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Qualify as a solicitor in six years without going to uni – radical scheme unveiled

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Reformed apprenticeship route could profoundly shake up traditional legal education models — and be trouble for legal executives

School-leavers could qualify as solicitors in as little as five years without crossing the threshold of a university or doing a training contract, apprenticeship plans unveiled yesterday revealed.

In the latest move that will dramatically alter the delivery of legal education — and potentially shake to the core the business models of vocational training providers — the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, yesterday published assessment plans and standards for apprenticeships in the legal profession.

The recommended minimum entry requirements for the scheme suggest that as long as school children don’t spend too much time smoking behind the bike sheds and can then talk a law firm into giving them an apprenticeship, they will be able to qualify.

According to the statement yesterday from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) — the organisation overseeing the process — all that will be required are: five GCSEs, including mathematics and English at grade C or above (or equivalent), and three A-levels (or equivalent) at a minimum of grade C.

As if that were not simple enough, an alternative route involves what the scheme’s developers describe as “relevant employer-led work experience”; a level 3 advanced apprenticeship or level 4 higher apprenticeship in a relevant occupation, such as business administration, financial services, or even legal services; a paralegal or legal executive apprenticeship.

The final alternative — which will provide some relief to those in higher and vocational education — will be via a law degree, the Graduate Diploma in Law, and the Legal Practice Course.

However, it would seem unrealistic to expect students to go through the traditional higher education route to qualify for an apprenticeship when all they need is three mediocre A-levels.

Existing vocational education providers will take some solace from the fact that the apprenticeship scheme will still require some level of structured training and ultimately formal assessment. Yesterday’s government statement said:

Qualification as a solicitor through the apprenticeship standard route will require satisfactory completion of the new centralised assessment provided by one or more independent assessment organisations, appointed by the Solicitors Regulation Authority … Candidates will be unable to complete the apprenticeship, or be admitted as a solicitor, until they have satisfactorily met this requirement.

In the statement, CILEx chief executive Mandie Lavin praised the reforms:

These new, employer-led standards ensure the qualifications will be market driven and fit for purpose and we look forward to working with both legal businesses and learners on delivering these apprenticeships and continuing to encourage a more diverse profession.

A Solicitors Regulation Authority spokeswoman yesterday confirmed to Legal Cheek that once the proposal receives final approval from the regulator’s board, the streamlined process would be on track for implementation next year.

She also confirmed that the process would effectively mean that as long as a school-leaver can convince a law firm to lay on an apprenticeship, qualification could await six years down the road through mostly work-related experience.

That could have a devastating impact on the business models of universities providing law degrees and vocational courses. They are already under pressure as a result of the high cost of legal education; students often finish the process tens of thousands of pounds in debt.

But the reforms could also have an existential impact on CILEx. If the route from school to qualification as a solicitor were streamlined down to six years — while the apprentice route for legal executives is five years — why would students bother with the latter?

Nonetheless, Vicky Purtill, head of qualifications at CILEx, remained confident, telling Legal Cheek:

Law firms may … prefer to train chartered legal executives rather than solicitors, based on the job roles they have available once the apprentice is qualified.

Purtill continued:

Having worked alongside some of the UK’s leading legal sector employers, we are confident that the chartered legal executive pathway will be accepted by the sector. CILEx already has a clear advantage; we have been successfully delivering apprenticeships alongside the CILEx lawyer qualifications for a number of years and now have more than 360 legal apprentices working at over 100 businesses in England and Wales.

Purtill went on to say:

CILEx has also been delivering the chartered legal executive qualification pathway for more than 50 years, albeit not in a formal apprenticeship capacity.

The qualification process shake-up was formed in consultation with a group of top law firms and employers of in-house lawyers. Law firms included: Addleshaw Goddard, Browne Jacobson, Burges Salmon, Clyde & Co, DAC Beachcroft, Dentons, DWF, Eversheds, Gateley LLP, Kennedys Law, Lewis Silkin, Mayer Brown, Olswang, Pannone, Simmons & Simmons, Stephenson Harwood, Thomas Eggar and Withers.

