Having just enjoyed another summer Olympics, an athletic analogy seems appropriate. Two athletes of the same ability take part in the 100-meter dash. If the first athlete receives a mere 1-second head start they will be 10 meters ahead and well into running 'the bend' by the time the second athlete crosses the 100 meter line.
Such is the value of receiving a head start, both in athletics but also in one's professional career. This was one of the driving forces behind Herbert Smith Freehills launching the International Legal Development Programme (ILDP) for legal graduates, spearheaded by the Johannesburg Alternative Legal Services (ALT) business. This programme, unique in the South African market, offers legal graduates the opportunity to gain employment and work experience through a structured 18-month learning and development programme, straight out of university, and provides a springboard for them to approach the market for a coveted candidate legal practitioner role. Little did Libby Jackson, Managing Partner of ALT, know when she came up with the concept for the ILDP in 2016 that 65 graduates would participate in the programme in just four years.
Whilst taking part in the ILDP, graduates develop client and commercial skills, increase their technical capability and improve their personal leadership qualities. They also have the opportunity to work alongside world-class partners and associates across the firm's international network, giving them exposure to global clients and first-rate work.
What does HSF look to impart and share with the graduates who participate in the ILDP programme?
"They had so much belief in me that it reflected in the work I did – I knew I could do it, because they believed that I could."
1. Immersion in a highly professional working environment. Probably the most valuable aspect of the programme is giving graduates the opportunity, largely for the first time, to work full time in a highly professional working environment where they learn about the various peaks and pitfalls of being a professional and acclimatise to working life. The expectations upon entering a professional environment may seem daunting at first, but the ALT Management Team quickly reframes these as exciting challenges for its graduates.
2. A keen focus on graduates' career and professional growth and development. The ILDP is structured in such a way that a substantial amount of time is spent focusing on these critical aspects. Considerable support is provided by ALT's regional Learning and Development team who coach and mentor the graduates on their development journey and who invest a significant amount of energy supporting them on tangible outcomes and experiences, such as refining CVs and cover letters and facilitating mock interviews. The flagship series is the ILDP's Development Week where graduates spend a week dedicated to planning their career path and receiving mentorship, focusing on their professional development. Each legal graduate is paired up with an experienced people manager who meets formally with them on a regular basis and is easily accessible to provide more spontaneous advice. The managers also act as custodians for the graduates' growth and development, ensuring they are on track with their personal development goals.
3. Exposure to cutting edge legal technologies. The ALT business model, built on a combination of people, process and technology, leverages many market leading legal technologies. It is a real differentiator to be able to give legal graduates exposure to these technologies from a very early stage in their careers and to open their eyes to how the science of legal delivery is evolving, and the opportunities emerging in this space. The graduates quickly become accustomed to delivering legal services on platforms such as Relativity, Kira and HighQ to mention a few. This type of exposure is extremely scarce in the South African market, even when looking at the offerings of some of South Africa's top law firms.
"I would recommend the ILDP programme because the legal fraternity has become extremely competitive and what better way to rise a bar above the rest than by joining a cutting edge global law firm that arms you with the skills necessary to be an excellent candidate attorney and a brilliant legal practitioner."
4. Readiness for the market. There is a significant gap between what graduates leave university with and what is required of them when they approach the market for articles (or similar training programmes), not to mention when actually embarking on these journeys. The ILDP supplements the graduates' abundance of academic knowledge with the equally valuable practical skills that can only be gained from spending a few years in this competitive industry. Ultimately the ILDP aims to produce truly rounded candidates who will be able to compete and excel in our market. A number of the ILDP graduates have subsequently secured candidate legal practitioner roles at HSF or other top tier law firms, while others have gone on to positions in financial institutions and corporates. The ILDP also provides alternative career opportunities for legal graduates in sub-areas of legal services, such as Legal Operations and eDiscovery.
"The ILDP has afforded me the perfect opportunity to take the first steps in growing my legal career. Knowing that the firm is invested in my development as a whole, is truly an honour."
The ILDP has been a great success story for HSF's ALT practice group. In the four years since its launch, ALT Johannesburg's revenue has grown by 280%, including an impressive leap of 64% in the last financial year alone.
"We have seen how the programme has genuinely changed the lives of some of our graduates. This initiative confirms our commitment to investing in our country's social capital and to assisting young legal graduates in securing worldclass training and work experience."
Vanessa Kingsmill, Head of ALT Johannesburg
The intricate dynamic that currently exists in the South African legal market is one where the number of graduates greatly exceeds the number of employment opportunities available. What HSF has been able to do is create an opportunity for a growing number of legal graduates to benefit from the many aspects of the programme, with the hope that when it comes to their individual career journeys, they have the advantage of being able to start 10 meters ahead of the rest of the pack and, crucially, that they have the necessary tools and experience to build sustainable and successful careers.