NAMED: The Law Firm Requiring Grads To Self-Fund a £9.5K Paralegal Training Course Before They’re Considered For a TC

EXCLUSIVE: In March, Legal Cheek published a story about a firm that was asking law graduates to self-fund a very expensive paralegal course in order to be considered for a training contract with them.

I decided it was too risky to publish the name of the firm in question without any written evidence of the programme.

A few days ago, though, the firm, Aston Carter Solicitors, went public with a finalised version of its pay-to-be-a-paralegal scheme, which will commence next month.

Here’s the deal:

First, LLB or GDL graduates must do a specific Aston Carter-nominated “paralegal training course”, which they have to fund out of their own pocket. The course costs a whopping £9,500. Paralegal training courses elsewhere typically cost between £1,000-£1,500. The firm’s senior partner, Henry Telewa, says BPP Law School, Central Law Training and the National College of Legal Training (NCLT) are currently being considered to host the course, although no final decision has been made.

The nominated paralegal course requires the completion of “up to 800 hours of practical experience”. This practical experience will take place, unpaid, at some new office space Hammersmith-based Aston Carter has acquired in Brentford, west London. For context, 800 hours is around half a year’s fee-earning for a hard-working solicitor.

In return, Aston Carter guarantees to employ the graduates as paralegals on a salary of between £15,000 and £18,000 when they have completed the paralegal course and the (up to) 800 hours of “practical experience”. Then, after around nine months of paid work, the firm guarantees to cover the cost of the graduates’ part-time LPC fees, while also employing them to work, fully paid, as paralegals during their LPCs.

Although Aston Carter says there are “up to 60 training contracts per year” available “for the right employees”, there is no guarantee of a training contract upon completion of the LPC.

In spite of this, Telewa says that the firm has been inundated with applications for the scheme, which has been advertised on websites including Kent University (where a full pdf document explaining the scheme has been posted) and Gumtree.

Telewa adds that he would “much rather recruit from within the firm’s scheme than hire people who we have only been able to judge at interview level”. Fair enough. But without a TC guarantee, graduates are left exposed to a lot of risk. Judging by an email that I received from Telewa in March, in which he stated that the firm is “not in a position to offer training contracts at this point in time”, I’d be concerned about Aston Carter’s ability to offer 60 training contracts a year.

It’s important to note that the ‘Aston Carter Path’ doesn’t appear to break any rules. When I spoke to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) yesterday it said it had nothing to add to its response to the original March story, adding that the regulation of paralegals falls under the remit of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX). For their part, CILEX suggests it is a law firm matter, which would, I guess, make it an SRA issue. Anyway, the bottom line seems to be that law firms are allowed to ask graduates to jump through additional hoops in order to get a training contract with them.

Views about the ‘Aston Carter Path’ vary. James O’Connell, chief executive of the Institute of Paralegals, reckons the £9,500 paralegal course fee is “extremely high”, but thinks “it might be worth it if students definitely got training contracts at the end of it all.” O’Connell also pointed out that the completion of the sort of long and rigorous paralegal training course Aston Carter is offering could make graduates eligible to have six months knocked off their two-year training contracts.

Others are against the scheme on the basis that they view the extra layer of paralegal training it requires as redundant. Peter Wright, a solicitor at Taylor Bracewell, said: “I don’t see the point in paying to do the paralegal course. Why not just pay to do the LPC in the first place?”

Ultimately, graduates have that choice – and certainly the ones I have spoken with aren’t impressed by the ‘Aston Carter Path’. But at what point should the legal profession’s regulators step in and at least make a recommendation about what the best route is for wannabe solicitors to follow?

Law graduates don’t need wrapping up in cotton wool, but my feeling is that they could do with a little more protection.

19 Responses to “NAMED: The Law Firm Requiring Grads To Self-Fund a £9.5K Paralegal Training Course Before They’re Considered For a TC”

  1. Kytella

    It has finally happened… the legal profession is now officially eating its young.

    Where one firm starts such a scheme others will inevitably follow placing legal practise out of the financial reach of all but the most well-off candidates. This, coupled with the removal of the minimum salary for trainees will soon to begin to reverse the slow trend towards a diverse legal profession.

    Perhaps the real tragedy is the organisations established to regulate seem powerless to find imaginative ways to intervene.

    Reply
  2. tamim

    sra and “C”ILEX are cowards. too afraid to regulate the markets they’re mandated to watch over. This isn’t so much about Aston Carter as it is about those docile, frightened little regulators. So sad. Aston Carter is a pretty solid example of a firm doing what the hell it likes (within the law!) because it’s allowed to. It doesn’t care about how it affects people. And the sra don’t seem to mind. I agree, grads don’t need to be nor should be mollycoddled, but there is an unmistakeable air of exploitation about this. Shame on the sra, the “C”ILEX and anyone who agrees with them!

    #boycottastoncarter

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  3. Jonathan Lea (@jonathanlea)

    I think if anyone did ever go on such a ‘£9.5k Paralegal Training Course’ they’d not only waste their money, but probably ruin their chances of ever getting a job with a law firm – any interviewer would presume that they were mentally insane!

    However, if there are any budding paralegals out there who fancy getting some broad commercial experience, my firm @bargatemurray are currently recruiting so please tweet me @jonathanlea in the first instance if you are interested…

    Reply
  4. sophia

    I am graduating next month. I have been offered an interview for the the paralegal position at Aston Carter on Thursday. I’m going to be travelling 200 miles for the interview. Looking at these comments, they have got me somewhat worried.