15 Comments

Not Amused

Sorry to be … me … but it really isn’t radical. It is just the return of the old 5 year route. Except it isn’t because an extra year has been added (why?) and the continued involvement of the legal education providers has been guaranteed (which will maximise profit).

If a regulator comes in to existence, does nothing for years, then re-instates an old idea but with more delay and more cost then I don’t think the word ‘radical’ is at all appropriate.

ILEX may very well die out, but what were the long term prospects of it anyway? One of the marvels of the old 5 year route was that poorer kids could avoid debt – but rich kids did it to. It was not uncommon to meet older gentlemen who had attended leading public schools, left, done the 5 year route and made partner (or managing partner) and rubbed shoulders with poor born kids who did the same. That is the mark of success for any alternative route to qualification.

(16)(2)

Anonymous

Quite right. It doesn’t seem to be anything new or interesting. I would also point out that the Magic Circle and other actual ‘top’ firms (LC’s definition of a ‘top’ law firm gets broader every day) were either excluded or refused to participate. This does rather signal that this will be seen as a sub-par route to qualification.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that if it still leads to a solid career. But so far, the firm that has most loudly recruited apprentices, Mayer Brown, has an absolutely appalling retention rate even of trainees. I am concerned that this will be used by mid and lower-tier firms to source labour at very low wages and drop them once they qualify and expect to start getting paid as much as the graduates.

(10)(0)

Anonymous

Mayer Brown’s programme isn’t even an apprenticeship. It has been wrongly branded as one to help with publicity.

(4)(0)

Lord Harley

Easy really.

Just do what I did and say you have qualifications that you dont have. Then, when someone asks where you got them, accuse them of being jealous and deflect attention.

Bit like my peerage. Pretend your family has some ancient Irish title. The fools believe it.

(13)(0)

The Rt. Hon. 7th Baron Col. Prof. Lampcock, BA LLB LLM BBC uMAD PhalUS, DSC and Bar

You odious SWINE.

How DARE you tarnish the respectability of your noble superiors with your WRETCHED BILIOUS lies.

You are a FOUL and bitter creature of greed and deceit and ignorance, like a PIG in the wilderness.

I will be pursuing the FIRMEST and most VIGOROUS legal action against your sinister character for these libelous aberrations (in both a personal capacity and on behalf of the esteemed Lord Harley).

Yours most venerably,

The Rt. Hon. 7th Baron Col. Prof. Lampcock, BA LLB LLM BBC uMAD PhalUS, DSC and Bar

(22)(0)

Anonymous

The CILEX minimum is now 3 years ( though in reality it will often take a bit longer. I’m converting from FCILEX to solicitor as I already thought it was a sinking ship before this news that they were signing their own death warrant.

(2)(2)

Ms Realistic

Realistically speaking, it broadens the options for entry into a career, but doesnt give any advantage to taking this route. Realistically, will orgs and firms consider someone without a qualifying law degree when they will have an already extraordinary amount of applications with an LLB and work experience as part of that degree?

(8)(0)

Anonymous

In this day and age, I would be very uncomfortable instructing someone who hadn’t bothered to do a qualifying law degree, or indeed gone to university.

It would be like asking my gardener to represent me at trial.

You can’t polish a turd.

(16)(5)

Avid popcorn mastication enthusiast

…it really depends on their diet.

(7)(1)

Young Tory

Sounds shite.

Thank goodness I went to a public school and bagged a City TC straight outta my RG uni.

(12)(6)

Anonymous

Not Oxbridge?

What were mummy and daddy paying for?

(7)(1)

Dave Cam

Heh, very funny you pitiful pleb. Get back to your gutter.

(1)(1)

Lord Harley of Bollocks

I’ve already added this to my linkedin profile. What a hero I am.

(11)(0)

Anonymous

Hate to say it but I agree with Not Amused.

Except I know the difference between ‘to’ and ‘too’.

(2)(3)

Anonymous

It seems that in fact you don’t…

(0)(0)

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