Advice

‘Solicitor apprenticeship or traditional training contract?’

By on
72

One school-leaver needs help deciding

In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one aspiring City lawyer has a decision to make: qualify through the apprenticeship route, keeping debts to a minimum and gaining on-the-job experience, or go to law school with a view to securing a training contract later down the line.

I’m currently in year 12 and considering routes into the legal sector. I am unsure as to if I should go to university and study law before aiming to get a training contract at a city firm, or if I should do a solicitor apprenticeship, where I will work and gain experience whilst also gaining a law degree and a having no student debt and be a qualified lawyer at a corporate firm in London at the age of 24 as it will take me six years to complete it. There are a number of firms which are now offering this route such as Ashurst, CMS, Eversheds Sutherland, Clyde & Co, Mayer Brown and Dentons, among others. Or should I aim to go to a good Russell Group university and then try to gain a training contract?

If you have a career conundrum, email us at team@legalcheek.com.

72 Comments

Anon

I’d actually recommend the solicitor apprentice route, if you’re prepared to work hard and commit to it. Uni is a waste of time. Life is short.

(18)(39)

Dave

Agreed!

(2)(7)

AcN

Absolutely. I have been to 3 different universities, 2 degrees, and 2 postgraduate qualifications. The best job I ever got is at DWP on a horrible UC manning the phones with people swearing and screaming at you faster than Taliban machine gun fire.
I studied law with a second upper from a uni in Manchester. Thousands of applications, and not even a single job in the legal sector, not even a paralegal. I’m nearly £60k in student debt. To cut long story short, I could have used all those years to learn a craft and set up a workshop to make things with my hands.
University is like payment protection insurance, it is a mirage.

(4)(5)

Anon

And what we learned from this is that if you are only good enough for a 2:1 from Manchester and couple it with poor attitude then the pathway to law is a challenging one, particularly since many 2:1s today are really 2:2s in old money.

(13)(8)

Anonymous

Not even Manchester itself necessarily….’a uni in Manchester’.

(10)(2)

Recruitment Exec

Solicitor apprenticeship. Having an LLB does not guarantee you a training contract, especially with city firms. Focus on your Level 3 Qualifications (A Levels, BTEC), excel in getting good grades and get work experience in some legal firms to make you stand out in for the solicitor apprenticeship vacancies available in city firms.

(14)(9)

MA

Solicitor apprenticeship route is for the best I think. I started studying LLB and left to take apprenticeship route.

(6)(8)

Anon

TC all day. You’ll be looked down on for life in a City firm doing a non traditional route.

(64)(15)

Chris Poulson

If you really want to be a solicitor this is a great way to get there.

Provided you get excellent or outstanding A level results you will be fine. Quality firms are not going to lower their standards so disregard stupid remarks like ” being looked down on”. This is how lawyers used to be trained until it was decided that it should be a graduate only profession producing thousands of Law graduates each year with little or no hope of qualifying.

Most of the content of a law degree is irrelevant to practice and there is no better way than learning about the job and the business you work for than actually doing it and, getting paid for it. You will also know that you have an excellent chance of qualifying.

You will be miles ahead of the graduates who arrive on the TC route who will not qualify any quicker than you if you start off at the same time (or even behind you if they have to do a conversion course).

The only downside is that you will miss out on three years of University life which is rite of passage for many but is not what it used to be.

(18)(0)

Anon

I would just like to say that I am a solicitor apprentice and received feedback recently from a partner that my standard of work was at the standard of a trainee. Bearing in mind I still have 4 years left of the apprenticeship before becoming a trainee, I think this disproves that everyone looks down on you – it’s actually quite the opposite

(0)(0)

5+ PQ

I wish I’d done an apprenticeship, particularly as I’m at Ashurst (who offer it) now.

Obviously difficult to predict where a firm will be heading at your stage or even what it is you’ll be interested in, but provided the one you go with has decent enough breadth of practise area/industry (which the above mentioned firms all do), it seems a far better option.

You might miss out on university years. But if you have a good social circle anyway/are happy to make new friends at the firm/be social in your own life, it isn’t all that much.

You’ll be debt free. Depending on the salary I’d try to save up for a deposit on a flat in London – that way by the time you’re a trainee or NQ you could take out a mortgage on something really nice. You’ll be light years ahead of your peers in that sense.

Don’t become boring though. Law is, inherently, a little bit boring. Maintain hobbies and interests outside of your apprenticeship to offset the fact that, well, work is more boring that not working. That’s the only tip I’d give.

