Work experience is an essential first step on the career ladder. Without it, young people are likely to fall at the first hurdle when applying for careers in law and other professions.
But not everyone has the same access to work experience or the same opportunities to get a head start in their career. That’s why we launched The Smart Start Experience in 2009 – to address that equality of opportunity and broaden access to the professions.
It is also the reason Allen & Overy co-founded PRIME – an alliance of law firms and legal departments across the UK which have made a commitment to broaden access to the legal profession by providing fair access to work experience schemes.
Smart Start gives Year 12 students from non-privileged backgrounds the chance to spend a week with us and gain that first leg up into the world of work. Students tell us they’re inspired to consider a range of different career paths when they see first-hand the different professions represented by a global law firm like Allen & Overy.
Our programme runs once a year and we look particularly to support young people who are on free school meals or are the first generation of their family to go away to university. We work with social enterprise MyKindaCrowd to target students from state schools across London and its commuter belt.
The week’s activities are aimed at building confidence and developing skills, from improving personal impact, to analysing, negotiation, presentation and team-working – all skills that students will make good use of whatever their career choices. An additional benefit is that students get the opportunity to start building up networks of contacts among business professionals and peers from other schools.
We’re delighted that our Smart Start Experience became the first such programme in the legal sector to be accredited by City & Guilds, the vocational education business.
But we also recognised that students could benefit from more sustained support after Smart Start, so we worked with Brightside (a national mentoring charity) to establish Smarter Futures, an online mentoring programme. Combining face-to-face meetings and workshops, this programme makes contact interactive and relevant to Year 13 students who are at a key decision-making point about their future careers. Since the launch in 2013, over 280 students have been matched with business mentors and have given great feedback about the help it has given them in making important decisions about their futures.
We believe a more level playing field will help people get a foot into the door of business, and we’re pleased that our Smart Start Experience provides the opportunity for young people to do just that.
David is Allen & Overy’s worldwide Senior Partner, a role akin to Executive Chairman.