This is the Stephenson Harwood profile for those considering solicitor apprenticeships. Students looking to apply for training contracts should check out Legal Cheek‘s main Stephenson Harwood profile.
Stephenson Harwood (SH) has a global presence spanning Europe, the Middle East, and several large outposts in Asia. From the outfit’s London HQ, six apprentice joiners have the chance to get involved in the full spectrum of SH’s key practices, both from the City base, and on client and international secondments around the globe.
“Whilst deciding between going to university and taking the apprenticeship route, I ended up making a pros and cons list to figure out which was best for me”, one SH insider tells us. “Ultimately, I couldn’t see many cons of the apprenticeship route, and for me there were more pros than going to university.” These extra benefits include the high-quality work experience, salary, and lack of student debt, our interviewee explains. “In the end it was a no brainer!”
“It’s definitely a big decision”, we’re told, “and the finance aspect is certainly an important consideration for many people. But, even without the financial benefits, I still think it would have been a better option for me given the level and quality of work experience that you simply can’t trump elsewhere.”
As for why SH, one apprentice points to the firm’s size and quality work. “After choosing a range of firms to apply to, I found that SH offered a great balance. My cohort is six, which is larger than many City firms, creates a nice social group. On top of that, the firm is smaller than the biggest City firms, and so you get to know people better and it’s more personal, but still has a great international presence, giving the best of both worlds.”
For one rookie, however, the final decision was only made during the application process. “Some firms weren’t very on the ball during the application process, whereas SH were great.” One lucky recruit who had multiple offers found the advice SH offered particularly useful. “They were very supportive in deciding between different offers, and were genuinely interested in me as an individual and ensuring I made the right decision.”
Moving to the structure of the programme, new apprentices can expect to undertake one seat per year across the first four years, before joining the trainees for the final two years, undertaking an additional four seats. As mentioned earlier, there is also the chance to undertake both client and international secondments, in addition to internal secondments with the firm’s innovation and pro bono teams.
“I try to keep all of my studying within the allotted day”, one rookie says, discussing the work/study balance at the firm. “Everyone within my teams has been respectful that that day is for studying, not working.” Whilst striking this balance and keeping the academics confined to their allocated time has been “doable so far”, we’re told, there will inevitably be some modules with a heavier workload, and regular exams which might need some extra revision. But with revision days provided for these exams, one recruit says they have “never come across any issues at the firm”.
When in the office, newbies can expect to be challenged. “We’re never left on admin”, one rookie explains, “and whilst the first two years tend to be a little less heavy, you can take on the same quality of work as a trainee if you want to.” Although apprentices, at least in the earlier years, are not expected to stay as late as trainees, they nonetheless can take on responsibility for “getting in touch with counsel and clients, creating bundles, and attending mediations and arbitrations”. The approach, one insider says, is very much that “you’re treated as if you can do it, and the supervisors and teams want to see how far you can go, all whilst being on hand to answer your questions or offer advice if needed”. It’s reassuring to know that, whilst the culture and environment don’t let apprentices settle before reaching their potential, “nobody is going to push or force you if you’re not quite at that level yet. The firm recognises that some people may just need more time than others with certain tasks.”
When they’re not in the office or studying, SH apprentices enjoy a busy social scene. We hear that there are a plethora of activities for rookies, both in and out of the firm. “There are so many networks open to apprentices, including groups for neurodiversity, women, LGBTQ. We also have a choir, sports teams for various sports including rugby, football, netball, and mixed tag rugby, who take part in all sorts of tournaments and are open to anyone.”
Adding to this already packed social scene are regular networking events and drinks specifically for apprentices. And, with the number of apprenticeships across the City rocketing upwards, one insider “can’t see the social and professional opportunities slowing down any time soon”.
Another insider we spoke with was keen to highlight some of the reasons SH was their number one choice for the apprenticeship. “The salary is a big pull factor and exceeds a number of comparable firms, the relationship that we have with HR and the dynamic of feedback going both ways is also great, as are the people at all levels, be that other apprentices or partners”, they tells us. That’s all without even mentioning “the ideal size of the firm and cohort, which is more personal and less corporate than lots of other firms. But this is without sacrificing the perks of a large international firm in terms of high-quality work, international reach, salary, office etc.” Ultimately, one spy tells us, SH simply offers “the best of both worlds.”
Before applying, however, an insider tells us that it’s essential to do a great deal of thinking. “What do you want to get out of the programme or your time at university and is the apprenticeship right for you are two things that you really need to think about.” And once you’ve settled on a path, there are a host of further considerations.
“Read what each firm offers in their programme and beyond and try to get a sense of what they’re about”, one rookie offers. “Each programme is unique”, they continue, citing how even each education provider offers a different pattern of online v in-person learning. As for when you’re ready to apply, “take time on each application”, they advise. “Apply to around five firms and put across in each case why you want to go to that specific firm. Try to stand out through putting effort in.”
However, you should remember, one insider says, that “it’s a two-way street. The firm should also be trying to impress you during recruitment events and give you a good reason why you should join them over their competitors.”
This is Stephenson Harwood’s Solicitor Apprenticeship profile. Read Stephenson Harwood’s full Legal Cheek profile here.