This is the Allen & Overy profile for those considering solicitor apprenticeships. Students looking to apply for training contracts should check out Legal Cheek‘s main Allen & Overy profile.
The first of the elite group of Magic Circle law firms to embrace solicitor apprenticeships, Allen & Overy is a dream firm for ambitious, commercially minded hopefuls. Soon to be A&O Shearman as the result of a global elite mega-merger between it and the US-based Shearman & Sterling, apprentices will soon be joining the third-largest law firm in the world by revenue. Core practice groups at A&O are banking, corporate, international capital markets, employment & benefits, litigation & dispute resolution, real estate, and tax. Six lucky hopefuls will be recruited to join the firm’s ranks at its London office in 2024.
“I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but not that I wanted to be a law student per se,” one A&O apprentice tells Legal Cheek. With the financial side of full-time uni cited as a big drawback of the traditional route for this rookie, the apprenticeship path was “the best of both worlds” in terms of aligning the practical element of law with earning a degree. The ability to learn in practice was a big factor in deciding to go for the apprenticeship, she tells us, because “lectures and essays didn’t seem as interesting as working on cases or deals”.
Another A&O insider reveals to us that, he “didn’t know what a solicitor apprenticeship was until a week before [he] applied!”. Having faced rejection from his preferred university, this ambitious A&O apprentice did some detective work into alternative routes into the law and discovered the apprenticeship path. “The more I progressed through the application stages, the more I realised what an incredible opportunity the apprenticeship truly is, and in my mind, I completely ruled out the uni route,” he explains.
But what was it about A&O that attracted our apprentice spies? “It was the first ever office that I’d ever been to in London,” one recruit reveals. “Both the office itself and the people I had the fortune of meeting during the A&O insight day were incredibly impressive.” He admits, “I’d be lying if I said the reputation of the firm wasn’t a huge attraction to me given the training and opportunities for juniors”. Another apprentice source emphasises the inclusive culture at this commercial giant. “It really ticked all of my boxes,” she tells us, “because it’s one of the leading law firms for diversity and inclusion”. And the firm’s “friendly” culture seems to appeal too. “A lot of people say that A&O is one of the friendlier firms, but throughout the application process, I realised that it’s not just a marketing ploy — everyone was very approachable.”
Structurally, the programme boasts eight seat rotations over six-years. Unique to A&O, newbies will also “sub-rotate” (essentially spending time within different teams within each department) during each seat for the first four years. During this time, apprentices are encouraged to sit in the core practice groups at the firm; international capital markets, banking, corporate, and litigation.
For one apprentice insider who spent her first year in litigation, her seat was divided into four months in business development, two months in E-Discovery (a legal tech seat), and the last six months in a traditional fee-earning role. The ability to sit in non-fee-earning seats (AKA parts of the firm which aren’t traditional “legal” roles, such as legal tech) is lauded by insiders for giving a “full and rounded insight into how the firm operates in practice.” In years five and six, seasoned apprentices will go on to join their graduate counterparts on the A&O training contract. This TC involves the classic four six-monthly seats across the firm’s practice areas.
Speaking on the day-to-day of apprenticing, one rookie explains that “there are often days you get given a task and you’re challenged,” but fortunately “the firm’s support network is huge”. He says that “an aspect that I’ve noticed in particular is the amount of time that the senior people here are willing to spend on apprentices. Challenging tasks are so well explained and so set out in terms of deadlines and resources that there hasn’t been a time where I’ve felt overwhelmed with no one to turn to”. Without spilling any confidential beans, this apprentice reveals he’s currently involved in one of the first-ever “opt-out” proceedings brought to an English court. “It’s very experimental, and there’s not much precedent in this area. It’s incredible to be able to witness partners and senior associates navigate novel legal problems,” he says. Not too shabby for a rookie not two years out of school.
And when it comes to legal education, studying for a law degree part-time doesn’t seem to faze recruits. “We get selective modules,” one insider tells us, “so we’re able to hone our law studies to complement the skills and knowledge that we’re applying in practice”. For example, one rookie explains how he’s currently sitting in the litigation team and studying a module on dispute resolution, “so what I study on a Monday, I’m seeing in practice on a Tuesday afternoon”.
Is it challenging to fit a law degree into one day a week? “I do spend time beyond my study day because I like to be particularly thorough,” admits one A&O apprentice. “But A&O are very protective of our study day and they make sure we have nothing work-related to distract us.”
On the firm’s social scene, apprentices assure us that there’s no uni FOMO here. As well as being invited to all of the trainee socials, recruits can expect to hop on the firm-wide socials, team socials, and various networking events. “I feel like there’s too much to choose from!” one apprentice tells us. “There’s definitely a social life as an apprentice – it’s just different.” Indeed, one rookie emphasises, “there’s no point in denying that you will not get the typical freshers uni experience as an apprentice”.
But this recruit, who relocated to the City from the north of England, finds that, “A&O really encourages apprentices to find a social circle”. He tells us that apprentices are “buddied up with trainees from the get-go, and the firm is very encouraging of mentor relationships as well as socialising with other apprentices”. Big differences tend to be the age and lifestyle of the people you’re hanging out with, we’re told, and obviously there’s no room for turning up to work hungover after a mid-week student night out! But huge attractions include invites to hear influential speakers (A&O recently invited LGBTQ+ inclusion campaigner Max Siegel to present at the firm), puppy therapy sessions, and activities like clay pigeon shooting, golfing, and table tennis.
“It almost feels like a town in a building; the facilities are incredible,” we’re told when asking about the firm’s impressive London office. This spy wasn’t entirely accustomed to the glamorous corporate office scene given his previous work experience in a garden centre at a “shabby warehouse”. These days, this apprentice can be found making full use of the swanky facilities. “I use the gym in the office regularly which has personal trainers, a sauna, and a court to play basketball and squash. We have a restaurant inside with cafes too,” they reveal, “which is great for internal networking.”
What advice would A&O apprentices give to hopefuls? “Don’t sweat it – A-levels are your priority,” one recruit says. “But, when you apply to a firm,” he continues, “don’t just apply for its name or its brand. Think of a reason why you genuinely like the firm.” Another good interview tip, he says, is to “think of something you have that nobody else has because that creates an interview (and an interviewee) which is memorable”.
This is Allen & Overy’s Solicitor Apprenticeship profile. Read Allen & Overy’s full Legal Cheek profile here.