Did you know what you wanted to do when you left School?
I changed my mind every week about what I wanted to do when I left WGS but law was always something that I would come back too. I enjoyed the more ‘wordy’ subjects and writing at school (I was always one of those students that liked to get their teeth stuck into a good essay) and so a career in something linguistic such as law seemed to fit the bill pretty well.
Why did you apply for an apprenticeship?
I think despite not being sure what I wanted to do when I left school, one thing I was sure about was that I didn’t want to go to university – I was completely adamant that it wasn’t for me. I’d spoken to old students and other friends who had gone down the university route and hearing their stories (the good, the bad and the ugly), I realised that it really didn’t appeal. I didn’t want the rising tuition fees, the huge debt in the future or the daily routine of getting up for lectures whilst hungover before heading back to my student accommodation to eat beans on toast (because, my ‘anti-uni’ mind told me, that’s all I’d be able to afford on a student loan). I wanted something that meant I could get a head-start on everyone else in the world of work, maintain the work ethic that had been instilled in me at WGS, earn a salary, and use those three years to get my foot in the door of a firm and start carving out a career for myself.
What were you looking for in an apprenticeship?
I would argue that there’s still a vague stigma attached to apprenticeships on the whole, and I was keen to find something that would challenge me a little more than the typical stereotype where apprentices run around making cups of tea all day. A lot of the vacancies I looked at seemed to offer just an administrative role which wasn’t something I wanted and I’d said to myself that if I wasn’t going to university, I needed to be doing something that justified that decision. By this, I mean I wanted the kind of position that I would pat myself on the back for just as much as the students getting into the Russell Group universities would themselves. A friend of mine told me about the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx – the awarding body who run the academic side of my apprenticeship) whose qualifications are assessed at honours degree level. I looked on their website for vacancies at firms who use CILEx as their assessor and found and applied for one at an international law firm based in Birmingham and London called Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co. I’ve been working and studying there now since September 2015 (we recently combined with Canadian law firm ‘Gowlings’ and are now known as ‘Gowling WLG’). The responsibility I have there is like nothing I could have imagined – I manage my own files, work closely with senior associates and partners on new matters coming in and liaise with clients on a day to day basis.
Training for an apprenticeship includes undertaking qualifications whilst working full-time, how do you organise your work/study balance to ensure you complete your studies on time?
The knowledge side of the apprenticeship is assessed by an exam every January and June and is taught via distance learning. Once I’ve completed the January exam, I will receive a text book in the post with my new material as well as a scheme of work outlining how I should spread my studies across the five months (which is very helpful!) before the June exam. My firm allows for half a day to be taken as study leave a week and most of the studying can be fit into this time however sometimes it may be necessary to undertake some revision outside of work. I’m also allowed two days of study leave immediately prior to an exam. As long as you keep on top of your studies and prioritise your workload (basically take what you’ve learnt in sixth form and run with it!) there shouldn’t be any issues. However, there isn’t anyone there to nag you if you aren’t up-to-date with it all – it’s entirely down to you and you need to be very self-motivated.
What lessons have you learned in your first 6 months?
Disregarding what I’ve been studying through CILEx, I’ve still learnt a huge amount during my time at Gowling WLG so far. It’s been interesting adapting to the differences between studying full-time at sixth form and working full-time in an office; it’s a really different dynamic and a lot of fun. I’ve also learnt a lot about people – in a job like this you talk to so many different people, both within the firm and outside the firm. It’s really important to learn how to communicate effectively, how to phrase things correctly, how to distinguish between different types of people and their needs etc.
What do you understand by working in a team, and what are three important attributes of a good team player?
To me, working in a team means that you don’t just think about how the outcome and its consequences will affect yourself, but also how it will affect others. It’s important to be able to communicate well with the people in your team. For example, at work it would be unrealistic for me to organise a client meeting which includes one of my colleagues if I hadn’t first checked that they were happy with that date and time too – you have to be considerate of other people. I think it’s also important to put the same amount of effort into something as you expect everyone else in your team to put in. You can’t expect to have an easy ride whilst everyone else is breaking their backs – you can guarantee that you won’t reap the same rewards as everyone else if you don’t contribute a similar amount to what they have. It’s also important to be able to put your own ideas aside and listen to others. It’s very easy to miss an amazing idea because you’re too busy focusing on your own.
Where do you see yourself in three to five years’ time?
Once I’ve finished the apprenticeship next year I hope to continue with the CILEx route and to take the remaining modules so that I’m able to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive. I’ll then be working as a fee earner within the firm, continuing to gain experience and building a client base.
What advice would you give our current students when considering an apprenticeship scheme over a full-time higher education courses?
Go with your gut! If you get excited about the idea of university then it’s something for you to look into. If you don’t or you find yourself recoiling at even the vaguest mention of UCAS applications, then remember that there are other options out there for you. University isn’t for everyone and if it isn’t for you, then don’t feel pressured into going – three years is a long time to be somewhere you don’t want to be. With increasing tuition fees and the debt you come out of it with at the end, I think it’s important to weigh this up in the same way as you would any other financial decision – would you spend thousands of pounds on something you really didn’t want if you had to pay for it upfront and didn’t have the ‘security’ of knowing that the payment was a long way off? Do your research and find out what’s best for you, and remember that any decision you make isn’t permanent so there’s no need to put so much pressure on yourself to have it figured out right this second.
What was your biggest influence whilst a student at WGS?
I think the community and the student-teacher dynamic at WGS had the biggest influence. From my first day in year seven I was treated and spoken to like an adult and if you’re in that environment for long enough, you start to live up to the expectations that people project onto you. WGS students leave with a level of confidence that most teenagers don’t have and this had a huge influence on my decision to apply for a job at such a well-known firm. I walked into my interview and although the nerves were there, I was reassured knowing that I’d spent eight years in an environment that had taught and encouraged me to hold adult conversations, to be confident and to be proud of my achievements.
What were your first impressions of WGS?
I thought it was like something out of Harry Potter – I saw Big School and was sold! On less of a shallow note, I was so excited about the sheer variety of what was on offer. I couldn’t wait to join the netball team, start learning French (although I was rubbish at French and ended up taking A-Level German instead), try out the instruments in the music block and start doing experiments in the chemistry labs. I’ve always been a huge bookworm too and the sixth form library looked like an absolute dream despite being a long way off at that point.
Why did you choose to come to WGS?
Seeing all of the above on the open day really sold it to me but more than that, WGS has a completely different vibe to other schools. It’s very relaxed and everyone is so encouraging and deep down I always looked forward to coming back after the summer holidays – I used to say that school was like a second home. WGS looks after you and provides a real community for you to join.
Did you have a favourite teacher?
I really couldn’t choose but it’s always funny to get to sixth form and realise that the teachers who you thought were the scariest in year seven are actually some of the best and the ones that will prove the most entertaining at your leaver’s dinner!