One caveat MIGHT be difficulty of moving laterally. Not sure how the apprentice route will be viewed by the big US firms (who do a LOT of lateral recruiting) if that’s even on your radar. I shouldn’t imagine it makes the slightest difference. Nor should it be on your radar!

In short, do the apprenticeship. For what it’s worth, and I’m obviously biased, Ashurst is probably the best firm on that list, all things considered.

(30)(4)

Anonymous

And if you have to have someone to tell you that rather than self-realising that ‘Law is boring/tedious’ (in a/so many way(s)) , you probably will never cut it and should have abandoned your studies in the 3rd if not the 2nd year instead of burning another £25,000 of Mum and Dad’s money!

You are now looking at the next 20-25 years of getting through the day by ‘a bit of unwinding’, and see which part of the anatomy begins to give me first… might well worth get acquainted with your local Hospital’s oncologists (and, of course, hepatologists) even before completing your registration!

(1)(5)

Anonymous

*give up…

As to the US firms… are you practising in one of those firms in London, or English law with them over in New York (for a couple of years, max), that is the question any aspiring law student should ask him(her)self (and you will never *really* be a U.S. attorney even if you have a U.S. passport at and from birth, and both of your parents Americans on the same basis!)

(0)(0)

Anonymagic

Don’t understand this comment. Could you please elaborate? 🙂

Anyone who practices at a US firm (and assuming he/she has a US attorney qualification, should be seen as a US attorney in the long-run, or at least equally as competent!)

(5)(1)

Anonymous

That is what they SAY…

If you made any serious mistakes (because e.g. you are not actually 100% confident about up-to-date US (or New York state) regulatory practice), your American firm would just drop you like a tonne of bricks, ‘US qualified’ or not.

Anonymous

To demonstrate my point: FATCA compliance, U.S. (unilateral) primary and secondary (which WILL affect British companies) sanctions on Iran, U.S. national security legislation (and implications on international finance), Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, U.S./UK differences on Money Laundering.

Are you really certain that any *basic* online U.S. law qualification is ever going to equip you with the requisite *highly specialist* knowledge on any of those?!

DAC6 fan boy

Compliance is a piece of piss. Don’t even try and make out like its hard.

Anonymous

Compliance ‘a piece of cake’… or the senior management trying to get young lawyers to carry the can (if not potentially a criminal conviction) when things go *really* wrong?

Anon

If you’re aspirations to join any corporate firm. Do the apprenticeship.

If you want to work for a Tier 1 firm – it’s a VS and TV.

(5)(7)

Anonymous

You are still missing the point. The Kurdish interpreter mother of a (failed) Law student told me about 5-6 years ago that in this industry, a piece of paper is just that, a piece of paper (not her exact words, of course).

Even if the Queen herself were to write you a character reference and letter of recommendation (and sign it with her own hand), if you are naturally as socially awkward as Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking, you will (probably) never cut it, regardless of how academically or Legally especially gifted you are!

(3)(3)

US Firm 1PQE

I am admittedly rather socially awkward. Same with the most of people around me. Do not see why this is a problem.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

In Law, to get through, you need to have a fair level of connections (and enough people who can/will vouch for you/give you references to, socially, academically, personally, at ANY given time), and to know what the others are talking (and are *really* talking) about, whether they are talking about/plotting against you, etc… you need to go to places, attend conferences, seminars, even if they are more of a social occasion…

And I am not even sure this is even a Law-only thing in this country!

Either you are incredibly lucky/fortunate, or you are not really as awkward as you would like to *think* you are.

(2)(6)

US Firm 1PQE

Sorry but this is rubbish. Never had any connections / protections, came in from another country and found my way to TC quite quickly without knowing anyone in the City. Admit that I had some minimum money from family to live on during the studies and there may be a certain degree of luck in getting the TC really quickly. However, some probably less lucky but similarly unconnected friends also got TCs in really good US/MC firms as well maybe after 1-2 year search.

Britain is probably less corrupt and nepotistic than 99% of other countries, coming from another country I really came to appreciate this.

Anonymous

👆 It just doesn’t happen (complete made-up), or you would just get the sack after 7 years, max… or you are just fantasising about US firms like you were working for some investment bank… don’t really work like that!

Never heard of most ‘normal people’ in the UK who just want to get work with a US firm in London. I mean, a firm is a firm is a firm; even with an American firm, you wouldn’t (really) get paid extra, given a free AMEx or an automatic green card or even an L-1 visa!

Solicitor Apprentice

Legal apprenticeships are completely changing the entry into the profession for the better. They’ll be getting more and more popular as people realise the benefits, so jump on it now.

