Initiative can open doors to candidates with diverse backgrounds, participants say
A cross-firm initiative is looking to open more part-time qualifying opportunities for aspiring legal professionals in the UK.
Project Rise, which is spearheaded by the Law Society of England and Wales’ Lawyers with Disabilities Division (LDD), is aiming for part-time training to be implemented across the country’s legal profession, either for training contracts or for the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
Participating in the project are London-headquartered Eversheds Sutherland and Osborne Clarke, both committing to offer successful candidates the opportunity to train on a part-time basis, starting from September 2024 – the intake they are currently recruiting for.
The firms have met regularly over the last six months to discuss the motivations and challenges of providing part-time training contracts and share their knowledge with each other.
Osborne Clarke currently employs a part-time trainee, while Eversheds Sutherland is offering its summer vacation students who obtained a training contract the option to complete their training part-time.
Project Rise was created as a direct result of the findings of a study conducted by the LDD and Cardiff Business School. The research revealed that disability has been “largely overlooked” when it came to improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the profession. The initiative, however, is not exclusively designed to benefit disabled trainees.
“Project Rise is striving to make qualifying as a solicitor more inclusive,” said I. Stephanie Boyce, president of Law Society of England and Wales. “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.”
Allison MacQuire, international head of recruitment, emerging talent, and diversity and inclusion at Eversheds Sutherland said her firm saw the programme as an opportunity to help those who may need “agility in their working week,” including those with disabilities, parents, carers, and “other talented individuals who have their own reasons or commitments for needing to train part-time.”
“This will allow us to cast a wider net when recruiting and will welcome a broader and more diverse range of perspectives and backgrounds into our talent pipeline,” she said.
Alexandra Gower, partner and training principal at Osborne Clarke, meanwhile, is optimistic that the project will increase the pool of talent available to the sector.
“When it comes to our working lives, we know one-size-fits-all isn’t realistic,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important that we recognise the need for flexibility and can accommodate a variety of working patterns.”
The introduction of the SQE route in September marked the beginning of the biggest change to how aspiring solicitors can enter in the profession in almost 30 years, according to the Law Society.
As part of the new route, aspiring lawyers must still undertake two years of qualifying work experience (QWE), but with more flexible requirements compared to the old system of training contracts as candidates are now allowed to complete up to four separate placements while working part-time to accrue two years equivalent time.
“The SQE could serve as inspiration for the profession to change how it trains its candidates, perhaps offering part-time, full-time, flexible, and hybrid qualifying work experience to its junior employees as standard,” the Law Society said in the statement.