A fresh-faced idea

February 6, 2013

Is Proskauer’s apprenticeship scheme a game-changer?

Proskauer’s Lee Kirby. Photo: Wes Brandli

These days, it’s common to pick up a newspaper and find a story related to tuition fees and their impact on hiring emerging talent. Many of the Big Four accountancy firms, for example, have developed souped-up school-leaver schemes to attract young stars who don’t want to be lumbered with educational debt.

Proskauer is leading the way among US firms by introducing its own apprenticeship scheme. Last month it took on its first apprentice: a sixteen year-old to work in Finance. This is the latest in a string of news stories relating to the firm and its recruitment. In recent months, it has hit the headlines with notable lateral hires from the likes of Dewey and SJ Berwin, and has built a new capital markets team from scratch by lifting a stellar quartet from various impressive locations.

The apprenticeship scheme is being steered by Proskauer’s Lee Kirby (above), who is running it in association with the London Apprenticeship Company. The partner organisation was chosen via a thorough pitch process. ‘We were keen to work with a partner who could supply apprentices across a wide suite of roles,’ says Kirby. Currently, he plans to take on two apprenticeships this year, with the next appointment being made into IT.

‘It’s certainly a cost-effective way to attract young talent,’ Kirby continues. ‘But it also reflects our operational agenda in other ways. We’re always keen to recruit creatively, rather than just relying on the usual routes.’

‘Right thing

There’s also a nod toward corporate responsibility. ‘As our Managing Partner, Tom Dollinger, says, it’s ‘the right thing to do’ – using our resources to give ambitious young people opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.’

Dollinger himself adds: ‘We want to be a responsible and contributing member of the London legal and business community. This program strikes a good balance between the government and private sector in targeting unemployment.’

Even so, Kirby admits that apprenticeships can be challenging for the employer. ‘You need to recognize that apprentices are not always in the office, because of external training commitments,’ he says. ‘And it can be hard to find the right apprentice, given most sixteen-year-olds aren’t sure what they want out of life.’

Care needs to be given to their management and integration. ‘We’re making sure that our apprentice is physically right in the middle of our finance department, and mentored well by her supervisor. And we’ve thought carefully about the skills we’re teaching her, and the order in which we’re teaching them.’

Natural step

Kirby sees apprenticeships as a natural step for Proskauer, which he says genuinely believes in training and development. Proskauer facilitates a number of international secondments and regularly holds know-how sessions across its practice groups, plus various webinars that are widely distributed via its ‘university’.

In the final reckoning, is it worthwhile? ‘At this stage, I’d definitely say yes. It’s extra work, but it’s work that we’re more than happy to do.’ Kirby reports that his peers in other US firms’ London offices are considering following Proskauer’s lead.

If recent chatter in journals about 2013 being a big year for law to reconsider its entrance policies, then Proskauer really could be heralding a new chapter in how firms resource business talent. AB

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