The elegant Georgian surroundings of St John Street, off Deansgate in Manchester are perhaps not where one might expect to find one of the North West’s leading supporters of apprenticeships. However, at St Johns Buildings barristers’ chambers nearly a fifth of the clerking and support team are former or current apprentices.
St Johns Buildings has been employing apprentices for five years, during which time Chambers has grown to become the largest set in the country with around 270 barristers across five sites, supported by 70 or so clerks and other support staff.
The Messenger met with Mary Berry, Human Resources and Facilities Manager, to find out more about how Chambers’ apprenticeship programme works:
“Chambers has always supported staff who have chosen the vocational route and our apprenticeship programme is an extension of this. Apprentices usually join us as administrative assistants and complete an apprenticeship in business and administration. This gives new starters a chance to learn how Chambers works and acquire many of the basic skills they will need as they progress. From here, many go on to become junior clerks or join our accounts team where they complete higher level apprenticeship qualifications.”
“One of the benefits is the simplicity of the process. We have worked with Damar Training since the outset and so I can call them with a vacancy and know that the candidates they put forward will be strong. Once the apprentice is in post they are seen regularly by their Damar assessor who works with them on their qualification.”
“Being able to develop our own staff in this way has helped us manage growth and succession and it has also delivered considerable savings in recruitment costs.”
Paula Blackshaw, Chambers’ Head of Finance, has one former and one current apprentice in her team. She has been impressed by their eagerness to learn. Tom Downing, who is currently doing an accounts apprenticeship applied for an apprenticeship with Damar after a recommendation from a friend. He had just completed his A levels. He commented: “it only took two weeks from applying to starting work here. I can’t imagine where I would be now if I hadn’t had this opportunity”.
Demi Crosbie is now a junior family clerk and is part-way through her advanced apprenticeship in business and administration. She applied having seen the vacancy on Damar’s website. She is an example of how quickly apprentices, with the right support, can take on responsibility. In a little over a year she has gone from administration assistant to managing the diaries of two barristers as well as booking court hearings, logging briefs in and out of Chambers and speaking to instructing solicitors. She said of her experience:
“This opportunity was everything I wanted at seventeen. My mum was reluctant at first but now she says it’s the best thing I’ve done”.
For law firms interested in taking on apprentices for the first time various financial incentives are available currently and, with the recent introduction of a new legal administration apprenticeship, the range of options available is increasing. For more information call Damar Training on 0161 480 8171.
Pictured below are twelve of Chambers' current and former apprentices.
Article reproduced with the kind permission of the Manchester Law Society Messenger