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  5. Sarah

    I have been offered an interview for a paralegal post at Aston Carter and having read these articles and comments. I have changed my mind and won’t be going to the interview as they don’t guarantee a TC and it is very risky. I am due to start the LPC in September and would rather pay for it than pay for the paralegal course with no guarantee of a TC.

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    • IM

      And I thought the people working for free were insane. Its not a position, its taking advantage of desperate people.

      Reply
  6. Boyo

    It’s actually worse than Alex has written. They explicitly state that you work for them, UNPAID, whilst you do the part-time LPC that they fund you through.

    So you save c.£13,000 worth of LPC fees, but at the cost of paralegalling for free for two years. Do the math.

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    • LegalGirl

      No I heard that you study the LPC part-time whilst working full time and also being paid a full-time wage between £15,000 – £18,000 whilst they pay for your LPC.

      So you are still earning.

      Reply
  7. Olo

    As a graduate of law with business who highly esteems the intelligence of my cohort, it quite frankly surprises me how short sighted and easily influenced some of my peers can be. I do not intend to write a thesis here but I will share part of my experience concerning this paralegal employment opportunity with Aston Carter Solicitors.

    I applied for a position and was invited to interview. Prior to going I did my due diligence: researching the firm, the employment opportunity and even read this blog along with all the comments. It was a shock to find how intensely the programme was lampooned though, as expected with a pilot scheme, there was relatively little information publicly available about it. These comments are simply founded on opinions and anxiety over what people do not understand. It was surprising to find two to three people deciding not interview based on these ill-conceived ideas/opinions. One of the purposes of “higher education” is to empower you to think for yourself. That is especially true with students of law. Do better next time!

    Unlike the mentioned few, I wanted more information; one might say “from the horse’s mouth.” So I interviewed. I am pleased to say that I personally am of the belief that the opportunities offered by the firm are legitimate, innovative and have been strategically developed. I will not delve into why I reached this conclusion. If you want to know, do your own “proper” research and make a “full and informed” decision, rather than allowing others to lead you astray.

    As for the price of the initial paralegal training, I personally think that any discussion would be superfluous. The reason is that having considered the grand scheme of the opportunity and the alternative of doing an LPC, paying such a sum is unavoidable. However, the argument that going straight for the LPC makes more sense is plainly and simply wrong. The oft quoted statistics show the chances of LPC graduates gaining Training Contracts to be minimal. Further, for a recent graduate to attain any legal job a minimum of a years experience is, in a majority of cases, necessary. Where will a person who had been in full time education get such experience? You’ll be left with an LPC qualification, no experience, no job and £7K – £12K debt. Considering that, what do you really think your TC prospects are?

    With the Aston Carter opportunity, yes – you’ll have debt of £9.5K but the six months paralegal training alone makes you far more competitive than he with nothing to offer. Moreover, you’re guaranteed paralegal employment for what effectively works out to be two years because you’ll be doing the, also guaranteed, LPC part-time. By the time you’re done you’ll have 2 years of practical and 6 months of theoretical paralegal experience, a fully funded LPC qualification, would have been earning £15K to £18K for two years and a potential employer who has more to lose by “not” hiring you.

    You decide which is best!

    Reply
  8. Sarah

    I too was invited to a job interview with Aston Carter solicitors, and I do not know what all the fuss and concern is about. Majority of law graduates unfortunately do not have a training contract by the time they graduate, even after having completed there LPC which is around £13,000 fully funded by yourself!. After having successfully completed your LPC many students in fact take up paralegal work until they find a training contract.

    There are many forums out there who criticise College of Law and the BPP for having accepted them on the vocational course without a TC secured! and wish they had other options such as the ILEX ( I too considered this but my desire to become a solicitor advised me against such an option)

    Yes the £9500 fee is rather high for a paralegal course, but once the 6 month course is completed you ARE GUARANTEED EMPLOYMENT with a decent wage. Many of you are more than willing to chuck near enough £14000 at the college of law to undergo training with no guarantee of employment.

    This article mentioned that Aston Carter were in no position to offer training contracts now, however if they do secure a sufficient number of people willing to do the course after 6 months has elapsed then a further 1 year of employment with the firm before undertaking a 2 year part time LPC the situation would be different; and he is funding your LPC.

    so even if you feel aggrieved about the fact the course is so steep at least you will have gained experience which is so valuable in such a competitive career as law YOUR LPC IS FUNDED BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY YOU HAVE A WAGE AND A PERMANENT CONTRACT.

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  9. Petra

    Aston Carter?Who is that?Nobody and therefore not worth paying £ 9.5 grand for a paralegal course. I completed LLB with a 2.1 class. I did not have any trouble finding paralegal work. I worked for two firms and one of them is a well known national firm. I did this without the LPC and without any paralegal course. Everyone who works hard can get paid experience without paying £ 9,500 for a paralegal course whilst working for free for some unknown firm. Paralegal work is not any science. Come on. Do not pretend that being a lawyer is something super special and extremely hard!

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  10. Hoshman

    I was interviewed and provided an opportunity to do the paralegal course, but then when i looked at the contract I found that there is no security to be provided with a training contract after 6 months of intensive course and paying around £10,000 excluding expenses. It clearly came to my head that Henry has a contract with the college which provides the study. Since if one thinks, if he can send 1000 people like me, they will make £1000,000 and they have no obligation to sign a training contract with us. Even after employing us, they had the right to dismiss us for example simply accusing one for under performance. I believe this is a scam.

    Reply

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