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A guide to law apprenticeships

updated on 05 February 2024

A legal apprenticeship is a route to becoming a lawyer that combines a paid job at a law firm with studying for formal qualifications, funded by the government and your employer. It’s an alternative to the traditional route of going to university and training to be a lawyer afterwards. Graduate solicitor apprenticeships are also on the rise. Find out more about the different legal apprenticeship options in this guide.  

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For more information about the different types of legal apprenticeships and your career possibilities as an apprentice, you should read The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2024.

Law apprenticeships allow aspiring lawyers to qualify while working. They offer an alternative route to a career as a lawyer and are a great option for those who want a university degree but are put off by the tuition and maintenance costs. A range of legal apprenticeships are available across England and Wales, providing qualifications for various positions, such as paralegal and legal assistant roles, and a six-year programme ending in qualification as a solicitor. More recently, firms have been introducing graduate apprenticeships too and barrister apprenticeships are set to be introduced in 2024.

The prospect of learning while getting involved in practical work is appealing to many. However, it can be confusing knowing where to start, with many different apprenticeship qualification routes. Read on to find out more about what different apprenticeship paths involve and whether or not you’re eligible.

Am I eligible for a law apprenticeship?

There are many different entry points for legal apprenticeships, with some aimed at graduates and others aimed at people leaving school after completing their A levels or GCSEs or at those working in paralegal and legal support roles.

CILEX Law School has created a useful legal apprenticeship eligibility checker that shows you which apprenticeship pathways are open to you.

Below, we’ve set out each type of legal apprenticeship and what they involve, as well as the eligibility criteria and the options available once that apprenticeship has been completed.

Intermediate apprenticeship

While the number of intermediate/legal administration/business administration apprenticeships seem to have dwindled over the years, they’re aimed at school leavers who’ve not completed A levels. It’s a 15 to 21-month course that involves helping lawyers to progress cases by performing key administrative tasks such as research, receiving calls, proofreading, audio typing and dealing with confidential information. It develops key legal workplace skills and knowledge.

Eligibility requirements

Entry requirements vary between employers, but it’s often five GCSEs or equivalent qualifications graded 9 to 4 (A* to C), including maths and English. For other employers you might not need formal qualifications but you’re likely to be asked to take maths and English as part of the apprenticeship.

What does it involve?

The intermediate apprenticeship develops a range of essential skills, knowledge and behaviours. Skills include IT, project management, organisation and communication. The knowledge element covers topics including business processes, policies and stakeholder management, while the behaviours aspect of the apprenticeship focuses on developing professionalism.

What qualification do I gain?

The intermediate apprenticeship is a professional qualification equivalent to NVQ Level 2, five GCSEs graded C and above or BTEC diploma and certificate. It forms a foundation from which to gain further in-work qualifications.

What’s the next step?

People who complete the intermediate apprenticeship may progress onto the paralegal apprenticeship (detailed below). This can be followed by the next apprenticeship stage or the new CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ).

Paralegal apprenticeship

The paralegal apprenticeship trains apprentices in the skills needed to practise in a particular legal practice area. Paralegals work alongside solicitors on legal matters, often performing many of the same tasks and responsibilities. The practice area that the apprentice moves into will be determined by their law firm (ie, what the law firm does and what its business needs are). The paralegal apprenticeship lasts 24 months.

Am I eligible?

The entry requirements are three A levels (96 UCAS points) and five GCSEs (or equivalent qualifications) graded 9 to 4 (A* to C), including maths and English. This means that you can start the paralegal apprenticeship immediately after leaving school or completing an intermediate apprenticeship.

What does it involve?

Paralegal apprentices gain legal knowledge relevant to their specific role and practice area, while also developing a core set of knowledge and skills that make up the compulsory aspects of the apprenticeship, regardless of which firm the apprentice joins or the area of law they work in. The knowledge aspect of the apprenticeship varies between education providers but will cover modules such as:  

  • the English legal system;
  • legal research
  • client care; and
  • professional practice skills.

In addition, apprentices gain knowledge of law and practice appropriate to their role and the pathway selected.

