Solicitor Apprentice Career Insights

Read a recent case study from a solicitor apprentice at Ashtons Legal.

My Story: Sarah-Jane Legge

A bit of background about me

I graduated from university with a degree in French and German in 2014, and my main requirement whilst job-hunting was that I wanted to be able to use my French language skills.

I joined Ashtons Legal in 2015 as a Legal Assistant in the French Legal Services team, and within a couple of months, I knew I really enjoyed working in law. I researched various different ways in which I could qualify as a solicitor coming to the profession with a non-law degree, and the solicitor apprenticeship really stuck out as the best option.

I started my apprenticeship in 2016 and was one of the first apprentice solicitors in the country. I spent the first three years of my apprenticeship working in the French Legal Services team, gradually building up my experience until I was running my own caseload. In my fourth and fifth years of the apprenticeship, I left the French Legal Services Team and went to work in different departments in the same way as trainee solicitors do their “seats” in various departments of a law firm. I spent time in the Family department, Lifetime Planning department and the Disputes team before returning to French Legal Services for the final year of my apprenticeship.

I completed my apprenticeship in August 2022, and in September 2022, I was admitted to the roll as a solicitor. I’ve now been qualified for almost six months, and some days I still can’t believe I am actually a qualified solicitor! In terms of visions for the future, I would like to progress my career at Ashtons and would like to embark on the Becoming an Effective Leader programme in the next two or three years. One day I’d love to have the chance to become a partner at the firm and take on the leadership of the French Legal Services team although obviously, this is many years hence!

Why did you choose the apprenticeship route to qualifying?

It was Claire Hughes, our HR Manager, who suggested I look into the apprenticeship and from the minute I started researching the course, it sounded absolutely perfect for me. It was a six-year course in which I could work and then study part-time and during those six years I would gain all of the experience I needed to be able to qualify as a solicitor without having to apply for a training contract. Moreover, unlike the part-time GDL and LPC courses that existed at the time I was researching, the solicitor apprenticeship is specifically designed to be undertaken alongside full time work.

What has the legal apprenticeship offered you that other routes to law wouldn’t have?

It has allowed me to obtain six invaluable years of experience working as an apprentice solicitor, gaining practical skills and working knowledge that a traditional route would not have afforded. As an apprentice solicitor, I was given much more responsibility and far more complex matters than a trainee undertaking the traditional training contract route. By working for four full years in the French Legal Services Department before qualification (the other two years being spent in other departments), I qualified as a solicitor with four solid years of matter management and complex cases behind me, as opposed to a traditional route where trainees often only spend six months in a department before qualification.

As it was an apprenticeship, I did not accrue any student debt, nor did I have to deplete my savings to enrol on an expensive legal practice course. The apprenticeship allows apprentices to obtain a law degree, take the SQE exams and qualify as a solicitor without getting into debt which no other traditional route allows for.

What is the most interesting part of your job?

I would say that the most interesting part of my job is carrying out complex cross-border estate planning, where I am looking to find effective, sensible and tax-efficient solutions for my clients that work both under French law and English law.

As a “people person”, I also love participating in exhibitions such as A Place In The Sun and the French Property Exhibition as part of the French Legal Services Team’s business development. I always love to meet new people and discuss with them the work we do and how we can help them.

How did the culture at Ashtons support your apprenticeship journey?

Ashtons as a business is forward-thinking and opening-minded. It looks to be at the forefront of new schemes such as the apprenticeship, and I believe that this culture really helped me on my journey from day one. Firstly, it was Ashtons who suggested that I apply for the apprenticeship, something I think that many other firms may have shied away from given that it was a brand new means to qualification. Ashtons were also incredibly supportive throughout my apprenticeship, ensuring that I was provided with enough study leave to revise before exams and regularly checking in with me to ensure everything was going well.

What is the most important piece of advice you can give a student or graduate?

Don’t be put off by the fact that the apprenticeship lasts for six years. On the face of it, this sounds like a long time to be studying or to be labelled an apprentice, but time really does fly, and in those valuable six years, you will gain a wealth of experience that you really couldn’t hope to gain through a traditional qualification route.

Why Ashtons?

I very much “fell into” my first job at Ashtons. I was recruited by an outside firm for the role of a French Legal Assistant in the Bury St Edmunds office, and given that I was looking for a job in which I could use my French language skills, I agreed to an interview.

Ashtons felt comfortable, almost like coming home, from the minute I walked into the offices. After my interview, I really hoped I would be offered the job, not just because I was interested in the role but because I liked the feel of the firm. Thankfully, I got the job, and I haven’t looked back since. I have the privilege of being part of an amazing team full of fantastic colleagues who I get on with both in and out of the workplace, some of whom have become my closest friends.

I also love the culture at Ashtons. No one is ever too busy to give you their time and share their knowledge. The CEO and other senior members of the firm take the time to get to know you as an individual and are genuinely interested in your career progression.

Ashtons also treats its employees like adults. One of the most successful (and for me, most important) schemes that Ashtons entered into some years ago now is the Paid Time Off Policy. Unlike the majority of firms, Ashtons do not set a yearly holiday quota of holiday for their staff each year. Instead, provided that your work is up to date and there is someone to cover any urgent correspondence whilst you are away, you are allowed to take as much or as little time as you need (as long as you meet the statutory minimum holiday entitlement). There is a great degree of flexibility and also a great degree of trust, and I think this makes for happier, more dedicated and more loyal employees.

Would you recommend an apprenticeship to others?

Absolutely. I think apprenticeships are the way forward to qualifying in a multitude of trades and professions. I believe that working “on the job” whilst studying at the same time is the way forward for anyone who is truly dedicated to qualifying as a solicitor (or indeed any other profession or trade). It’s not an easy ride, you have to be motivated and have a lot of self-discipline, but it is incredibly rewarding to know that on qualification you will have six years of experience as a fee-earner, putting you miles ahead of where you might otherwise be having followed a more traditional route. I really cannot recommend the apprenticeship highly enough to anyone wanting to become a solicitor.

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