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Published on: 7 Dec 2015

Want to be a lawyer but don’t fancy or can’t afford to go to university? For years and years, if that was your situation, it was too bad for you. The only way to qualify as a solicitor was to do a degree, go to law school, and then grab a training contract.

That’s changed. You can now do an apprenticeship instead. Apprenticeships in legal services are a fairly new concept, but a number of law firms have begun to introduce ways for school-leavers to earn while they learn.

Cheaper pathway

From September 2012, universities began to raise their tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year, and we are forever being reminded that the number of jobs available for graduates is tight. For aspiring lawyers, the potential debt continues to rack up through training, with many students having to fork out for the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course, not to mention high living expenses. Legal apprenticeships offer school-leavers a cheaper career path with a qualification at the end.

Different types of apprenticeship

The key thing to remember is that not all apprenticeships are the same.

In the past, most legal apprenticeships offered the chance to become a chartered legal executive: a role that’s similar, but not the same, to that of a solicitor (read more about it here). Plenty of firms have rolled out schemes, with the majority choosing to harness the knowledge and expertise of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) to deliver the academic side of the training.

Those apprenticeships still exist, but in 2014, the government approved new ‘Trailblazer’ standards that will allow apprentices to directly work their way up to legal executive, paralegal or full solicitor status. So instead of splashing out thousands of pounds to get through university and law school, in the future it will be possible to leave school, earn while you learn with an apprenticeship, and eventually become a solicitor, the same as someone who did a training contract.

Separately, the University of Law has introduced ‘articled apprenticeships’ which also lead to qualified solicitor status, but through a different route.

As well as these routes, some law firms also offer non-law apprenticeships - for example the NVQ in Business Administration - that don’t lead to a legal qualification.

Below is some more detail about two of the main types of legal apprenticeship.

The Trailblazer Apprenticeship

What does it lead to?

There are three law Trailblazer apprenticeships that are due to be launched very soon. There’s the “Level 3 paralegal” apprenticeship, the “Level 6 Chartered Legal Executive” apprenticeship, and the “Level 7 solicitor” apprenticeship. As you can probably work out from their names, they lead to different qualifications. The key point is that they build on each other. So, once you’ve completed the Level 3 apprenticeship to be a paralegal, you can continue with your apprenticeship to become a legal executive or a fully-qualified solicitor. But you don’t have to if you don’t want to. Some apprentices might decide that they are happy as a paralegal or legal executive once you’ve

Who runs it?

No one - yet. This is a government-backed scheme that is set to begin properly in the next couple of years. However, the Law Society, the Solicitors Regulation Authority and CILEx have been working with a group of law firms to map out what the Trailblazer will look like.

These firms include Addleshaw Goddard, Browne Jacobson, Burges Salmon, Clyde & Co, DAC Beachcroft, Dentons, DWF, Eversheds, Gateley, Kennedys, Lewis Silkin, Mayer Brown, Olswang, Pannone, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Thomas Eggar and Withers. It would be reasonable to assume that most of these firms will launch Trailblazer apprenticeships once everything is in place. A lot of them already run ‘old-style’ legal apprenticeships which lead to a legal executive qualification and aren’t hugely different from what the Level 6 Trailblazer apprenticeships will look like.

How long does it take to complete?

The full Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship will take six years (the same time as a law degree, LPC and training contract takes if you were doing it in the old, traditional way). The Level 6 Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeship is likely to take five years.

What qualifications do I need?

The recommended academic entry requirements for the six-year-long solicitor apprenticeship are 5 GCSEs and 3 A Levels at Grade C, though alternative factors such as relevant work experience or a previous relevant apprenticeship will also be considered. Students who have completed the Graduate Diploma in Law or Legal Practice Course will be entitled to exemptions from training. Different employers will probably ask for slightly different grades.

What will I do during the apprenticeship?

You’ll spend part of your time working in the law firm, and part of the time in college studying.

What form will the study take?

Again, it depends on the exact route you take

And what about the time spent in the law firm? What will I be doing?

Again, it depends on the firm, but you’ll spend time getting experience of various different types of law. If you do the full six-year solicitor apprenticeship, you’ll obviously cover more areas than if you only go part of the way.

Will I get paid for my work?

Yes! Again, how much you’ll get paid depends on the firm. Addleshaw Goddard pays its current Manchester-based apprentices (on the ’old-style’ legal executive route) £12,000 a year when they start. Meanwhile, Kennedys pays £19,000 as a starting salary in London (bear in mind living in London costs a LOT more than Manchester).

Now, £19,000 doesn’t sound like much when compared to a trainee’s salary but remember, you won’t be getting into lots of debt by paying university fees, and your salary will go up quite quickly as you progress. If you do the full six-year apprenticeship you’ll qualify as a solicitor and get paid exactly the same as someone who’s qualified by the training contract route.

Will I have to pay for the ‘study’ part of the apprenticeship?

