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The end of the training contract? Law school and firm combine to launch new ‘articled apprenticeship’ route

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It means students working through their degree, but they could qualify as solicitors debt free

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Back in the old days it was relatively common for solicitors to qualify via on-the-job training known as “articles”, but a surge in the popularity of university education saw this route drop out of fashion.

Since the trebling of uni tuition fees two years ago, though, practical legal training has been making a comeback — with the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives’ school-leaver apprenticeships leading the way as a route into the law that requires no university study.

Now, in a sign of growing appetite for a shake-up of legal education, a big law school has teamed up with a regional law firm to offer what is termed an “articled apprenticeship”.

The new route to becoming a solicitor will see 18 year-olds study an LLB part-time at the University of Law (ULaw) while working at North West commercial law firm Hillyer McKeown.

On completion of the LLB over four years, the students will then do Ulaw’s 18-month part-time Legal Practice Course (LPC) while continuing to work at Hillyer McKeown. The firm will obviously have to pay a salary during the apprenticeship — which is said to be “competitive” — although it isn’t going to cover law school fees.

A July rule change that allows training requirements to be met while students are studying means that articled apprentices won’t have to bother with a training contract. So at the end of the six-year process the graduates of the scheme will be fully qualified solicitors.

Not a bad position to be in for a 24 year-old — especially as they’ll be carrying far less debt than if they had taken the conventional LLB + LPC + training contract route.

Note that other firms which try this route in the future may be more generous than Hillyer McKeown. Under the terms of the articled apprenticeship scheme, which is being formally launched in the House of Commons today, the employer “can decide whether they will cover all or some of the cost of study.”

The downside to this route, of course, is that articled apprentices won’t get to enjoy a particularly carefree university experience — as they pepper their busy day job with 45 workshops each year where they’ll be pumped with legal education. And 18 is very young to decide what you want to do for the rest of your life …

But for the students who are sufficiently mature and focused to take this path it may be preferable to an undergraduate degree in a wishy-washy arts subject that costs £27,000 in fees alone.

Anyway, ULaw president John Latham is predictably delighted about the new route into the profession, emphasising its likely positive impact on diversity:

“The Articled Apprenticeship is about opening doors to the profession and building inclusivity and diversity. The Apprenticeship will enable candidates to earn while they learn … thereby reducing their debt while still qualifying as a solicitor in six years,” he said.

Hillyer McKeown partner Lindsey Kidd echoed those words, commenting:

“This scheme will encourage people who have never considered a legal services career before to join the profession. It underlines our commitment to support the growth of local talent and provide new opportunities in the communities we serve.”