The Big Four go after the next generation of lawyers – school leavers

The Big Four go after the next generation of lawyers – school leavers

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the so-called democratisation of the legal career. The concern – backed up by years of data – was the significant lack of diversity in the legal sector.

Progress has been made at entry level. Take the recent shift of acceptance criteria to the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which now allows aspiring solicitors without law degrees to sit the exam. Or the strong increase in the number of solicitors (17.5%) or law school students (41%) in England and Wales from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds, according to the Law Society’s Race for Inclusion report.

However, there’s a noticeable drop off when it comes to gaining and succeeding in training contracts and moving up the career ladder, said Law Society president Stephanie Boyce in a recent interview with LexisNexis.

The Big Four accounting firms – PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and EY – all prioritise improving employee diversity, with highly-publicised benchmarks and reporting, and a lengthy lists of family-friendly and work-life balance accolades.

These firms are determined to open up yet another channel to bring about more accessible routes into the legal profession by offering apprenticeships to university graduates and school leavers alike and subsequently draw in young talent.

The Big Four are offering paid graduate programmes to school-leavers

For years now the Big Four accounting firms have been taking on cohorts of university graduates on a regular basis, but what has shifted recently is the addition of secondary school graduates.

This year PwC offered 1,300 jobs to school leavers in auditing, legal, tax and technology, according to BusinessLive. Of these graduates, 44% are from minority ethnic backgrounds, 40% are female and 38% come from households where neither parent has completed higher education studies. The firm also made available its Flying Start programme – one of many apprenticeships that allows undergraduates or school leavers to study at universities while gaining practical paid work experience with PwC.

According to efinancialcareers, EY offered 1,015 student places across two intakes in September 2020 and April 2021. Of those students, 815 were graduates and 200 were school leavers – and 730 of which will join on a Government accredited apprenticeship scheme, which typically tend to last three years.

In 2020 Deloitte employed 1,500 graduates, and in 2021 a further 1,600. The firm isn’t just taking on graduates from the Russell Group – according to Pro Group, Deloitte Legal is working closely with the University of Law to develop training for new graduate-level legal qualifications as part of Deloitte's BrightStart Apprenticeship programme.

Do the Big Four graduate programmes come at a cost?

Not only do apprenticeship programmes offer the opportunity for a free education alongside paid work, but these schemes also open up the door for those who might otherwise miss out on studying, broadening the legal profession by making it more inclusive.

A legal training contract with one of the Big Four means lawyers aren't just limited to matters of the law – they’re opened up to a wealth of multidisciplinary skills and expertise beyond legal work.

“The candidates we talk to are really fired up by the innovation agenda, basically reimagining the future of law and being part of that story; that for them is very exciting,” says Emily Foges, Lead Partner for Legal Managed Services at Deloitte. “They are also excited about working closely with different expertise in the firm, so being on a team with people who have huge amounts of experience in other disciplines rather than just being on a team of lawyers.”

Likewise, for Juan Crosby, Partner and NewLaw Leader at PwC, says there is a strong emphasis on personal development and growing digital IQ. Crosby says: “There are very structured programmes that enable all employees to go through different types of training that can improve their skills for working in a digital age.”

However, David Wilkins, Lester Kissel Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, says the Big Four benefits come at a cost if you are a lawyer who wants to be running the whole show.

“You are expected to be part of an integrated solution, so if you’re talking about a huge project involving IT, strategy, finance and law, chances are the people running that project are not going to be lawyers,” says Wilkins.

Brad Blickstein, Co-head of Baretz+Brunelle’s NewLaw Practice, agrees – he thinks the focus on process and technology might not appeal to all.

“Law school teaches you to look for the differences in matters, so it’s quite hard to then come out of that thinking and forget all about the differences and instead focus on the 95% of everything that’s the same,” he says. “Those who have had that mind-shift are going to fit nicely into a Big Four, but if you take the everything-is-different approach, then a law firm is going to be more appropriate for you.”

Learn more about the Big Four by reading our report.

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About the author:
Sarah leads marketing for the Academic and Bar legal communities at LexisNexis. She is passionate about customer-centric marketing and delivering data-based insights to help clients get the best use out of LexisNexis solutions and products, and ensure they succeed in their roles.

Prior to her role at LexisNexis, Sarah specialised in delivering large B2B marketing programmes across a number of industries, including Financial Services, Technology and Manufacturing.