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Rising star winner Sophia Cox: “I’m showing the power of apprenticeships”

Sophia Cox, Gowling WLG

Sophia Cox, winner of this year’s People in Law Awards Rising Star, is passionate about apprenticeships. She started a university course but decided it wasn’t for her, and in January 2019 enrolled in an apprenticeship with Gowling WLG. She began her rotation in the HR Operations team but then moved to Early Talent, which she “absolutely loves”.

“There’s so much to the role,” she says. “I love talking to students, working on our recruitment campaign and the marketing side. You get so much freedom and creativity.” Over the past year, that creativity has been stretched to its limits as Sophia and her small team were forced to adapt their usual round of university visits and career fairs to a virtual audience.

Sophia worked tirelessly on the creation of a bespoke virtual vacation scheme in March 2020. One of the main challenges was to create an engaging online experience, which gave the students a real feel for the firm and its culture. “Students expect a good experience and this was our first ever virtual scheme” she adds. “We wanted to give a touch of what their experience would have been like in the office.” Sophia went above and beyond – packing up more than 20 bespoke hampers with snacks, drinks and journals for the cohort and posting them out herself.  The vacation schemes were extremely well received, with one student commenting on how great it was to “get exposure to so much of the firm and it’s amazing how strongly the culture shone through”.

For the 2020/21 marketing campaign, with students and graduates forced to attend careers events online, Sophia and her team needed to ensure their marketing strategy reached a diverse audience despite a smaller budget than many larger firms. Sophia attended many “speed networking” sessions at virtual university fairs and answered students’ questions, often over the course of several hours. Sophia was also active on social media, launching Gowling WLG’s Early Talent Instagram account, which included a trainee “takeover”.

In 2021, the team saw a 96% increase from the year before in applications for vacation schemes, with 51% of total applications from Black and ethnic minority candidates (up from 45% the year before). Colleagues have praised her work in helping to increase diversity in early talent recruitment at the firm, and Sophia worked closely with diversity specialists Rare Recruitment to use its Contextual Recruitment System (CRS). This throws up social mobility “flags” so the application can be reviewed to ensure employers attract applicants from socially diverse backgrounds. However, this relies on candidates completing a questionnaire, and Sophia managed to email all 1,743 applicants to encourage them to fill it out. This led to a 15% increase in completion and Gowling WLG ranking first out of firms using the CRS for receiving the most applications with one flag.

“Diversity and inclusion has always been a key focus of the firm’s Early Talent strategy. Black, Asian and ethnic minority inclusion is an area where significant improvements still needed to be made,” says Sophia. “During our marketing campaign, we found that initiatives aimed at encouraging applications from minority ethnic candidates also increased the applications from candidates with social mobility “flags”. One of the most rewarding aspects of the job has been meeting students who may not have previously considered a career in law. Some may never have had a chance to talk to a law firm, so we give them the confidence that they can choose it as a career, not just people whose parents are in the profession or went to a certain university,” she adds. “They might be the first person in their family to have this career.”

Sophia has now taken up a permanent role in the team as an Early Talent Advisor and has completed her level 5 CIPD qualification as part of her apprenticeship. Being part of a small team means she gets to do a bit of everything, she adds, as well as push herself out of her comfort zone by speaking at various events. She concludes: “I’m showing the power of what an apprenticeship can do.”

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