Is “earn-while-you-learn” set to become the new training contract?
The dean of one of the nation’s biggest vocational legal education providers has revealed that magic circle firms are eyeing the new government-backed Trailblazer apprenticeships.
The school-leaver scheme — which combines a part-time LLB with on-the-job paralegal-level work — “could be big”, says BPP Law School chief Peter Crisp, adding that magic circle firms are among a host of top City legal outfits to be interested in the route which leads to qualification as a solicitor in just five years.
Speaking after the announcement that Trailblazer apprenticeship will be offered by BPP from September next year in conjunction with firms including Eversheds, Crisp told Legal Cheek:
I think they could be big, but obviously it’s early days. There has been a huge amount of interest. We have been in to see many firms, including magic circle ones, and they have expressed an interest.
Since legal apprenticeships appeared on the scene in 2012, propelled by a wave of publicity designed by the government to assuage anger at the trebling of undergraduate fee rises, their take up has been largely restricted to firms outside the top tier.
In many cases, these apprenticeships — which come with a bewildering array of different tag lines — don’t allow students to qualify directly as solicitors, instead resulting in a less prestigious chartered legal executive qualification. As a result, they have been met with sceptism by wannabe lawyers.
But the Trailblazer scheme — which is government-backed and includes a state subsidy for the employer towards training costs that can be spent with any law school — is different in that it includes an LLB degree and leads to direct qualification as a solicitor. In this sense it is very similar to the six-year earn-while-you-earn programme launched this month by the London office of global law firm Mayer Brown in conjunction with BBP’s rival, the University of Law.
Significantly, once Mayer Brown apprentices reach their final year they are put in the same stream as the firm’s second year trainees and earn the same £45,000 salary. This contrasts with the approach taken by the likes of DWF, which keeps its trainees separate to its legal apprentices — and pays the latter group much lower salaries as they are shepherded towards legal executive careers.
Time will tell which policy becomes the norm. Right now no one knows exactly what will happen, with Eversheds — which has committed to running Trailblazer apprenticeships next year — declining to divulge pay details when asked for this information by Legal Cheek.
The magic circle firms which Legal Cheek contacted for this article are also remaining tight-lipped on their plans. But it’s worth noting Crisp’s further observation that “for a larger firm that is transactional in nature the apprenticeship model is more challenging because they want to be able to plan their resource so that the people they take on can do a certain level of work”.
Still, with top firms in the old days hiring many of their new recruits straight from school via the old “articled clerk” route, there is no reason why structures of working could not be changed to accommodate school-leavers — and create a genuine rival to the training contract.
Mayer Brown ups intake on earn-while-you-learn training contract alternative [Legal Cheek]