The skills component of the apprenticeship covers areas, such as:

  • business structures, regulatory requirements and ethics;
  • communication and confidentiality;
  • drafting legal documents;
  • managing legal files;
  • planning and managing the apprentice’s own workload;
  • legal research;
  • processing clients’ instructions;
  • costs and billing;
  • contributing effectively to teamwork; and
  • maintaining and developing knowledge and skills.

In terms of how this translates into tangible legal work, paralegal apprentices can expect to work with solicitors and clients on various aspects of transactions, prepare written correspondence, field and make calls, oversee filing and take responsibility for ensuring that confidentiality is maintained across all written communications.

Assessment format will likely vary between providers. Paralegal apprentices will be assessed throughout the 24-month course via written assessments and exams. Apprentices must also build a portfolio – this is a collection of evidence detailing all the things the apprentice has experienced to meet the competency requirements. 

What qualification do I gain?

Paralegal apprentices will gain a level 3 qualification.

In February, the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) was chosen as the End Point Assessment Organisation (EPAO) for the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard.

NALP’s Chief Executive Officer Jane Robson said: “Being an EPAO for the Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship Standard means that we can be fully involved in ensuring that tomorrow’s paralegals have the best foundation of knowledge and skills possible, which is good for all of our members and the profession itself.”

What’s the next step?

Completing the paralegal apprenticeship grants eligibility to progress onto the next stage of apprenticeship or CILEX’s CPQ.

Further training is likely to take the form of a chartered legal executive apprenticeship. Some paralegals may also progress onto the solicitor apprenticeship and complete the SQE to qualify as a solicitor.

Find out more about the CPQ via the CILEX website.

Chartered legal executive apprenticeship

The chartered legal executive apprenticeship is a (usually five-year) programme ending in qualification as a chartered legal executive, a lawyer whose role is similar to that of a solicitor. One important difference between training as a legal executive and training as a solicitor is the flexibility afforded on the legal executive route, where candidates may spread the overall period of study over a long time to keep up with other commitments and responsibilities.

Am I eligible?

The chartered legal executive apprenticeship isn’t designed for new apprentices – it’s aimed at those who’ve already completed the paralegal apprenticeship or, alternatively, a law degree and/or law conversion course.

You must have at least four GCSEs (or equivalent) graded 9 to 4 (A* to C), including maths and English. Completion of the paralegal apprenticeship also grants some exemptions for units you’d otherwise be covering twice on the chartered legal executive apprenticeship.

What does it involve?

Training as a chartered legal executive involves two distinct stages for non-university graduates – the CILEX Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice and the CILEX Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice.

It’s important to note that those wanting to complete the CILEX Level 3 qualification, must have:

  • registered as a CILEX student member by 31 May 2021; and
  • completed the qualification by November 2023.

Apprentices who completed Level 3 by the transition period (November 2023) can move onto the second and final stage of this apprenticeship: the CILEX Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice. On completion, candidates will become a chartered legal executive lawyer.

Apprentices will study six units in total, consisting of one legal practice unit (ie, your chosen practice area) and its associated law unit (eg, civil litigation as the practice unit and contract law as the law unit), plus two other law units from the range of available practice areas, making a total of four. The remaining two units are mandatory – legal research skills and client care skills.

With the introduction of the CPQ, candidates have until November 2026 to complete the Level 6 qualification, according to the CILEX website.

What qualification do I gain?

After the chartered legal executive apprenticeship, candidates will need to pass an end point assessment and complete a period of qualifying employment before applying to become a Fellow of CILEX and a qualified chartered legal executive.

To find out more about the CILEX qualification route, check out this Meet the lawyer profile.

What’s the next step?

None, in terms of further academic study or training – you’re now a practising lawyer! However, if you do want to qualify as a solicitor, you’ll need to pass both stages of the SQE and the SRA’s character and suitability assessment. There are exemptions available for chartered legal executive candidates, so it’s worth checking the SRA website for further details.

For more information on the SQE, head to LCN’s SQE hub.

