Plexus Law’s legal apprenticeship programme wins accolade
Damar Training’s 2018 “Employer of the Year” is Plexus Law. The firm was chosen by a panel of judges and the award announced and presented during this year’s National Apprenticeship Week (March 5-9). Damar has worked with well over 400 employers over the past year and so winning the award is a huge achievement.
Plexus was one of the first law firms to embrace legal apprenticeships. Their first cohort of 7 apprentices began at the Leeds office in 2012 and since then the programme has grown significantly. It now amounts to almost 80 apprentices across 6 offices nationally. Apprentices work in a range of support and legal roles across the firm including administration, paralegal, accountancy, customer service, IT and team leading. Some of the first apprentices with Damar have now progressed to the solicitor apprenticeship which is delivered by the University of Law.
What is it about this programme that makes it special?The size and scope of the programme are certainly impressive but big does not necessarily mean best. Success in apprenticeships is really about impact – the difference that this significant investment has made to the apprentices and their employer.
With Plexus, the benefits have been clear. The vast majority of apprentices successfully complete their qualifications and many have progressed into more senior roles, often supported on their journey by a higher-level apprenticeship.
The programme makes business sense – fee earners and senior support staff see how apprentices are able to take on work and add value to their teams whilst at the same time being supported in their studies. Most important though is the positive feedback received about the apprentices from clients of the firm.
So, with so many employers in the legal sector looking to develop apprenticeship programmes what are the ingredients of success? Here are just a few:
Great support for the apprentices. In addition to their Damar or ULaw tutor, apprentices have a supervisor who understand the apprenticeship and allocates appropriate work and a buddy, with whom the apprentice meets, on a confidential basis, every 6-8 weeks. Apprentices also have a workplace mentor. Each month, there is a social event (organised by one of the solicitor apprentices!) The firm gives apprentices time during the working day to study and has set up designated study areas to minimise work distractions.
Planning. The main annual recruitment cycle, supported by Damar, starts months in advance. The firm has relationships with several local schools and attends careers fairs. Prospective apprentices attend assessment centres and are offered week-long “taster” work placements during the summer. Once in post, apprentices broaden their knowledge and skills by moving between different teams every 6-12 months. This gives the firm and individuals an opportunity to explore where their skills, interests and future career best fit. 3 months before completion the firm discusses with apprentices where permanent positions are opening up and which roles are available.
Long-term partnerships. Large apprenticeship programmes are a complex web of relationships between trainers, supervisors, apprentices and others. For it to work, both the employer and the provider need to be committed and long term. Damar has been working with Plexus for 6 years and there are several colleagues at both who have been involved since inception. As a result, if things don’t go according to plan there is quick discussion and a speedy resolution. It has also enabled incremental improvements to be made – recently for example, the firm has started to embed money management training into the programme.
Commitment from the top.Partners and senior staff at the firm have backed apprenticeships from day one and have invested in it. There are now three members of staff who spend most of their time on the programme.
So, where next for this pioneer of legal apprenticeships? Unlike many, Plexus is spending its apprenticeship levy “pot” but remains ambitious to expand the programme. Management programmes will be one element, as will some of the more specialist new apprenticeship standards. At Damar, we look forward to continuing to support the firm and its people. Our reason for being in business is to help organisations and apprentices achieve their full potential. We are delighted that apprentices are playing a part in that growth.