonials, I saw that A&O Shearman give responsibility and ownership to their junior lawyers. That made me want to apply.”

And after learning more about the firm’s values, Zara realised that the firm’s principles were aligned to her own.

“The values of a firm tell you a lot about their culture, and I really wanted to join a firm that embraced diversity at all levels. DE&I was deeper than statistics at A&O Shearman; it’s not something surface-level, and it wasn’t something I saw in other firms. They truly lived by their values.”

Set yourself up for success.

From attending events to doing mock-interviews with friends, Zara was determined to do as much preparation as she could to set herself up for success through the application process.

“I created a mock interview situation with my family to practice my answers. It helped me realise what works and what doesn’t and how I could get my points across in a way that didn’t deviate from the question. Stock answers are well and good but when you’re in the room things feel different and it’s beneficial to have practiced.”

 Gaining a deeper understanding of commercial awareness helped Zara during the assessment centre stage of the application process. But throughout the whole process, it was her experiences of the firm that helped her succeed.

“Because I’d attended a few open days prior, I had deeper insights into the firm that I could build my answers on; whether it was related to the culture of the firm, their clients, or their ways of working. I attended an open day with upTree, but A&O Shearman also offer all kinds of open days, application master classes and opportunities to speak with HR for advice.”

The devil is in the details.

When we asked Zara for her top tips to building a successful application, there was one key piece of advice.

“It’s important to be specific. Try to quantify things as much as you can and point to something measurable. For example, if you’ve done a team exercise to fundraise money, quantify how many people you led, how much you raised. These things create measurable goals and tangible results that strengthen your answers.”

Building a career while earning an income

 Zara is now in her first year of A&O Shearman’s six-year apprenticeship programme, working towards a successful legal career and doing work she is proud of.

“We recently closed a deal worth £1.2bn – it was the first case where I managed my own work stream and the signing process too. The team really trusted me and gave me responsibilities that meant I could make a valuable contribution to the team. I’m only 19, and I’m already working on high-profile, global cases and earning a great salary. When I’ve finished the programme, I’ll end on the same salary as a trainee. And through the whole programme, A&O Shearman will fund my degree and my SQE.”

Find out more about apprenticeship salaries, networking and support by watching the video below.