I’m a Solicitor Apprentice and have never had any regrets about my decision.

(15)(19)

Anon

Sadly we will see standards in the profession drop accordingly. I’m seriously thinking of investing in the prof neg insurance sector at the moment. Those guys look to be the new Kirkland NQ type figures, you mark my words.

(10)(5)

Solicitor Apprentice

Highly disagree if people are qualifying with 7 years experience already under their belt.

(11)(11)

Anon

What experience though? Filing and copying? Taking notes in meetings? Not sure I’d want a lawyer like that if I were any of my clients.

(12)(9)

Anonymous

Ever heard of “Learn from the job”?! How did you think Peter the Great get by in Holland, 300-odd years ago?!

Anon

I frankly couldn’t give a flying fuck about Peter the Great. Fact is going to university is the tried and trusted method. End of.

Anonymous

☝️ I couldn’t give a flying fuck about the SDT/criminal convictions/client’s funds… I can just imagine you saying that, 10-15 years later! Give it up!

Solicitor Apprentice

I wouldn’t have applied if the job spec was admin for 7 years. You should try understanding a bit more about what the role entails; we are training to qualify as practicing solicitors as you would through the traditional route so you’d think they’d get us up to that level

(16)(12)

Anon

As I understand it, the bottom line is I wouldn’t ask any of my clients to rely on advice from someone who either didn’t get the grades to get into university or couldn’t be bothered to try.

(9)(15)

Solicitor Apprentice

Your understanding clearly isn’t sufficient as a majority of apprentices got into their first choice university with the top grades, they just decided that they didn’t want to incur £50k+ worth of debt when it could be paid for.

(15)(10)

Anon

“majority of apprentices got into their first choice university with the top grades”

Source?

(6)(5)

Anonymous

Lawyering is NEVER purely about attaining the grades per se, not in this country anyway… if you think that, you will never become Partner.

Forget about the story of Babaji or Mama Ji working his socks off ‘from the slums of some South Indian city’ (as if!) to become a middle-ranking NHS consultant, Law is a completely different game…

Anonymous

Law/lawyering, unlike Medicine, is NEVER purely about the Grades per se…

Anon

The silence in response to this point is defening…

Solicitor Apprentice

All of the other apprentices I know. I didn’t want to continue conversing with someone who’s so closed minded to new developments in the industry.

Anon

Great, no sources, just saying things that conveniently support your view. You doing that just proves my point.

Free lesson for you: if you really want to be a lawyer, in order to persuade people you have to present FACTS. That means things that are true, not made up. I hope that gets through.

Anonymous

Take a look at the stringent requirements on apprenticeship applications. Getting into university is a walk in a park compared to getting a solicitor apprenticeship. One UCAS application and perhaps an interview and you are in whereas I had to take multiple Watson Glaser tests, video interviews and assessment centres during my A Levels. One solicitor apprentice in my cohort turned down a place at Oxford and every apprentice I know achieved AAA or above. Why would we go to university when we are perfectly capable of performing the role of a trainee alongside studies.

Anon

What a stupid comment. Watson Glazer test, or trusts law exam? Maybe an 2,000 word essay on the finer points of duty of care in the tort of negligence, or a quick chat about yourself?

You’re missing the point. Getting into uni isn’t studying at uni. It isn’t being under pressure all day to pass tough exams, get that essay in on time, meet a standard. It isn’t getting life lessons from living away from home for the first time.

If it’s true you know someone who turned down Oxford (and, for the record, I think that’s a lie) they need help, quick, because they clearly have either been poorly advised or don’t know their arse from their elbow. I worry for this person on a level you will never understand.

Anonymous

What a stupid comment. I was addressing your point about apprentices not getting the grades to get into university or not trying. You did not mention a solicitor apprentices ability to study at university.

Solicitor apprentices go to university and do exactly that – we do essays and exams, albeit less of them. I live 80 miles away from my family home, have made great friends and have a comfortable social life. You are being incredibly bitter and are dampening the abilities of apprentices who would have perhaps done equally as well going through the traditional route. I do not underestimate what university students go through and I am not saying it is easy but the apprenticeship route is not completely removed from the university route. I believe when you bring two candidates at the point they become NQ together they will each bring a whole host of different skills to the table.

I do not lie. Please survey the Linkedin profiles of current city solicitor apprentices. Some profiles are more colourful than current Oxbridge students.

Anon

If they can’t get in then of course they wouldn’t be able to study too…!

I’m not bitter, just concerned about the reducing standard in the legal profession and the message that sends to the public.

