Apprenticeship opportunity allows pair to follow law career dream with their local council

If you are looking for a career in the legal sector, don’t just restrict your search to law firms. There are plenty of public and private-sector organisations which offer legal apprenticeships.

CILEx Law School (CLS) currently works with around 40 local authorities. Among those is Isle of Wight Council. Apprentices Danielle Harris (a Chartered Legal Executive Apprentice) and Laura Croft (a Paralegal Apprentice) and the council’s Strategic Manager of Legal Services Justin Thorne talk about how they have found the experience:

Why did you choose a legal apprenticeship?

Danielle: “I became interested in law after studying it at A-level but university wasn’t for me. It was perfect timing seeing the Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeship advertised after leaving sixth form as it felt like my dream opportunity and this has proved to be the case.  

“I was born and raised on the Isle of Wight. This makes a personal difference, to be able to see the island benefit from what the council does. I am glad to give back to the island through the work that I do.” 

Laura: “I started with the council as a Legal Support Officer but wanted to develop myself and my role here. I undertook a secondment as a Legal Officer and really enjoyed the work that I did dealing with debt recovery and planning enforcement. When the post holder returned I discussed developing my career with my manager by starting an apprenticeship. 

“I am a mum of two. When I was in my 20s I balanced work with raising my children, but now they are older I am able to devote time to pursue my dream of becoming a Chartered Legal Executive. I am currently studying for a Paralegal Apprenticeship in the council’s litigation team and will look to progress to a Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship when I have completed that.” 

How has the apprenticeship helped you personally and professionally?

Danielle: “When I applied for the apprenticeship after finishing sixth form I didn’t possess the confidence that I have now acquired through the work I do, and through the responsibility I have managing case files and dealing with clients.  

“I now understand the legal system and the court process thanks to my studies and my work. I would say that I am much more confident and that’s evident in how I conduct myself both professionally and personally. 

“I have been really lucky to join such a supportive team. My manager and colleagues have gone down the CILEx route themselves and they understand the work that I am doing. They are willing to answer any questions that I have about the progression to be made once completing my apprenticeship.” 

Laura: “Since starting my apprenticeship my 13-year-old daughter sees the books I bring home, how hard I work, and she helps me revise. That has really developed her interest in law. 

“I’m really committed to this apprenticeship and the opportunities it’s opening up. I want my daughter and my son to see just what you can achieve if you put the effort in.  

“Until I did my current apprenticeship I hadn’t realised just how beneficial apprenticeships are, as you get the practical experience coupled with sound knowledge from the course.” 

What has been the most useful thing about studying with CLS?

Danielle: “I think that the most valuable resource available is the online Student Area, as this provides all the study materials and any other info that can be posted by our tutors which are relevant to our studies. It is easy to navigate and allows you to see how the programme will be delivered. It is also how I access the webinars which are extremely helpful and supportive in my studies.  

“Studying with CLS has enabled me to discover the opportunities that are available to me as my career develops.”  

Laura: “The most positive experience about studying with CLS is going through the webinars and course material and learning all the new information and retaining this and then applying it in my role.   

“I have found the webinars and Student Area most helpful.” 

What does your role entail – and how has it benefitted the council?

Danielle: “I work in civil litigation, which I really enjoy. I have been involved with all debt-recovery matters. Typical activities include preparing to go to court for possession hearings and charging orders. Possession hearings are where we claim back council housing from tenants when this becomes necessary, and charging orders are where we seek the court’s authority to get payment of unpaid debts from specific assets belonging to the debtor. I have had the opportunity to attend court with lawyers and colleagues to strengthen my understanding of the legal process.  

“Before I joined the council, there were different lawyers that case managed areas of civil litigation. Now, I am more of a secure base for clients to come to.  

“I now manage most of the civil litigation debt recovery matters from start to finish. I prepare the papers, send the claims to court, instruct bailiffs and deal with any client queries that come up.  

“A considerable amount of our income comes from debt recovery. I have been instrumental in securing some significant sums, including £40,000 in unpaid care home bills.” 

Justin: “The role to which we appointed Danielle was initially to help manage a civil litigation case load. Due to her performance it has expanded to providing advice and case-managing the whole process and other areas of civil litigation including possession hearings and charging orders.    

“Danielle’s position has been extremely helpful in managing the increasing demands on a relatively small unitary authority legal team. Her efficiency in properly processing court papers has meant the costs she recovers make her position self-sustaining. 

“She is always helpful and clients are extremely satisfied at her very efficient case management.” 

Laura: “I am mainly involved with planning/property matters but also provide help with other legal queries when they arise. Since my role was developed, I now have my own case load which includes planning enforcement, securing planning contributions from developers and issuing court papers.  

“The knowledge which I have developed through my course has really helped me in my role. For example, my land law studies have helped me in the property and planning practice areas when I am advising the local planning authority.”    

Justin: “The apprenticeship has helped Laura to look behind the law, understand it and why we do certain things. Her self-confidence has really developed and now feels confident go to court for matters such as possession hearings. The apprenticeship has also given her the confidence to support other fee earners in other practice areas when needed. 

“Laura has a very close relationship with our clients, often changes her working schedule to meet their demands, and they routinely thank me for the efficiency in which she manages their instructions. She is conscientious about her work and ensures that clients’ expectations are consistently met even when the instructions are urgent.”   

What are your future plans?

Danielle: “I am almost halfway through my six-year apprenticeship and have just sat my remaining CILEx Level 3 exams. I will then look to do my Level 6 qualifications. I really enjoy civil litigation, but I have been taking the chance to explore other areas of law. I enjoyed the employment law unit which I did and have put this into practice thanks to the work we do with the HR team at the council.  

“I have had the benefit of experiencing other areas of law when assisting colleagues prepare court/inquest/inquiry cases. I am therefore seeking to develop further skills and knowledge in other areas of law to not only provide additional support to the council but also provide me with greater future opportunities.” 

Justin: “When Danielle started she had little real-world law experience but has taken every opportunity to expand her knowledge and progress. She has shown a key interest in expanding her role further and we are seeking to support her to do so. Due to her success, I can confidently say that I now prefer the apprenticeship model to other training opportunities.” 

Laura: “Through the flexibility that this apprenticeship offers, I feel ready to grab this opportunity with both hands and through hard work be whoever I want to be.  

“Developing a professional career is something I have wanted to do for quite a few years. However, I wasn’t able give 100 per cent to it due to raising two young children, so waited until the time was right when I could. 

“I will qualify as a Paralegal next year and am then aiming to become a Chartered Legal Executive in the future.”    

Justin: “We support Laura with dedicated study time. It is unavoidable that working 34 hours a week delivering excellent client service while studying and raising two children can be hard, but she has managed this tremendously well. She has been very disciplined in her approach. 

“We are hoping that the funding will be there to enable her to progress onto the Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship, as she is such a valuable member of the team. However, Laura is so ambitious about achieving her dream that she has said she’ll fund herself if necessary.”  

Pictured, from left, are Laura Croft, Justin Thorne and Danielle Harris