No! This a debt-free pathway to qualification (so long as you don’t go mad and spend all your newly acquired wealth on online gambling and cheeky Nandos).

Where can I find out more?

Keep an eye on the legal press. will keep you up to date with news stories about new apprenticeship opportunities.

The Articled Apprenticeship

What does it lead to?

Qualification as a solicitor, an LLB qualification (that’s a law degree for those not in the know) and the LPC qualification.

Who runs it?

The University of Law, in conjunction with a number of law firms. The biggest firm to sign up is the international giant Mayer Brown, but three smaller firms in the North West are also participating. They are Hillyer McKeown, Rowlinsons and Gamlins Law. Other firms may well join up in the future.

How long does it take to complete?

Six years (the same time as a law degree, LPC and training contract takes if you were doing it in the old, traditional way).

What qualifications do I need?

It depends on the firm you want to work at. For Mayer Brown, you’ll need AAB at A level and A-C in GCSE English and Maths (or equivalents). Hillyer McKeown, however, are asking for BBB at A level and B or above in CGSE Maths and English.

What will I do during the apprenticeship?

You’ll spend part of your time working in the law firm, and part of the time in college studying.

What form will the study take?

In the first four years you’ll be studying for the LLB. After that you’ll have a law degree, and the next two years will be spent studying for the LPC and the Professional Skills Course.

Exactly how much time you spend in uni will depend on the firms you’re with.

For example, on the Mayer Brown articled apprenticeship you’ll have two face-to-face study sessions a week, in the evenings, plus webinars on Saturdays. There will be exams at the end of every term. At Hillyer McKeown, you’ll spend one day a week at the University of Law’s Chester branch. Like any other student, you’ll be expected to study in your own time, too - expect plenty of reading. You’ll study all the same things as you would on a law degree (see page xx), such as contract law and criminal law.

And what about the time spent in the law firm? What will I be doing?

The type of work that you do will vary from firm to firm but at at Mayer Brown, you’ll start off in the firm’s business services departments (for example: risk and compliance; legal training; the information centre). This will help you learn about how the firm works but it will also tie in with your study. For example, in the firm’s Information Centre you’ll do a lot of research, so you’ll be learning a lot about law. You’ll also be building your network, as lawyers from all parts of the firm will come to you with tasks.

After about 12-18 months you’ll start working in the firm’s legal departments, doing gradually more complex work. By the time you’re in your fifth and sixth year of your apprenticeship, you’ll be doing the same work as a trainee solicitor.

Will I get paid for my work?

Yes! Again, how much you’ll get paid depends on the firm. At Mayer Brown you’ll start on a salary of £18,000. This will go up gradually and by the end of year five you’ll be earning the same as a second-year trainee solicitor. At Mayer Brown that’s currently a whopping £45,000. When you qualify at the end of year six, you’ll be on the salary of a newly qualified solicitor (if you’re offered a permanent role).

Will I have to pay for the ‘study’ part of the apprenticeship?

Unlike the Trailblazer apprenticeship, this isn’t government funded, so how much you will have to pay depends on the firm. The LLB costs £18,000 over four years and the LPC between £11,000 and £15,000. Mayer Brown will pay for the cost of all your studies except the LLB. But of course you’ll be earning a salary while you’re studying, and you’ll be able to take out a student loan just like someone at uni.

Top tips for apprenticeship applicants

It is important to note that apprenticeships are not an easier route to qualification as a solicitor, it’s an alternative one that allows individuals from a variety of backgrounds to access the legal profession.

The programme requires a significant amount of commitment from both the firm and the candidate, so we do assess candidates thoroughly. However, it is equally important that candidates have an opportunity to assess the firm and whether this route is right for their future career.

There are a number of stages in the recruitment process including:

  1. Completion of an online application form
  2. A telephone interview with the Graduate Recruitment team
  3. Online Verbal reasoning and situational judgement tests
  4. Assessment day – comprising of a group exercise, written test and a partner and/or associate interview
  5. A final Interview a Senior member of the HR team and the London Training Principal.

During the process candidates should ensure that they are able to demonstrate their commitment to a career in law, good knowledge of Mayer Brown, and also articulate why they believe this legal apprenticeship programme is the right route for them. A clear understanding of what the programme involves, commercial awareness, communication skills and ability to plan/prioritise will also been assessed.

Top tips for students thinking about applying for an apprenticeship programme:

  • Know what the apprenticeship programme involves and be prepared to talk about this in detail
  • Research the firm(s) you are applying to
  • Make your application stand out – what makes you different? What skills have you got that will make you suitable to the role
  • Look at the competencies the role requires and prepare relevant examples for the interview
  • Practice online tests
  • Make contact with people at the firm and/or with individuals currently completing an apprenticeship
  • Ask lots of questions during the process/at assessment day, this is your opportunity to assess the firm
  • Be confident in your abilities, relax and smile

Danielle White is recruitment and development manager at Mayer Brown

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