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City firms to offer part-time training contracts for disabled aspiring lawyers

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Eversheds Sutherland and Osborne Clarke are hiring for 2024 entry

A new initiative backed by City firms Eversheds Sutherland and Osborne Clarke is seeking to encourage more part-time training contacts to be offered as a matter of course in the legal sector.

‘Project Rise’ has been initiated by the Law Society’s Lawyers with Disabilities Division following research it undertook in partnership with Cardiff University, which found that disability has been largely overlooked when it comes to improving diversity & inclusion (D&I) in the solicitors’ profession.

Both Eversheds and Osborne Clarke are taking part in the project and have committed to offering all successful candidates the opportunity to train on a part-time basis, starting from September 2024.

Eversheds is offering its summer vacation students who obtained a training contract the opportunity to complete their training part-time, whilst Osborne Clarke currently employs a part-time trainee.

Allison MacQuire, international head of recruitment, emerging talent and diversity & inclusion at Eversheds Sutherland, said: “Eversheds Sutherland is proud to be amongst the first two law firms to both commit to, and start implementing, Project Rise, having offered our summer vacation students the opportunity for part-time training.”

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The project isn’t exclusively for disabled trainees, and MacQuire went on to explain who would benefit from having the option of completing their training contract part-time: “In particular we see this programme as helping those who may need agility in their working week, for example it might be those with a disability or those who are parents, or carers, or so many other talented individuals who have their own reasons or commitments for needing to train part-time.”

Alexandra Gower, partner and training principal at Osborne Clarke, added: “When it comes to our working lives, we know one-size-fits-all isn’t realistic. That’s why it’s so important that we recognise the need for flexibility and can accommodate a variety of working patterns. Doing this will increase the pool of talent available to our sector.”

The project’s launch comes some months after the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) officially went live on 1 September. The new regime does away with the requirement for a training contract in the traditional sense as candidates are able to complete up to four placements, working part-time or to whatever requirements are available, to accrue two years qualifying work experience. Project Rise aims to implement part-time, flexible and hybrid training as standard under the new regime.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said:

“Project Rise is striving to make qualifying as a solicitor more inclusive. We must take into account the lives of aspiring solicitors, as they could benefit from undertaking training on a part-time basis. In turn, this could see the profession opening its doors to candidates from other backgrounds, who may previously have faced barriers to entry and progression.”

A year ago the Law Soc’s own D&I adviser called on law firms to set aside places on their vacation schemes and training contracts for disabled candidates, as well as run more part-time training contracts. “The current position is so bad and so not inclusive that it justifies that kind of action,” said Chris Seel.

Legal Cheek is partnering with Clifford Chance for a virtual student event, ‘#WeThe15: Being disabled in the workplace and the value found in difference’, on Tuesday 30 November. You can apply to attend the event, which is free, now.

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