As increasing numbers of top law firms introduce apprenticeship programmes, we consider the arguments in favour of entering the legal profession straight from school.
1. Government policy has swung behind apprenticeships
Following the trebling of university fees, the government sees apprenticeships as a way to encourage social mobility — and it is providing money to encourage big law firms and other employers to take on school-leavers.
For apprentices aged 19-24 — the key bracket for the legal profession — the government funds 50% of the cost of training and the employer covers the remaining 50%. Such backing has the potential to create a golden era for apprenticeships.
2. Big law firms have responded to incentives from the top
On Monday Clyde & Co became the latest big law firm to launch a legal apprenticeship, with five school-leavers to begin the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services from October.
They will qualify as chartered legal executive lawyers in four years via a combination of qualifying employment and study, with the option to also qualify as solicitors.
Other big firms to have introduced legal apprenticeships over the last couple of years include Kennedys, DAC Beachcroft, Weightmans, Addleshaw Goddard, Shoosmiths and Thomas Eggar.
Legal apprenticeships are also increasingly offered in-house, with the BBC announcing yesterday that it is to recruit three legal services apprentices for its internal legal department. Other organisations to train and employ lawyers via this route include BP, The Walt Disney Co, the RSPCA, HSBC and Sainsburys.
3. Two major regulatory changes have broken down professional barriers to enhance the status of chartered legal executive lawyers
In 2009 the Legal Services Act removed the barriers preventing chartered legal executives from becoming partners in law firms. Some chartered legal executives still decide to go on to qualify as solicitors, gaining exemptions from having to complete a training contract, but this is no longer necessary.
Two years earlier the Tribunals Courts and Enforcement Act 2007 removed the restriction on chartered legal executives becoming certain types of judges (although several judicial positions still require chartered legal executives to first become solicitors). “There are no longer any meaningful distinctions between the job titles,” says Deputy District Judge Ian Ashley-Smith, the first ever chartered legal executive judge.
4. There is a growing band of high profile senior chartered legal executive lawyers
Alongside the aforementioned Ashley-Smith, prominent lawyers to have trained as chartered legal executives include fellow Deputy District Judge Simon Lindsey, Irwin Mitchell partner Keith Barrett and June Venters QC (pictured above). More seem certain to follow as legal apprenticeships enjoy what is likely to be a sustained period of support from policy-makers.
5. They pay you to do an apprenticeship
With the combined cost of university and law school coming in at between £40,000-50,000 — before living expenses — the opportunity to enter the profession without getting into debt is a big deal for those without vast private means.
Apprentices receive the same benefits as a permanent member of staff, and are paid a salary which meets the National Minimum Wage — at Kennedys’ London office it starts at the London Living Wage of £18,000.
6. Apprentices bypass the worst aspects of beginning a legal career
A minority of law students secure a training contract (and an accompanying sponsored law school place) far in advance. Others get their hands on the substantial £5m Inns of Court scholarship pot, easing their passage to the Bar. But for many the hunt for training contracts and pupillages is extremely dispiriting, often resulting in prolonged periods of paralegal work.
Most people who have been down this path would probably agree that it’s better to do your time at the bottom of the legal ladder at 18 rather than in your mid-20s, even if it means forgoing a period of carefree fun at university and making tough career choices at an early stage.
7. Not going to uni might become the only way ordinary people can practise as legal aid lawyers
The sharp reduction in fees for legal aid work announced last week by the Ministry of Justice means it will take even longer for solicitors and barristers specialising in publicly-funded areas to pay off their university and law school debts. It’s not hard to make the connection here between government policy on legal aid and its hopes for apprenticeships.
8. The school-leaver route into law isn’t as new as some assume
There are several older partners at law firms who have no law degrees — a legacy of the less strict formal education requirements to become a solicitor before the introduction of the “training contract” in 1990. Following last year’s Legal Education and Training Review (LETR), a course has been charted that will see this tradition blurred with the current apprenticeship route operated by CILEx, which itself dates back more than 50 years. The aim here is that lawyers’ status will be determined by the profession-wide proficiency-level they reach, rather than whether they hold the title of solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive.
There is information about National Apprenticeship Week here.