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Learning on the job

01 March 2019

What practical experience can you expect to gain as a paralegal apprentice. Paige Eager tells all!

Why did I choose an apprenticeship?

I chose to complete an apprenticeship rather than attend university primarily due to the practical experience that I would gain from working in a firm. I thought that the skills that I would develop as a result of completing the apprenticeship would be worth so much more than the theoretical knowledge that I would have gained should I have chosen to go to university. By doing an apprenticeship I would also be able to apply the academic side of the course directly into practice, which is not typically offered whilst completing a full-time university degree.

In addition, I felt that I would be putting myself a "step-ahead" of university graduates as by the time I complete my apprenticeship, I would have several years of experience under my belt to accompany the academic qualifications. This route, which offers hands-on experience seemed like a much better option that studying from the books and thereafter having to gain experience in order to be taken seriously as a candidate for future employment. Another factor in my decision was the career prospects after completing an apprenticeship in comparison to those after finishing university. The amount of graduates in non-graduate level jobs has been increasing over the past few years and as much as a university degree is still valuable, the career prospects after third year concerned me even before I started applying.

Along with this the amount of apprenticeships that are being offered are steadily increasing and becoming more viable routes into various careers and can be used as a route to qualifying as a solicitor without the need to fund university studies. The amount of positions offered and the fact that the apprenticeship is becoming recognised by a wide range of employers was the factor that reinforced my decision to complete an apprenticeship.

Why did I choose DWF?

I chose DWF as prior to my application, I researched all of the firms that offered the scheme. Through this I found out that not only was DWF a multinational legal business with plans to expand into further countries, I also found out that it was listed as one of the most innovative legal businesses in Europe. The idea that DWF were moving forward in different directions to other firms and challenging the traditional ways of thinking really appealed to me. This innovative way of thinking was really supported through the fact that they offered the apprenticeship scheme as an alternative route to qualifying and this innovation was what initially sparked my interest in the firm. DWF also appealed to me due to the range of sectors from Insurance and Real Estate to Healthcare and Hospitality. This broad range of sectors appealed to me as I liked the idea of being able to gain experience across the difference teams and learn about the different parts that make up the legal business as a whole.Throughout my time at DWF, I have been able to learn about these sectors through various talks and it has helped me in furthering my knowledge of the business.

What do I do at DWF?

I work in the Catastrophic Personal Injury department in the Insurance Sector of DWF. As such, a lot of the work I have to do is related to litigation and proceedings, which is heavily driven by Court deadlines. On a daily basis, I will tend to draft instructions to Counsel and collate their papers. I usually draft various letters ranging from letters enclosing offers of settlement, letters of instruction for medical expert examination and requests for disclosure. I also frequently review disclosure that we receive from the Claimant's solicitor and highlight the relevant issues in relation to the claim. Another part of my day is contacting the Court, medical experts and Counsel to either chase them in relation to issues on the file or arrange meetings.

At BPP recently my workload has been focused on putting together a portfolio of evidence which is centred on the work I complete on the job and under the supervision of my line manager. This is a fairly long process however due to the extended amount of time given to complete this alongside the other examined modules, it has become more manageable. The exams and deadlines are usually distributed across the year which is incredibly helpful. As an apprentice, you also get a study day to complete the BPP side of the course which is one day a week centred on online lectures and learning the course content. This study day makes the course and workload a lot more manageable.

On a daily basis I generate revenue for the firm which goes towards the team's yearly target, which was something I never expected to do at such a junior level. As said previously I draft a lot of documents which range from instructing Counsel to drafting directions and directions questionnaires which are later filed at Court. I'm fortunate enough to be able to frequently attend conferences and Client events and have also sat in on several hearings ranging from Costs and Case Management Conferences to Application Hearings in the High Court. I have also been sent to sit in on Court of Appeal cases for fee earners in other offices and have been invited to seminars and talks which are open to legal professionals at all levels. I've had such a wide range of experiences throughout my time at DWF so far which exceeded all expectations I had upon joining.

I am also incredibly lucky to work with the fee earners that I do. Before starting, I feel like I had a completely different impression about what people would be like. I expected there to be almost a divide between the different levels of fee earner but I was glad to find out that this is not the case, as everyone is approachable, down to earth and largely happy to help with any queries. The atmosphere is very collaborative and friendly even throughout the fast-paced schedules and busy workloads of the team.

What support do I receive?

In respect of support available I have two line managers who are exceptionally helpful when it comes to managing my workload at both DWF and at BPP. They are heavily involved with both sides and attend the BPP University review meetings with me so they are aware of the work that I undertake on a daily basis. This is incredibly helpful as they are then able to offer additional help and support during times when I have deadlines and exams.

At BPP we also have an apprentice manager who conducts regular review meetings and monitors our grades and attendance. She will review our progress once a term and during these meetings she will offer additional support on the behalf of BPP. Between my line managers and BPP, I have a high level of invaluable support which has helped me to keep on track when it comes to both my work at DWF and my work for BPP.

What skills have I learned so far?

The most valuable skill that I've gained throughout this process is prioritising. Early on in the apprenticeship I struggled with the workload and prioritising work that did not have strict deadlines. I have since learnt the importance of various tasks and am able to complete them in a more quickly and efficient way through working with time keeping and prioritising techniques which work for me.

I have also gained a further attention to detail through drafting a wide variety of documents for various file handlers. I feel that I have also further developed my communication skills through my time at DWF in both a verbal and written capacity. On a daily basis I speak with an array of individuals ranging from witnesses to medical experts and Clients both over the telephone and in person. This has helped me tailor by communication skills depending on who I am liaising with and this frequent communication has allowed me to begin building professional relationships which is invaluable both for my time completing the paralegal apprenticeship and thereafter.

What are the benefits of an apprenticeship?

One of the main benefits of the apprenticeship for me was the amount of experience I would gain throughout my time working in a firm. The fact that I am able to understand litigation from a hands on perspective and be involved in the process is invaluable and not something that would have been available at university. The experience I have gained throughout my time completing the apprenticeship is not only based on the work, I have also been given the opportunity to network with Clients, Counsel and other individuals who are paramount to the business. This networking opportunity is not something that would have necessarily been offered at university or through any other route to qualify. In comparison to other career options, the apprenticeship differs as you are able to gain qualifications whilst working. Though this can be a lot of work, it is incredibly rewarding as I am not only able to gain experience but further my education simultaneously.

What does the future hold?

My expectations to working as an apprentice were incredibly different to reality. Prior to starting I expected to spend my time completing admin based tasks and making tea – the stereotypical assistant type jobs, but I'm incredibly glad to say that that is not that case all (although I'm not opposed to making tea once in a while).

After completing the Paralegal apprenticeship, I am hoping to progress onto the Solicitors apprenticeship at DWF. This is a further five years studying with BPP and working at DWF during which I would complete further modules that would complete the degree part of the qualification and thereafter I would complete seats in different departments across the firm which is an aspect I am particularly looking forward to in order to gain further experience. This is my ideal route for progression as not only would it allow me to qualify as a solicitor, but it would also allow me to do so in a way that ensures that I would be well-rounded and experienced by the time I qualify.

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