Accutrainee offers a different kind of traineeship. It’s less formal, more flexible and provides opportunities to train at a variety of organisations from investment banks and industry to niche law firms, US firms and top 20 UK law firms. In essence, it employs trainees who are then seconded out to in-house teams and law firms. Secondments usually last between three and 24 months, and trainees can therefore benefit from training seats at more than one firm or organisation. Throughout the training contract, Accutrainee provides mentoring and support, including a monthly meeting with a senior solicitor or the company’s own training principal. It promises graduates: “Once you’re seconded to a firm, that firm is committed to training and treating you in exactly the same way as it trains and treats its own trainees. The only difference is you’ll be employed by us and we’ll be monitoring and ensuring that you’re receiving the support and development you need.”
It’s an innovative model – clients pay for trainees only where they are needed and avoid all the regulatory and recruitment hassles and costs of a traditional 24-month training contract. The company, which ensures all Solicitors Regulation Authority training requirements are met, was founded by former Hogan Lovells banking & finance associate Susan Cooper in 2011 and took on its first trainee a year later. Graduates can apply at any time of year, with interviews arranged once a month. So, how does the Accutrainee experience shape up?
One obvious challenge is the fact the training provider is separate from the place of work. Does this cause difficulties? Not really, according to one respondent to the 2020-21 Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey: “The disconnect between my seconding organisation and training provider probably doesn’t make this as easy as in a large firm putting numerous trainees through the same formulaic training, but I nonetheless feel well supported by both.”
And trainees do tend to be well looked after. “Both the seconding organisations and Accutrainee are very dedicated and supportive in ensuring we have a complete and well-rounded training,” a lawyer explains. Superiors are rated approachable, with “constructive remarks, on the spot evaluation, always prepared to listen and always willing to help and/or improve work environment,” according to one trainee, while another notes: “Having less formal conversations allows for better working relationships and makes approaching my superiors comfortable.”
Trainees also value the variety. “Being seconded to another organisation and having the opportunity to move around means we get an excellent variety of training,” says one survey respondent. Another rookie describes their training as “flexible and tailored to trainees’ interests and preferred areas without neglecting areas of improvement”.
Generally, respondents rated the work given as “stimulating” or “highly stimulating”. Comments included “a mixed bag, but I enjoy that”, and “increasing responsibilities and opportunity to grow both as trainee and individual”. One trainee said: “Aside from normal trainee duties, having the opportunity to work on big projects and see them materialise is very exciting.”
The work-life balance will depend on the seconding organisation, of course, but was generally considered favourable by survey respondents. For example, one trainee said “it fluctuates a fair bit… I am currently hugely busy, but the balance is generally good”. Since COVID-19 struck and the UK went into lockdown, trainees have been stuck at home. “I think it is very difficult to make up for the lost conversations throughout the day, resulting in slightly less support than normal,” says one trainee. “Nonetheless, everyone is very attentive whenever I check in over the phone/email, and we have regular scheduled video calls through the week.”
When office life resumes, the quality of the workplace environment will depend on the seconding organisation involved. Accutrainee’s office is in central London and, so far at least, its clients have mainly been based in and around the Capital.
Accutrainee provides access to its “dedicated web based trainee portfolio which is monitored against SRA training requirements”. Technology-wise, one trainee reports that it “could be better. A contracts database would be good and access to tools such as [legal resources and information services] Practical Law or LexisNexis”. Obviously, the quality of tech at seconding organisations will vary from place to place.
One area where Accutrainee could improve is perks – which for the firm’s trainee secondees don’t always match the level enjoyed by employees of the host organisation. And while one respondent expresses enthusiasm about the “pastries” and “fairly generous social events”, another rookie lawyer comments that “the only but extremely valuable perk is the monthly mentor meetings”. Perhaps the main perk, and a major advantage of Accutrainee, however, is the opportunity to arrange a bespoke training contract, gaining a portfolio of SRA-approved traineeship experience in workplaces that might not otherwise be available.