From education to employment

Students swap the classroom for the courtroom at Derby-based law firm


MORE than 30 A-level pupils traded the classroom for the courtroom to spend an afternoon learning about the legal profession and witnessing a ‘live’ mock employment tribunal at Nelsons’ Derby office.

The event, which took place on Wednesday, 9 October, was part of Derby City’s new employer engagement Open Doors Programme – a pilot scheme that aims to raise young people’s aspirations and address the skills shortage across Derby City by giving students meaningful encounters in the workplace.

Nelsons welcomed 30 sixth form pupils from Saint Benedict Catholic Voluntary Academy and Littleover Community School as part of the initiative. The group was given an introduction to the law firm, before they witnessed a mock tribunal. The day finished with a 20-minute Q&A session with Nelsons’ HR team and a recently qualified solicitor.

Ella Sheppard, solicitor in the employment law team at Nelsons who played the role of the judge in the tribunal and delivered the final conclusion, organised the event in conjunction with Berni Dickinson, D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership.

Ella said: “A career in law is both intellectually challenging and personally fulfilling, while also being very rewarding as we empower our clients. We give them a voice, fight for them and help them seek justice as we steer them through the complex legal issues they face.

“With this in mind, it was fantastic to be able to open our doors to students and showcase the abundance of career opportunities that are available in the legal profession. Pupils were given the opportunity to watch a case from start to finish – including seeing a witness give evidence and be cross-examined by the opposing solicitor. We hosted the event in our Derby office in order to provide an insight into the working world for the students, some of whom hadn’t been in an office environment before.

“We had a great day, and it was inspiring to see that, of those students who attended, more than 80% raised their hands and expressed an interest in the legal profession. We hope the Open Doors Programme continues to be a success and, if possible, we’d love to welcome even more school pupils back to our offices in the future.”

In October 2016, the government announced that Derby City was one of 12 “opportunity areas” in England – a social mobility cold spot where the Department for Education is prioritising resources to break the link between a child’s family background and how they progress in life.

Schools across the country also have to work towards the Gatsby Benchmarks, supported by The Careers & Enterprise company, a framework that defines the best careers provision in schools and colleges. The Open Doors Programme impacts on two of the eight guidelines, which outlines that pupils should have multiple encounters with employers and employees, and experiences of workplaces.

Berni Dickinson, enterprise engagement coordinator for Derby City at D2N2 Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

“Derby City scores poorly in terms of social mobility, so we wanted to create the Open Doors Programme to address both this and the Gatsby Benchmarks, while also encouraging employers in the city to help broaden young people’s horizons and give them access to a broad range of experiences throughout their school lives.

“A lot of young people may never have been in a workplace before, so it’s really important for them to see the working world in action – giving them the opportunity to understand the behaviours and employability skills required.

“Nelsons was the first employer to open its doors to pupils in Derby City as part of this pilot scheme and we’re really proud to have had such a fantastic and innovative law firm launch the programme. We have 10 other employers involved this academic term, and we’re hopeful that the scheme will help to inspire young people, while engaging employers and addressing the skills shortage across the city.”

Natalie Robinson, head of sixth form at Saint Benedict Catholic Voluntary Academy, said the event provided students with ‘hands-on’ experience of the working world. She added:

“The afternoon was really insightful and gave pupils an introduction into what their futures could look like. Students were given the chance to watch a live mock employment tribunal, before being presented with lots of different routes to qualification.

“It was a pleasure working with Ella, who stayed behind and answered lots of burning questions from the students. Being given the chance to take pupils out of the classroom and into an office environment is invaluable – it raises their aspirations and it’s something that will no doubt stick in their mind throughout their education and as they progress into the working world.”

Keeley Nagra, 17, who attends the school, said:

“The career information was very valuable and it was great to see that there are so many different options for becoming a solicitor.”

Her classmate, 16-year-old Ben Kendall, added: “I really enjoyed seeing the mock tribunal as it gave you a sense of what it’s like being in a courtroom. This was my first time in an office environment, and it was more relaxed than I thought it was going to be – everyone was friendly and welcoming.”

Sixteen-year-old Manvir Dhillon, who attends Littleover Community School, said: “I didn’t realise there were so many pathways into a career in law – I always thought you had to do a law degree – so it was great to see the variety of options.”

Classmate Alero Etuwewe, 17, added:

“I thought the afternoon was amazing. It was nice to get out of school and see what it could be like once we’ve qualified. Ella gave some very useful advice. I’m now looking forward to continuing my education and progressing in my career.”

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