Current ULaw Birmingham student Katy Love is carrying out a Level 7 Solicitor Apprenticeship with Gowling WLG. To highlight National Apprenticeship Week, we’re talking to Katy about her experience of studying while working and the skills she has gained.
By Cara Fielder. Published 7 February 2022. Last updated 4 January 2023.
I enjoyed studying Law and Geography in sixth form and always had an interest in the built environment, as my mum was a building surveyor and built environment lecturer – but I didn’t know what career would let me tap into all of my interests. When an opportunity arose to become a legal apprentice within the housing, development and regeneration team at Gowling WLG, it felt like an opportunity I couldn't turn down. What I particularly love about the legal industry is that there is so much space for you to grow, progress, and learn – you are always learning in law. And that felt like an industry I wanted to get involved in.
The University of Law worked closely with Gowling WLG previously so it was a pleasure to be able to undertake the firm's first solicitor apprenticeship seats with ULaw. Our offices are very close to campus which also makes it really easy if we ever need access to the campus.
Legal apprenticeships were very new when I started in 2015 – I discovered the paralegal apprenticeship through the national apprenticeships service. The solicitor apprenticeship hadn’t been launched yet, but I was made aware of it through my firm, as they identified that it might be something I would want to try. I am one of the first three solicitor apprentices at Gowling WLG and one of ULaw's first Birmingham cohorts.
An apprenticeship gives you the opportunity to gain qualifications alongside experience, both of which you will need when you enter a legal career. The legal industry has always been very competitive and difficult to access, with training contracts being hard to obtain. I recognised early on that starting my career with a firm like Gowling was an opportunity I could not miss. Not only would I gain the qualifications, but I would also gain invaluable experience, developing my skill set daily – something that you can only really develop to its full potential whilst on the job. This gave me a huge competitive advantage over my peers who studied the same qualifications but obtained no experience.
To study through an apprenticeship, you must be hardworking, focussed and enthusiastic – legal apprenticeships are not an easy route into law. You still need to gain the same qualifications as those taking the traditional classroom approach, but you do so whilst working a full-time job. You need to be focussed on passing each assessment to the best of your ability so you can continue to progress with your academics alongside your progression in your day-to-day role. Enthusiasm is key - being enthusiastic about the area you are working in makes every exam, essay and working day easier. That enthusiasm needs to extend well into your studies, as you need to sit plenty of exams before you qualify; so, it helps to be enthusiastic about what you are working to achieve.
My solicitor apprenticeship placement followed from my paralegal apprenticeship placement at Gowling. I was offered the opportunity to start the solicitor apprenticeship as the firm were confident that I would be able to progress. I was grateful to have started with the paralegal apprenticeship first as it gave me enough time to see whether a career in law was what I wanted to do, before committing myself to the higher level apprenticeship.
A typical day as an apprentice involves working with a variety of different people from all levels of seniority in the firm. I help colleagues with different parts of their own case files whilst also running and managing my own transactions. I work with a variety of different clients in a broad range of work types and areas. Each day is different, and firms are encouraged to involve apprentices in a wide variety of work to help develop their skillsets, so there is never a day where I'm not doing something interesting.
So many people inspire me in my career, with a number of the partners at Gowling forever leaving me in awe by their expertise in any given area. There are several partners at Gowling I aspire to be like in the future.
Once I complete my apprenticeship, I would like to qualify at my firm and start my new role as an associate. But before I do, I'll definitely be booking myself a nice holiday – I'll have been studying as a legal apprentice for eight years by the time I complete my solicitor apprenticeship, so I think some time away from the books will be long overdue and well deserved.
I started seat rotations in March 2021, which allowed me to move out of my team for a year and experience law in two new areas – corporate law and litigation (in a property context). Stepping out of my comfort zone was scary at first but the opportunity was invaluable and I have enjoyed my seat rotations immensely. It reminded me how different each area of law can be but it was refreshing that I adapted well to both seats because the skills I had developed throughout my time at Gowling were useful in either context.
An apprenticeship is an incredible opportunity. I would urge anyone seriously considering a career in law to go for an apprenticeship. Gaining your qualifications whilst earning a salary is highly rewarding, and to be supported by a firm throughout that journey is invaluable. I have found that I have not only grown skills professionally, but also personally, as I am a much more confident person than I was when I was in school. My apprenticeship has given me the platform to discover a career I enjoy and to shape myself into someone I would be proud of as a teenager.
If you are considering an apprenticeship, reach out to people like me who can talk to you about their experiences so you can make sure it is the right route for you. If you decide it is, only make applications to firms that you would happily work for – seeing if you agree with their values and whether people say good things about them is a good place to start. When attending interviews, relax, be yourself and don't be afraid if you're out of your comfort zone. And the biggest advice is to enjoy it – my apprenticeship has been hard work, but I have enjoyed studying and working more than I thought I would.
If you’re interested in following in Katy’s footsteps, you can learn more about legal apprenticeships now.