Linklaters and BARBRI support international talent through SQE 

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Linklaters offers a unique pathway for international talent into England and Wales qualification, in collaboration with BARBRI. Our Business Development Director Jonathan Worrell caught up with Will Buckley, Senior Trainee Development Advisor, and Sophie Thomas, Trainee Recruitment Manager, about their training programme for their international clerks.

Jon Worrell: Will, tell us about your background. What is your role? And what are you responsible for? 

Will Buckley: Prior to working in the legal sector, my background was in a very different area – the ski industry. I started out as an instructor, working seasonally across Japan, Canada, Italy and Australia. My role evolved and, ultimately, I was developing aspiring instructors, helping them through their Snowsport courses and examinations. 

The pandemic prompted an unexpected career change, and I found myself in London looking for a new opportunity. I’ve always been a people person and I knew that I loved working with others to help them achieve their goals, so when an opportunity in ‘early talent’ presented itself (in the legal sector), I jumped at the chance to continue doing what I loved, building on previous skills, whilst exploring a whole new industry. 

In my current role, as Senior Trainee Development Advisor at Linklaters, my focus remains on people development. Specifically, I work with our future trainees to offer support whilst they are studying for the SQE, and our current trainees on their continued professional development throughout their training contracts. Something that I particularly enjoy is navigating the exciting new world of the SQE and dealing with the opportunities, and sometimes challenges, it brings. 

Sophie, and what is your role?

Sophie Thomas: My role, as Trainee Recruitment Manager at Linklaters, is to find ambitious and talented students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. My career at the firm started nine years ago in recruitment marketing, and I led on our global employer brand, careers website and finding creative ways to attract top talent to the firm. I am passionate about upskilling candidates and providing access to the legal profession. 

I am now responsible for the attraction and recruitment of our trainees, the majority of which are hired through our Vacation Schemes. We run numerous diversity and development pipeline programmes including Get Ahead, Going Forward and our Making Links Scholarship to provide access and opportunity. 

What is your strategy to attracting and recruiting trainees? What are the main opportunities and challenges? 

Sophie: As a firm we are looking to recruit a diverse pipeline of talented trainees, who are selected regardless of their background, location, degree subject or university. We also want to make law as accessible as possible. We were the first UK firm to launch an open access virtual internship on the Forage platform, and recent efforts include the launch of our Solicitor Apprenticeship which allows us to bring talent into the firm direct from schools. We offer a range of virtual events, on-campus activity, and open days in our offices to ensure that anyone interested in applying to Linklaters can find out more about our opportunities and work. 

Linklaters recruits from Africa, Australia and India to the UK. Why is that important? What benefits/skills do these trainees bring to the organisation? What are the challenges? 

Sophie: As part of the recruitment strategy mentioned above, we look to hire talented individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds as we believe that fresh perspectives and diversity of thought is key to our success. We have a global client base that expects differentiated ideas and solutions to complex problems. Our Africa, Australia and India clerkships, as well as our international training contracts and diversity pipeline programmes all contribute to us reaching this goal. Competition for top talent across the globe continues to be a challenge for everyone. 

The SQE is still relatively new. How do you find managing that? How do the trainees find studying it? 

Will: The introduction of the SQE has brought with it both opportunities and challenges. Overall, it has been great to capitalise on a route that is more flexible and allows us to continue to recruit, and importantly develop, diverse talent from around the world. It is also exciting to see the industry embracing this new framework. 

One group which benefits from this new flexibility is our international clerks. BARBRI have been pivotal in enabling our clerks to prepare for (and sit) the SQE exams without leaving their home countries whilst delivering robust training in an innovative and flexible manner. Equally, it is brilliant to see other pathways into a career in the law opening up, like the new solicitor apprenticeship route and the now standardised pathway for internationally qualified lawyers to requalify in England and Wales. 

However, naturally with change comes the unknown, and there are many questions arising daily, some of which we don’t always have answers to. In overcoming uncertainty and making the most of the new opportunities, it’s great to work with an established provider like BARBRI who have a proven track record in the industry. 

“BARBRI has been pivotal in enabling our clerks to prepare for (and sit) the SQE exams without leaving their home countries whilst delivering robust training in an innovative and flexible manner.”

Why did you choose BARBRI? And how do you/the students find the study support from BARBRI? 

Will: The support from BARBRI in preparing our international clerks for the SQE has been invaluable. 

Firstly, their flexibility in the timing of their teaching is particularly beneficial for our diverse cohort of clerks from Australia, India and across Africa. BARBRI’s remote study options enable students to access materials and support from anywhere, catering to their individual needs regardless of geography. 

Additionally, the Personal Study Plans (PSPs) are excellent in allowing students to set their own timelines and manage their self-directed learning around external commitments. Of course, this autonomy requires a certain level of discipline over one’s learning and it’s important to support students in managing this. 

However this flexibility goes both ways, as organisations need to respect and protect any set ‘live’ sessions during the SQE2 course. I would recommend that employers work closely with BARBRI to understand timelines and pinch points to best support students to make the most of the course. 

Finally, BARBRI’s proven track record in preparing students for the US Bar was a key consideration in our decision to use BARBI as a provider.

Working alongside an experienced and established provider with an innovative approach has been instrumental in setting our clerks up for success, and we’re grateful for the ongoing partnership. 

What successes are you most proud of? 

Will: Seeing the success of our students passing their SQE exams and becoming qualified solicitors is always a proud moment. Their accomplishments reflect the dedication and hard work they’ve put into their studies, and it’s immensely rewarding to see their efforts culminate in such a significant milestone. 

Moreover, we take immense pride in our ability to support and guide aspiring solicitors from diverse backgrounds and all corners of the world. Being able to support their journey and help them achieve their goals is a driving reason behind why we do what we do. 

These successes reinforce our commitment to providing accessible opportunities for individuals worldwide, and seeing our students thrive in their legal careers, is a source of immense pride and fulfilment for us. 

What advice would you give to other organisations that are new to supporting trainees or employees with the SQE? What are the three key things you have learnt? 

Will: These last few years working with BARBRI have provided us with a few key learnings. 

Firstly, managing expectations is paramount. The SQE demands commitment and discipline, both from the individuals undertaking the exams and from the supporting organisation. Setting realistic expectations about the challenges and the level of commitment required is crucial. Emphasising the importance of dedication and consistent effort will help individuals understand the journey ahead. 

Secondly, you need to trust the process! This applies for both students and employers. Naturally, many students panic ahead of the exams and second guess their preparation. However, the results have been great. While it might seem challenging at times, staying committed to the process and following the preparation course yields positive outcomes. 

Lastly, organisational support is key.

Providing flexibility during the course and study leave for the exams enables students to perform to their fullest potential. This includes allowing the opportunity to re-sit exams (which goes a long way in alleviating unnecessary panic and helps foster a positive mindset). The exams are difficult, so its important organisations do their part in supporting students to be their very best.

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