Jordan Coulton of law firm Weightmans won the Higher Apprentice of the Year award at the National Apprenticeship Awards. Here, he explains why an apprenticeship was right for him
It’s worth remembering that the opportunities afforded by present-day apprenticeships are relatively new. The current influx of business-designed apprenticeships are all recent inventions, and many sectors didn’t offer them a few years ago.
England’s first higher legal apprentice, Jordan, began his apprenticeship in June 2013, when the possibility of entering law could only be realised by attending university and achieving a degree.
He joined the law firm, Weightmans, initially as a paralegal, and is now working towards becoming a chartered legal executive. He’s had the opportunity to work in employment law and occupational disease claims, but will focus on inquests when he becomes fully qualified.
According to Jordan, his decision to become England’s first higher legal apprentice felt like a risk for everyone concerned.
“Nobody knew whether this route into law was going to be a success, or whether law firms were going to take on and invest in apprentices,” he explains.
“My dad was very sceptical about me taking that risk, because I was going to be the first person from my family to go to university. He accepted and acknowledged that it was my decision, but he warned me that if it didn’t work out, I would be missing out on the opportunity to attend university at an important time in my life.”
“In the end, and six years later, what has made it a success was the investment from Weightmans, in terms of time, effort and resources.”
Jordan adds: “It’s good to see that other law firms around the country are investing in apprenticeship programmes today, and it all started with my apprenticeship, essentially. That stress, panic and pressure actually paid off, because it’s not just me benefitting, but Weightmans and those kids who are leaving school and thinking about entering law, but don’t want to go to university. They now have this opportunity, because the legal world has embraced apprenticeships.”
Five years after becoming the first higher apprentice, Jordan won the Higher Apprentice of the Year award at the National Apprenticeship Awards, which is run by the National Apprenticeship Service and continues to go from strength to strength.
The award win came at an important time for Jordan, who was progressing rapidly at Weightmans and had already run his own cases.
Jordan says: “It was nice to see not only the contribution I make to Weightmans as a business being recognised, but also the contribution I’ve made over the past six years to the wider apprenticeship movement, in terms of being an ambassador for apprenticeships and going out and promoting apprenticeships as a real alternative. It was overwhelming and it’s definitely increased my connections inside and outside the firm. It really helped to raise my profile, which is especially great in this area of work.”
Bringing balance to the workforce
The successes that Jordan has enjoyed as an apprentice have all come from a great degree of hard work. During his apprenticeship, Jordan has had to balance the demands of a full-time job, widely known for its long hours, with studying for a degree-level qualification. Don’t forget, too, that he also needs a personal life.
Jordan explains: “The main challenge over the past six years has been balancing work, life and studying. Of course, I began my apprenticeship before time off to study became mandatory, so initially it was up to me to find the time.”
He continues: “My days can be quite long, often arriving early or leaving late, because there can be many things to do at once. I might spend a full day at court, and then the next in client meetings, all the while my email inbox has steadily filled with unread messages. It’s all about managing my time and being as efficient as possible.”
“As I’ve progressed, I’ve managed to get into a good rhythm by following a process that organises my time. This has meant that I’ve been able to establish a good work-life-study balance.”
“Of course, I love my job and wouldn’t change it for the world, but I think it’s important to highlight that an apprenticeship in this area, or any degree apprenticeship, isn’t an easy alternative to university. There’s a work-life-study balance that’s difficult to maintain and master.”
“I’ve been lucky in that Weightmans offers full support. Apprentices get a reduced target, as the firm factors in that you do need time off for study leave and so on. There’s also always someone on hand to provide support for apprentices, too.”
And achieving that balance has paid off for Jordan. On top of his Higher Apprentice of the Year award, he’s also earning a degree and has achieved more during his six years than some of his senior colleagues had when they were his age.
Jordan says: “Solicitors I work with have told me that I’m miles ahead of where they were when they were my age. I think that’s because I’ve done the apprenticeship.”
He explains that legal apprenticeships provide apprentices with a head start in law, allowing them to pick up the business skills required to put the theoretical knowledge obtained from a degree into practice.
Jordan says: “The way law firms operate now, experience and practice is everything. Succeeding as a lawyer hinges on how you interact with clients and how you innovate. A university graduate could achieve a first, but put them in front of clients and they won’t have the skills. While the traditional academic route is hard work, in my opinion it doesn’t set you up to be a lawyer. When I go into schools and colleges, I cannot stress enough how practice and experience prevails over everything.”
Jordan has used his success as an apprentice to help inspire others to follow in his footsteps, and provide them with much-needed information and insight. He believes that this kind of help was missing when he was in school, and would like to see the situation improve.
He says: “The careers adviser at my school was heavily focused on the university route, and the UCAS application process. It would have been useful for that careers adviser to have been trained in giving information on apprenticeships as an alternative route. It also would have been helpful for a successful apprentice to come to my school and explain how they got to where they were.”
“This is why I’m so happy about the Young Apprentice Ambassador Network. It’s such a powerful tool, to be able to hear from someone who has done an apprenticeship. Hearing from employers and the National Apprenticeship Service is great, but I think young people want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I think that would have been very useful when I was in sixth form, with a fully trained and informed careers adviser capable of answering my follow-up questions.”
He adds: “It’s such a shame because some of my friends who went to university to study law didn’t pursue it as a career once they graduated. It’s not that the jobs they got instead are bad, but they spent thousands of pounds each on a degree and they’re not using it. If someone had talked to them about apprenticeships, where would they be now?”