If you give me a choice, I’d go for the Oxbridge grad over the “colourful” one every time. It’s simply a tried, trusted and known process. As a recruiter, you have assurance you’ll be getting the cream of the crop, not some chancer drop out.

U wot m8

When what could be paid for?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

All university fees

Anon

Ahh this comment infuriates me! I study Law at a a Russell Group now after getting A*AA in my exams, but alas that wasn’t my first choice. My first choice was a solicitor apprenticeship, but I was unable to secure one since they are extremely competitive. Give some respect where it is due.

(3)(0)

Anon

As a trainee at a top tier regional firm, I’d say go down the traditional TC route. We have amazing solicitor appreciates at our firm, most of whom have a wider depth of knowledge and experience than I do as a trainee and yet, they are paid nothing in comparison to what the trainees are paid. They spend their 7 years, yes moving across the teams, but most of them are assigned paralegal level work, are not encouraged to develop any skills and have little to no client contact. Not to mention, they are given a mere 1 day of study leave per week.

I know the level of debt can seem daunting to anyone considering uni but, in the grand scheme, it makes little impact on your salary and no impact on your credit score. Uni is an amazing experience and I wouldn’t have given mine up for anything! I also think the profession we are in is already hard enough without doing a Full degree alongside it, and I speak from experience there having done the LPC whilst paralegaling full time.

All of that being said, I think I speak for everyone when I say we are all in awe of how solicitor appreciates cope with the enormous pressure that is put on them from all sides. I do think it’s an amazing opportunity for anyone considering going into law and makes our profession more accessible to those or don’t want to, or can’t, go to uni.

Whatever you decide, I think you’ve made the right choice seeking out the views of people in practice, rather than just relaying on what teachers or firms will tell you. Whatever way you look at it, they have their own agendas outside of your career or welfare!

Good luck!

(34)(1)

anon

1) I did not attend uni right away – I worked for a few years after college. I then attended uni and found it to be one of the key defining periods of my adult life. The education, the social experience, with the good and bad experiences of both. It changed me, and most of my colleagues that went to university say the same thing. In contrast, a few school leavers that continued working from my time say they are still looking for that moment.

2) Having a university degree gives you exponentially more validation, especially if it’s a solid degree like economics, law or a STEM degree from a good uni. If your ambition is conveyancing or writing wills in the regions because you want above average income for the area and a quiet home life, it’s not so important. I work at a City firm that deals with American/international lawyers all the time and they usually have multiple degrees, and expect the lawyers on the other end of the call to be equally educated.

3) Having a degree gives you flexibility and makes moving easier. The reality is the vast majority of modern lawyers will not stay at the firm they qualify at; moves could be to an international office of the firm you train at, going in-house, or leaving the law altogether. Having higher qualifications makes all of this easier.

4) The routes to qualification is changing anyways. Having a university degree will not hurt your future career direction no matter the qualification process. Not having a university degree and limiting the paths to qualification (and the type of firms/areas of law you can qualify in) may hurt your future prospects.

I appreciate the appeal of being debt free – 4 years out of university and I am a long way from being there. But I do not regret the experiences and opportunities it has offered me. This is just my experience and what I’ve seen within my group of peers. Individual experiences may vary. Good luck!

(17)(1)

Anonymous

Please note that you do go to university and gain a qualifying law degree as a solicitor apprentice.

(7)(1)

Anonymous

From where, BPP or ULaw? I guarantee you the “degree” solicitor apprentices are going for is completely worthless. The experience? Very useful. I think they’d be better off if they got to skip the university element and just did business and writing workshops.

Anon probably means a real university degree. Oxbridge/Russell group or the like.

(2)(5)

Anonymous

It’s true that not all apprentices will have got in to their first pick uni, or even at all.

However, the apprentices I have met have all largely gone to university and decided they didn’t like it and then pursued the apprenticeship. I’m not for one second arguing they’re all RG uni drop outs, but a lot of them are.

Also, I know city firm I’m at requires apprentices to achieve the same A Level grades we ask from Trainees and VS Students. I had firmed a place on the LLB at Notts and surpassed the asked for grades, I just decided I wanted the industry exposure and didn’t fancy wasting money on rent for years to come when I could save hard for a mortgage instead. We graduate with a full LLB still, just to be clear. By virtue of it being a level 7 apprenticeship, you get a degree as standard (provided you pass your exams).

The firm I’m at starts you straight on the solicitor route, there’s no one year paralegal apprenticeship prefacing it like some firms. We have one day per week study and days off in lieu if there’s a bank holiday which falls on the uni day. I can only speak from my own experience, but as my firm isn’t huge and we have a lower trainee intake, I’ve had huge amounts of client exposure in the two litigation seats I’ve done.