CILEX Lawyer apprenticeship

The CILEX Lawyer apprenticeship provides specialist training, focusing on the knowledge and skills required to meet the needs of the profession. It's aimed at those wanting to achieve qualified lawyer status, while developing a specific area of specialism. It takes between 36 to 48 months to complete, depending on a candidate's entry point and the route taken (ie, non-contentious or contentious). There are two routes available: the non-contentious route (Level 6 Chartered Legal Executive); and the contentious route (Level 7 Chartered Legal Executive Litigator and Advocate).

Am I eligible?

The CILEX Lawyer apprenticeship is offered to those who've completed the CILEX Paralegal apprenticeship, completed a law degree or the CPQ Foundation stage. 

What does it involve?

Those on the CILEX Lawyer apprenticeship will complete the CPQ and will be required to undertake at least seven hours of off-the-job learning. There will be external CPQ assessments throughout the programme. The end point assessment involves a work-based learning portfolio and those on the contentious route will be required to complete an advocacy skills assessment. 

What qualification do I gain?

The CILEX CPQ will be completed as part of this qualification. 

What’s the next step?

After completing the end point assessment, candidates typically go onto become a CILEX Lawyer, chartered legal executive lawyer or chartered legal executive litigator and advocate. 

Solicitor apprenticeship

This apprenticeship is a six-year programme that integrates studying for a law degree with paid, on-the-job training at a law firm. It ends in qualification as a solicitor – a role that was previously reserved only for those who took the traditional university route.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges (London) LLP was one of the first US-headquartered firms to introduce a solicitor apprenticeship. Mike Francies, the firm’s managing partner in London, recognised that many people in the UK face barriers to entering the legal profession via the traditional route and said the firm is “keen for people to apply as we believe we can offer an exceptional opportunity for our new apprentices to start their legal careers”. Increasingly more firms are introducing this new programme, including three out of the five magic circle law firms. Plus, more than 50 City law firms have joined a new apprenticeship initiative, City Century, which aims to encourage the hiring of at least 100 new solicitor apprentices in London by September 2024.

Eligibility requirements

You need three A levels (minimum grade requirements vary among employers from CCC to AAB), as well as five GCSEs or equivalent qualifications graded 9 to 4 (A* to C), which must include maths and English.

Joanna Stevens, early talent manager at top commercial firm Charles Russell Speechlys LLP, shares what she and her colleagues are looking for in new apprentices: “We want to recruit people who are serious about a career as a solicitor and this programme. Six years is a big commitment so I’m keen to understand not only why you want to apply, but also how you’ve gone about researching the profession to justify that decision. It’s also going to be hard work, as apprentices will be working and studying at the same time, so skills like time management, good communication skills and a proactive approach are really important. Although you’ll be working hard, it’s a career path that pays off with so many development opportunities alongside our reward and benefits on offer.”

What does it involve?

Solicitor apprentices are trained on the job at a law firm, while the academic side of training is delivered by law schools such as CILEX Law SchoolBPP University Law School and The University of Law.

For the first few years, apprentices will work towards their law degrees, while the final couple of years are likely to be spent working towards taking and passing the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments. The SQE is now the final stage of qualifying as a solicitor that all candidates must pass, whether they’ve taken the apprenticeship route or another path.

In April 2023, Damar Training and BARBRI announced a new technology partnership which will combine the pair’s industry expertise to provide the very first solicitor apprenticeship designed specifically for the SQE.  

Lucie Allen, BARBRI’s global managing director, added that the positive response towards the solicitor apprenticeship came as no surprise, as it’s seen as “a robust and credible alternative route to qualify by law firms, in-house legal teams and the wider profession”. 

A solicitor apprentice can expect to undertake a range of tasks that use the full breadth of essential legal skills while working at their law firm day to day. Tasks will likely include:

  • working to help progress transactions and/or cases;
  • using legal knowledge and commercial judgement to find solutions for clients’ needs;
  • interacting with clients and other solicitors; and processing, reviewing and sending important documents.

What qualification do I gain?

Solicitor apprentices gain a law degree and ultimately qualify as solicitors, with potentially very interesting, fulfilling and well-paid careers ahead. “Solicitor apprenticeships are an exciting way of recruiting people into the business,” adds Joanna. “Apprenticeships enable us to identify and then really nurture talent at an early stage. I’m looking forward to seeing our apprentices develop and grow into qualified solicitors over the six-year process, at which point I hope they’ll have built strong relationships across the firm and its clients, and will stay on with us as their careers progress further.”

What’s the next step?

In terms of education and training, once you’ve completed the apprenticeship, including the SQE, there’s no next step – you’re now a fully qualified solicitor! Newly qualified solicitors should have an exciting career path ahead of them, with the option to pursue the popular long-term ambition of becoming partner in a law firm, and plenty of opportunities for further professional development and training.

Samantha Lee is head of recruitment and early talent at full-service national firm Womble Bond Dickinson which has run an apprenticeship programme since 2014 – she outlines the benefits of apprenticeships for firms and apprentices. “At the point at which we launched, it was a relatively new concept in the legal sector, but we had a solid business case,” she explains. “We had a strong desire to do the right thing for our profession and embrace alternative routes to a career in law and qualifications. It was important to us that we were able to give access to those who might not ordinarily have thought a career in law was available to them, or who wanted to get on the career ladder sooner rather than later. University isn't for everyone but that shouldn't be a barrier to those who want, and are able, to pursue a career in law.” 

Graduate solicitor apprenticeship

Graduate apprenticeships are a new and evolving route for aspiring solicitors who already have an undergraduate degree or equivalent. As this route is fairly new, it’s still being developed and may be subject to changes. Graduate apprentices join a firm directly and complete a training programme (much like the two-year training contract). Trainees start gaining on the job experience and earning a salary.

You can find out more about the differences between solicitor and graduate solicitor apprenticeships via this LCN Says article.

Am I eligible?

The entry requirements are a 2.2 degree or above (or equivalent) and GCSE English and Maths at Level C or 4 or above (or equivalent). Some employers set their own entry requirements and may require a 2.1 or higher, so make sure to check their specific criteria before you apply.

What does it involve?

This route can take between two to three years and often involves a firm working with a preferred provider to deliver the educational aspect of the apprenticeship (eg, an SQE preparation course). As with solicitor apprenticeships, around 20% of a trainee’s time must be spent doing off-the-job training. For example, you may have a block release for study, or have one day a week dedicated to off-the-job study, with the four remaining days dedicated to the required work-based element of the apprenticeship.

Naturally, these vary but The University of Law specifies that its graduate apprenticeship has a particular focus on the skills of:

  • interviewing;
  • advocacy;
  • case and matter analysis;
  • legal research;
  • legal writing; and
  • drafting.

This is alongside the many other different skills and competencies that are required of a solicitor. At the end of the apprenticeship, trainees qualify by completing the SQE1 and SQE2 assessments.

What qualification do I gain?

Just as you would if you completed the traditional training contract route, once you’ve passed the SQE exams, have passed the SRA’s character and suitability assessment and successfully applied for admission to the roll of solicitors, you become a qualified solicitor.

Barrister apprenticeship

The barrister apprenticeship is expected to be launched by spring 2024. The programme is currently being designed by a collaborative group, which includes:

Barrister apprenticeships are expected to improve access to the legal profession as the existing route comes at a significant cost, with fees for university sitting at £9,250 and up to £19,000 for the required Bar courses.

An alternative to full-time study

Legal apprenticeships offer a vital option for people who are interested in a career in law, but don’t want to go through the traditional university route for reasons such as financial circumstances, or not feeling like they’d enjoy a purely academic environment. Grace Ambrose, graduate recruitment and development manager at Mayer Brown International LLP, explains that: “Our apprentices are valued members of the firm, applying what they learn to real, practical work as they increase in confidence, responsibility and independence on the path to becoming fully qualified lawyers.”

However, embarking on a legal apprenticeship is a big commitment in terms of time and effort.  An apprenticeship can also limit your options more than the traditional university route (eg, where a degree can be a platform from which to launch a range of different possible careers after graduating), so it’s important to give real thought to what you want from your future career before applying for an apprenticeship place.

Ellie Nicholl (she/her) is a content and engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.