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National Apprenticeship Week: An interview with Gemma Sparks

To highlight National Apprenticeship Week from 8 - 14 February 2021 we decided to catch up with one of our many students who balance work and study. Gemma Spark is currently a solicitor apprentice with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI). We caught up with Gemma to discuss what life is like as a solicitor apprentice before and during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I chose to study law as I’ve always enjoyed researching and reading and I wanted to do something that would help people. I didn’t know what to do when I left school, so I took some time out and got work experience in different fields. However; none of them kept my interest for very long.

I was working as a PA in a small company and I wasn’t feeling challenged mentally so I was scrolling through Indeed and I stumbled across a paralegal apprenticeship. I didn’t actually know what it was. After some research and looking at the careers it could lead to, it seemed like a no brainer for me. I had the qualifications and I was curious about law, so I thought I’d give it a shot and attend the interview.

I chose an apprenticeship as I grew up very independent; I like to earn my own money and stand on my own two feet. I learn better from others. I can read something a thousand times and it won’t always sink in. Therefore, when the degree was offered, I felt more comfortable knowing that I would be learning from colleagues as well as ULaw lecturers. It was reassuring that I had support bubbles both at work and at home. I really liked the fact I could still be independent too. I moved out, travelled through Asia, South America, Canada and parts of Europe in my annual leave. I experienced, perhaps, more than if I were at university full time.

One of the most important skills in law is to be able to research effectively. This is because the queries you deal with can be extremely varied. At the RNLI I can deal with an employment query one day and a volunteer or commercial query the next. It’s about understanding the difference in law and how to research the answer.

You also need to be able to take constructive criticism, work with others and have clear and confident communication skills and patience. 

I found my placement on Indeed after taking a year out to travel and figure out what I wanted to do. This meant that I was a little older than the other candidates and had general office skills from my work at the time. I believe this knowledge and maturity helped me obtain the role. I knew how to work with people of all ages thanks to my background working in restaurants and as a PA. Work experience is key. You learn so much from having a variety of jobs.

Before the pandemic, I used to get into the office for 8am. I’d log on and check my emails, check my spreadsheet of tasks and then go about sorting out my diary. I sat behind my line manager, who I work with extremely closely and we would go to meetings and discuss cases.

On Monday mornings, I would go to the flexible working area and study. In the afternoon, I would go to my desk and get on with that days tasks. Tuesdays, I would spend the whole day with the HR people advisors. I would get on with my daily activities but I was present for them to ask any questions and it allowed me to engross myself within the team. Wednesdays, I’d stay in the legal office and do my morning study again in the flexible working area. I’d spend Thursdays with the Lifeguarding Team, where I worked on the lifeguard services contracts between the RNLI and the local authorities. On Friday, I would have the whole day in the legal office and I’d use it as my admin day. Doing things like making sure my emails were up-to-date, cases were on target and if I had any meaty research projects throughout the week, I’d tie them up and make sure my client was happy. 

During Covid-19, I work from home but essentially do all the same things.  

My line manager is really inspiring my career because he knows so much and is so dedicated to his work. There isn’t a lot that he doesn’t know the answer to. Equally, he challenges me to find the answer myself and doesn’t let me rely on him too much. He has the confidence to let me run with cases myself and is the most supportive manager I could have asked for. I want to be able to get to the point in my career where I can be as knowledgeable as him.

After completing my apprenticeship, I’d like to continue at the RNLI for a couple of years to get some experience post-qualification. After that, I have no idea. There are lots of possibilities.

I’ve had so many highlights while I’ve been at RNLI. You get thrown in pools, onto beaches and go out in boats. I even got to be in the audience for Celebrity Master Chef when they came to the RNLI a couple of years ago. I’ve been to employment tribunals, coroner courts and so much more. I couldn’t highlight a single moment because it’s all been amazing.

I’d advise any students thinking of an apprenticeship to get as much work experience as you can while at school. This will help you so much in obtaining the job you want. Also, do your research on who the apprenticeship is with. Make sure you find out just as much about the company as they want to know about you. It’s important to be with a company that will look after you as an apprentice.

 

Discover more about becoming a solicitor apprentice now.