Don’t get bogged down in making your full decision now, apply to uni and the apprenticeship and see how you feel when you’ve got both sorts of offers in front of you – it may be you apply to all the apprenticeships you can and are entirely unsuccessful.

(8)(0)

The court of pie powders

Can we stop acting as if student “debt” is a crushing burden like a massive mortgage or several maxed out credit cards. If you earned £24k for your entire life you would never think about your £50k in student “debt” again. You f*%#ing well would if you had £50k of unsecured creditor card debt though.

(16)(0)

Anonymous

Exactly. It is not student debt that discourages students, it is the moaning from leftists and snowflake NUS extremists.

(1)(4)

Anon

I think people are forgetting that apprentices are studying for a degree to?

(5)(4)

Anonymous

Degree to what?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

You are wasting your time on a generation who now actually thinks that a good enough LLB means an automatic place at a firm (and as a Partner!)

(0)(5)

anon

don’ know why anyone would ever pass up going to uni…

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Anyone is who is over 25, and sick and tired of being surrounded by folk with the intellectual age of usually no higher than 21, at best?

(3)(3)

K M Mark

I train legal apprentices and recommend the apprenticeship route. I recommend completing your A levels in case you ever want to go to university later in life. Many people change their career. I enjoyed studying law at university but it is hard securing a training contract. Lots of reputable firms support their apprentices and encourage progression from the paralegal apprenticeship onto the solicitor one.

(5)(2)

Frank Winslett

I spent 50 years in the law and started out as an outdoor clerk. Subsequently qualified as a solicitor then later in life called to the Bar. There was no doubt in my mind that having had experience in the profession helped me with my exams. I would consider an apprenticeship.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

The young/younger ‘uns (maybe especially more so for people whose Mum or Dad or both came to this country to practice medicine… just a purely educated guess) seem to think that a prestigious LLB with all the correct A+/A* grades is a ‘be-all and end-all’…

Sadly, the culture of the whole education system of this country (not just necessarily Law) is such that I fear that your wise words might probably be wasted on this egotistical generation.

(1)(4)

Anon

I am a Solicitor Apprentice and would definitely recommend this route over university. It is a lot of hard work, but it’s incredibly rewarding and will certainly be worth it in the long run. For me, qualifying with no debt, 6 years of experience and lots of contacts in the legal sector was definitely the best option.

As an aside, some of the comments seem to be unnecessarily harsh – I can’t speak for all Solicitor Apprentices, however I did get into my first choice University and chose the apprenticeship route instead. I work really hard and certainly have more experience than printing and taking notes – I’m only two years into the apprenticeship and already I’m doing all aspects of the work aside from courtroom advocacy, which I will also be starting to do very soon.

(7)(1)

AcN

Absolutely. I have been to 3 different universities, 2 degrees, and 2 postgraduate qualifications. The best job I ever got is at DWP on a horrible UC manning the phones with people swearing and screaming at you faster than Taliban machine gun fire.
I studied law with a second upper from a uni in Manchester. Thousands of applications, and not even a single job in the legal sector, not even a paralegal. I’m nearly £60k in student debt. To cut long story short, I could have used all those years to learn a craft and set up a workshop to make things with my hands.
University is like payment protection insurance, it is a mirage.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

There are people who *really* do think that, ‘just by working hard’, they could just get to become a £100-150,000+ lawyer within 15 months of graduation, ‘just like that’ (and that they could get to keep the said job and with the said pay, before retiring at 35, that’s it!)… what can you do?!

(0)(0)

Anonymous

And what we learned from this cut and paste post is that if you are only good enough for a 2:1 from Manchester and couple it with poor attitude then the pathway to law is a challenging one, particularly since many 2:1s today are really 2:2s in old money.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Nothing beats the traditional route. It is a conservative profession. So Oxbridge and a masters in the US it is.

(3)(4)

Older and wiser lawyer

I qualified as a solicitor at a time when the apprenticeship route didn’t exist. I’ve done well in my career without any “connections “ and went to a grotty comprehensive. I think the apprenticeship route is becoming more acceptable and career-wise you should be fine. However life should not just be about your career and going to University for me was a great experience in itself. I would not have wanted to miss out on that.

(2)(2)

Anonymous

Nice creative writing, sounds more like you are still having a jolly good time doing your MSc and internships whilst still in your mid/late-20s/early-30s… you *will* be housebroken, eventually!

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories