Harith Ahmed is in his second of six seats working as a solicitor apprentice at Dentons, he kindly shared his path to a legal career, what it’s like to work at a global law firm and career advice for aspiring legal professionals.
My path to a legal career
The solicitor apprentice scheme enables me to work towards my law degree whilst working at a leading law firm. On completion of the six-year apprenticeship I will be a qualified solicitor as the apprenticeship also includes the SQE (Solicitor's Qualifying Exam) and qualifying work experience.
The apprenticeship has recently been introduced as an alternative pathway to the more "traditional" qualification route of university followed by the training contract.
I chose the apprenticeship pathway mainly as it provides the opportunity to gain valuable work experience alongside my studies providing an excellent base for my long term career aspirations.
A training contract candidate who joins a law firm following university often only has four seat options over a two year period. Apprentices have the opportunity to work across eight seats over six years, thus providing them with a platform to understand the nuances of each area of law and the "day job" in more detail than training contract peers.
Much of what I have learnt has been 'through osmosis' by sitting in on meetings or conversations with more senior colleagues, with an emphasised focus on vocational training as opposed to the more academic approach a full-time university tends to take, such as through regular lectures.
In addition, solicitor apprentices are paid a salary and achieve financial independence at an earlier stage – as opposed to (in most cases) taking on debt to attend university.
A successful apprenticeship application also provides an entry into the legal world and into a law firm, meaning you have 'one foot in the door' from the outset of your legal career.
I joined the firm shortly after leaving sixth form, although my employment was slightly delayed due to the pandemic. As the apprenticeship pathway does not require a university degree the majority of applicants join following college or sixth form.
What it’s like to work at Dentons
Working at a large multi-jurisdictional law firm as an apprentice immediately after leaving school can be quite daunting.
However, there is a strong support mechanism at Dentons (just as at many other firms) and I can always reach out to someone if I need any assistance – such as other apprentices at the firm, the trainees in my department and my supervisor.
Most of the matters I have assisted on to date have been market leading and innovative, especially in the Energy sector where geo-political events and market forces heavily influence the flow of work.
Being part of a transactional team is hugely rewarding and sitting in on client meetings and understanding the elements of a transaction at this stage of my career is excellent for my career development.
Working for a large firm provides a lively social scene too – especially coming out of the pandemic. There are departmental and firm-wide events as well as many events that are put on by the apprentices and trainees.
Day in the life of a solicitor apprentice
My routine tends to differ significantly day-to-day, depending on the amount of work that I have to complete at any given time.
In addition, as a result of the pandemic, there is now a 'hybrid-working' policy at Dentons, meaning there are days where I'll be working from home and others where I'll be in the office (in addition to spending Mondays studying virtually at BPP University).
Wednesday tends to be a team "cluster" day and so a typical Wednesday would go as follows:
7:45am – my commute to the office begins in order to arrive in time for the 9am department meeting.
9am – in-person weekly meeting at the office to discuss various updates from across the department (including team members from London, Scotland and often guests from different jurisdictions).
10am to 1pm – I'll return to my desk and check my emails, replying and actioning any requests as necessary. I'll attend any morning meetings on my calendar, though these tend to be virtual, and make a start on the work I need to complete for the day.
1pm – at around 1pm I'll often pop to the canteen or a local store to grab some lunch. Depending on the day and on who is in the office, I'll be joined either by my colleagues in the department or by the other apprentices across the firm.
2pm to 5:30pm – following lunch, I'll return to my desk to plan my afternoon, catch-up on emails and continue with the work required for the day. I may also attend client meetings.
5:30pm onwards – I'll often have remaining work to complete or urgent deadlines, and stay in the office as necessary to get the work completed or meet the deadlines. However, supervisors and colleagues recognise that as apprentices we study alongside working and rarely expect apprentices to work late hours (past 5:30pm).
There may also be a social event or drinks held after work, either with the department or with the other apprentices.
3 Tips for aspiring legal professionals
Apply – there are a number of firms offering a paralegal or solicitor apprenticeship, with more offering the opportunity every year. The opportunities vary from small criminal or family law firms to global leading commercial firms like Dentons. You can find vacancies on a number of websites, such as on the firms' own sites. It is certainly worth spending some time tailoring the online application to the relevant firm, as it may be the key differentiator between you and every other applicant at this stage. Law firms do appreciate that the solicitor apprenticeship may be the first professional career (or in some cases, even the first job) for the majority of applicants, and they take this into account when reviewing applications.
Be prepared – for each step of your application process (from the online application to the interview) being well prepared can and will go a long way. This can include building your commercial awareness, which is one area where research can really help. Showing commercial awareness in your application and interview could help you stand out and appear well-informed. You could build your commercial awareness by signing up to relevant news sources such as the Financial Times and having an interest in different sectors and an understanding of economic trends.You might find it helpful to prepare for potential questions you may be asked in the interview, such as why you want to study law, or why you would like to do a legal apprenticeship. You can also show interest by researching which department you may like to qualify in.
Be confident – this applies to all aspiring legal professionals generally. Being confident when applying for a role as a solicitor apprentice, a trainee, or any other role in any professional career, can often be the most impactful aspect of a successful application. Feeling prepared and well researched helps give an authentic confidence and come across well at interviews.