Apprentices set to go head-to-head with first year law students for top solicitor jobs

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By Alex Aldridge on

LLBers, beware of hotshot school-leavers with much more experience than you


A new wave of legal apprentice who earn their law degrees on the job could be set to shake the traditional trainee solicitor recruitment model.

That is the chatter among City law firm graduate recruiters as a new type of high status legal apprenticeship hits the market.

Unlike traditional apprenticeships — which result in non-graduate qualification as a chartered legal executive, an alternative type of lawyer (who can go on to become solicitors and judges) — new ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeships include earn-while-you-learn LLBs and result in direct qualification as a solicitor.

The model has been pioneered by Mayer Brown, which already has two students on its “articled apprenticeship” programme run in conjunction with ULaw. At year four of the six year scheme the rookies will be merged into Mayer Brown’s trainee intake — earning the same money as those who come through the conventional route.

And a host of other top firms are expected to follow as the government lends its backing to this fused apprenticeship and university route via the official Trailblazer framework.

Next month Eversheds opens applications for its first Trailblazer apprentices, who are due to start the scheme — run in partnership with BPP University Law School — in September. And rumours are swirling that the firm will be joined by many others — including even some magic circle outfits. Last year BPP dean Peter 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.

Those in the know are predicting that the effect of this new route could be felt by current first year law students, who will reach the training contract stage around the same time as the first Trailblazer apprentices.

Indeed, one City law firm HR specialist who Legal Cheek spoke with predicted that firms’ graduate recruitment intake could fall by as much as 20% over the next five years if Trailblazer apprenticeships catch on.

Certainly, going head-to-head with people who have been working in law firms for four years, and will have gained a significant amount of practical experience in that time, won’t be easy.

At an event this week to promote City Law School and CILEx Law School’s partnership to launch solicitor apprenticeships to law firms, two school-leavers pursuing this route in-house at HMRC told the audience about their experiences to date.

Katy Brown, who turned down LLB offers from a host of leading universities to become an apprentice, spoke about what it was like to handle her own caseload and take her own hearings before district judges and registrars in the County Court and High Court. Meanwhile, her colleague, Daniel Robinson, explained how a preference for “learning through doing” had seen him actively chose not to do a degree in spite of excellent academics.

Full-time law students, be warned…