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Mayer Brown and ULaw combine to offer earn-while-you-learn law degree and LPC that bypasses training contract

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City firm targets hot shot 18 year-olds

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The London office of international law firm Mayer Brown has unveiled a tie-up with the University of Law (ULaw) that will see it employ law students on an earn-while-you-learn basis as part of a radical alternative to a training contract.

The six-year programme — which is the first of its type at a City of London law firm — will see the students combine paralegal-level work at Mayer Brown with the completion of a four-year part-time undergraduate law degree at the University of Law, before going on to do the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course over two years.

During the first 12-18 months of the scheme the students — who will require minimum A-level grades of AAB or equivalent — will be placed in the firm’s business services department before moving into its legal teams for the remaining period. In year three of the programme work will start to count towards the training contract as a “period of recognised training”.

At the end of year six successful graduates will be treated the same as trainees on completion of their training contracts and asked to submit preferences for which area of law they hope to qualify into. A rule change last July means that training contracts are no longer an obligatory part of the solicitor qualification process.

Pay for those taking this route will start at £18,000, rising over the six years to the same amount earned by Mayer Brown’s second year trainees. Currently that figure stands at £42,300.

Students will be expected to shoulder the cost of their LLB fees, with the help of the government’s student loan scheme, but the firm will pay the LPC fees. So anyone qualifying as a solicitor via this route will have a decent chance of doing so unencumbered by debt, if they can keep their central London living costs down.

However, it will be hard work. Earn-while-you-learn students will undertake twice a week two-hour study sessions after work between 6pm and 8pm, while every Saturday there will be a webinar to sit through. All the related study will take place in the students’ own time, with exams at the end of every term.

According to the firm, the programme is expected to attract not just hot shot school-leavers who are concerned about debt, but “candidates from a range of backgrounds who are keen to start their careers or make a career change”.

Officially labelled an “apprenticeship”, the scheme has no connection to the non-graduate “legal apprenticeship” programme run by the Chartered Legal Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), which has caught on in recent years among regional law firms and smaller City practices. The crucial difference is that the CILEx apprentice route leads to the title of chartered legal executive lawyer, not solicitor, which remains reserved for LPC graduates.

Last November ULaw launched a version of its earn-while-you-learn law degree and LPC — dubbed an “Articled Apprenticeship” — with North West law firm Hillyer McKeown, which seems to have been the model for its programme with Mayer Brown. Legal Cheek understands that the university — which has training deals with outfits including Linklaters, Baker & McKenzie and Ashurst — is looking to roll out similar initiatives with other firms.

The first Mayer Brown apprenticeship starts in September. Applications — which can be made here — open today and close on Friday 19 June. Initially just a single place is being offered but the firm plans to up numbers in the years ahead. The process — which includes a online verbal reasoning test, phone interview and assessment centre — is similar to that which training contract candidates go through.

A spokesperson for Mayer Brown confirmed that the firm will still be offering 15 training contracts in this year’s graduate recruitment round and that its GDL and LPC training deals with Kaplan Law School remain in place.

Commenting on the scheme, the firm’s global chief HR officer Annette Sheridan said:

“The Articled Apprenticeship programme is an exciting development which opens up a new route to a successful career as a solicitor. We have been working hard to introduce a programme that will nurture the talent of people who feel the traditional route to being a solicitor isn’t a viable option for them.”

ULaw president John Latham described the tie up as “a ground-breaking way to attract and nurture talent”, adding that “it is in all our interests for sustaining a dynamic legal services market to recruit the most able people from all walks of life.”