COLLABORATION

Bristol University work experience scheme a model for collaboration

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The Bristol University-Osborne Clarke scheme gives students a chance to experience working in a real-world professional setting.

In a saturated jobs market, work experience is what helps a candidate stand out from the crowd.

More than an amorphous construct, the value the candidate is likely to bring to the company is greatly determined by this experience, seen today as a highly valuable commodity in a marketplace of cookie-cutter degrees.

According to a survey by the IBM Institute for Business Value, 71 percent of corporate recruiters want to see practical experience in their candidates but would often find graduates sorely lacking in this area.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers in its 2017 Job Outlook reported the same, saying 91 percent of employers prefer candidates with work experience, while 65 percent want them to have relevant work experience.

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This builds a strong business case for university-business collaboration, through which students are given opportunities to connect with businesses during study via internships, placements, specific projects, fieldwork or simulations, among other ways.

It’s a common practice in many areas such as health and teaching, even journalism, but has been quite undernourished in emerging industries where the skills demand are greatest.

The disrupted legal sector is one great example where attention in this area is needed. Given the rapid pace of change the sector is experiencing with technology, graduates leaving law school and seeking pathways to becoming a practicing lawyer are entering a landscape in a state of flux.

From in-house teams to private practice firms, the legal fraternity is adopting technology as a means to transform and improve the way they work. This transformation brings with it a raft of new challenges, and with that, a growing need for employees with the right set of skills to solve them.

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For this reason, Osborne Clarke and the University of Bristol have created the “Legal and Emerging Tech Vacation Scheme”, an innovative annual work experience scheme that not only bridges the gap between work and education for young graduates in the field, but also helps the firm tackle some of the challenges it currently faces with technology.

Working in cohesion, the high-profile technology law firm gets to tap into the university’s strong reputation in both the fields of STEM and law to offer students the coveted work experience they will need to secure jobs upon graduation.

“As digitisation and technological innovation becomes increasingly more important to our clients and key sectors, we are conscious that we need to stimulate our thinking around the use of emerging technologies,” says Nathan Hayes, IT Director at Osborne Clarke, who is leading this initiative.

“With this in mind, we wanted to work with the university to access their brightest tech and legal young minds and in return provide those individuals with access to the latest legal technologies being used to address real-world client challenges.

“Combining the different disciplines has challenged the students to think in new ways and we look forward to following them as they progress with their studies.”

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Through the scheme, an inaugural team of six students recently undertook a two-week placement at the firm’s Temple Quay office in Bristol. 

Among the six, three are law students while the other three are computer science and engineering mathematics students. The students were paired up and assigned to combine their skills to work together on a project that aims to resolve a real-world problem using technology.

According to details on the programme, each pair was assigned one of the following challenges:

  • Collaboration tools: Students were challenged to identify the best project management tools to help lawyers assign and manage tasks. They also explored ways of introducing the tool in Osborne Clarke, looking into the best methods for integration with the firm’s current systems
  • Smart Contracts: Students were tasked with identifying ways the firm can more efficiently help its clients with contracts, such as looking into cases where blockchain-enabled smart contracts can be used.
  • Litigation Dispute Modelling: Students were assigned to research tools capable of helping Osborne Clarke provide better predictions of dispute outcomes, in consideration of key factors such as cost, time, outcome and recovery.

As project sponsors, partners Nick Simpson, Mark Taylor and Rob Horne monitored the students’ work. The team also received additional mentoring from members of Osborne Clarke’s IT and legal teams. 

In addition, they attended workshops and got to meet with many of the firm’s specialists to gain first-hand knowledge on how new technologies are changing the legal landscape and how Osborne Clarke is harnessing them to improve client service.

After the two weeks, each student pair presented their ideas to a panel where they were offered feedback. The firm is now deciding who among the students to offer part-time positions after the academic term is up in order to progress their projects.

All six students, meanwhile, have been offered ongoing mentoring.

work experience scheme in Bristol
(From L to R) Sebastian Curtis, Sarah Taylor-Knight, Niamh Greene, Fionnuala Lynch, Amin Lessan, Jack Healey formed the first team of students to undertake the scheme. Source: Bristol University

Commenting on the scheme, Laura Stafford, Student Industrial Liaison Manager at the Industrial Liaison Office, said: 

“Through this partnership, students have been awarded a fantastic opportunity to enhance their employability skills by working on a real-world problem, in a professional environment supported by mentors and subject matter experts, with students from a completely different discipline.”

On top of providing students with valuable work experience, the scheme also entails Osborne Clarke’s experts providing a series of guest lectures at the university. 

Guest lectures can be extremely beneficial to industry leaders. For example, Osborne Clarke’s provision of thought leadership to students offers the student body rare insight into what it’s like actually being in the industry. 

Not only are they priming students for their future in the field, they are also doing their own brand a service by keeping themselves on the radar of tomorrow’s young talents.

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There are also lesser obvious benefits, such as the opportunity to network with academia or even contribute to curriculum design.

As far as university-business collaborations go, such an arrangement is what it’s all about. 

The returns are great all around, both to business and to university, and more importantly, to the student participants who get to experience what it’s like to work in a leading international legal practice.

“We are passionate about nurturing collaborations between students, industry and researchers – knowing how much students benefit from the experience,” Jo Cooksley, Employability Adviser at the University of Bristol Law School, said.

“This partnership took things a step further for those involved, as they adapted to collaborative working, under pressure with a looming deadline. We are extremely proud of how well they performed and look forward to finding out who will take the next step.”