Profitable law firm prepares to take on trainees

YORKSHIRE’S most profitable law firm is launching a new annual apprenticeship scheme to train youngsters who might otherwise find it difficult to enter the legal profession.

From September Gordons law firm, based in Leeds and Bradford, each year will recruit and train a group of apprentices who have the ability to gain high levels of skills and qualifications without attending university.

Gordons will pay the apprentices’ salaries and also fund their fees to train as legal executives, over a period of four years.

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The apprenticeships are the idea of Gordons managing partner, Paul Ayre, who was inspired to act after seeing the BBC programme Who Gets the Best Jobs? which examined how privilege effects access to professions in modern Britain.

Mr Ayre, who joined Gordons in 1992, said: “The programme highlighted that social mobility in Britain today is reduced from that of 20 years ago. The legal profession has many barriers to entry which can work against people who would otherwise have the ability to forge successful careers in the law.

“One of the barriers is the need to be university educated. For a variety of reasons not all bright and ambitious 17 and 18-year-olds are able to go on to further education. Our idea is to create opportunities for some of these.”

Mr Ayre added that although apprenticeships were not a common form of recruitment within the legal profession at the moment, more firms were starting to support the idea.

The apprenticeship programme will initially train five students, with the course fees alone representing an investment of over £32,500 for the law firm.

“It’s a significant commitment for us but we are a growing business and we think it fits with our values,” said Mr Ayre. “We hope we are going to find some talented people there, some of whom could eventually become partners. We are not setting any rules around it. If we get the right person we want them to go as far as their talents can take them.”

The scheme was developed ahead of the Government’s announcement to create an annual “report card” to tackle and improve social mobility. Gordons has already approached a number of schools and colleges in Leeds and Bradford, where its offices are located, and is discussing appropriate candidates with teaching staff.

Individuals will be interviewed by Gordons partners before a group of 10 work experience candidates are selected to begin working at the firm in July this year. After assessment of the 10, five people within the group will be offered the four-year apprenticeships which begin in September.

Mr Ayre said: “We are looking for bright kids with some evidence of determination and willingness to work hard. We are prepared to help them in every way we can as long as they show the desire and the willingness to work hard.

“This programme has been very well received both in the schools we have been talking to and with our clients. It seems to have struck a note.”

The course is provided at college level and apprentices will work within different parts of the business during their four years of training, qualifying as a legal executive at the end.

Mr Ayre said: “Gordons has always operated as a meritocracy and we pride ourselves on being progressive in everything we do. The apprenticeships are a natural extension of these values. As well as doing our small bit to help create new jobs for some youngsters, we hope to unearth some really talented and driven individuals”.

He added: “Now and looking ahead, financial constraints will be more prevalent than before and the industry still has a degree of elitism about it. We want to be part of a country where if you are willing to work hard you can get on and I think everyone benefits from that approach.”

Mr Ayre began his working life as an electrician’s mate in a Sunderland car factory but, academically gifted, he chose law as a career and moved to Leeds in the late 1980s.

In an interview with the Yorkshire Post in 2009, he said: “My dad died when I was little, and my mother was a cleaner in the hospital, so I didn’t have anyone there to tell me that I should go into law. The only advice I got was to work hard and do the right thing.”

Gordons’ turnover for the last financial year was £22m, up 1.5 per cent on the previous year. Last year it was named the joint fourth most profitable law firm in Britain by the Legal Business 100.

Average profit per equity partner was £702,000, up 46 per cent on 2009.

GROWTH ACCELERATED OVER DECADE

FOUNDED in Bradford in 1844, Gordons enjoyed steady, rather than spectacular, growth for more than 150 years.

By 1999, it had three offices in the Bradford district.

Gordons’ growth began in earnest when it established its presence in Leeds in 2000 with the merger of Gordons Wright and Wright and Cranswick Watson. Initially, the merged firm was known as Gordons Cranswick, until, in 2003, it became known as Gordons.

Its position in Leeds was strengthened the following year by its merger with Nelson and Co, and the firm also bought David Yablon in 2007. Today, Gordons employs 250 people, 180 of which are fee earners.

One of its key long-standing clients is Bradford-based supermarket giant Morrisons. Others include Saint Gobain, international brewer Molson Coors, greetings card retailer Card Factory and the world’s largest electrical heating business Glen Dimplex.