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A guide to law apprenticeships

updated on 07 February 2023

A legal apprenticeship is a route to becoming a lawyer that combines a paid job at a law firm with studying for formal qualifications, paid for 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.

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For more information about the different types of legal apprenticeships and your career possibilities as an apprentice, go to The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2023.

Law apprenticeships are designed for aspiring lawyers who want to get straight into the world of work after finishing school. They offer a route to a professional career and a degree to those who want a university degree but are put off by the tuition and maintenance costs. Instead of paying fees, apprentices learn while earning at least the apprenticeship national minimum wage.

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. Below you can find information about each apprenticeship.

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.” 

Am I eligible for a law apprenticeship?

Legal apprenticeships are aimed at people who leave school after completing their A levels or GCSEs, as well as people already 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.

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 for those who took the traditional university route.

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, 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 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 School, BPP University Law School and The University of Law, among others.

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 the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which has replaced the Legal Practice Course (LPC). 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.

A solicitor apprentice can expect to be doing a range of tasks that use the full range 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 young 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, which will now incorporate 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 a partner in a law firm, and lots of opportunities for further professional development and training.

Intermediate apprenticeship

An intermediate apprenticeship (sometimes called a business administration or legal administration apprenticeship) is aimed at school leavers who’ve not done 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 that’s also 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 is the next step?

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

Find out more about the new CPQ and what it involves via LCN and this blog post.

Paralegal apprenticeship

The paralegal apprenticeship trains apprentices in the skills needed to practise in a certain 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 apprenticeship lasts 24 months.

Am I eligible?

The entry requirements are three A levels graded C or above 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 complete 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 practise skills.

Please note, the previous Level 3 Certificate in Law and Practice has recently been replaced by modules from the CPQ Foundation stage.

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 will also need to build a portfolio – the portfolio 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.

What’s the next step?

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

Further training is likely to take the form of a chartered legal executive apprenticeship. It’s also possible to 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 in order 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. You must have five GCSEs (or equivalent) graded 9 to 4 (A* to C), including maths and English, plus three A levels graded C or above. 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?

Please note that the standards below are being updated. A new Level 6 apprenticeship that includes the CPQ will be available in 2023. For now, the following information still applies.

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 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice. The first stage, Level 3, should take around two years to complete full time and involves the following seven compulsory units:

  • introduction to law and practice;
  • contract law;
  • criminal law;
  • land law;
  • tort;
  • client care skills; and
  • legal research skills.

Apprentices then choose another three units to complete for a total of 10; at least two of these must be practice units (eg, the practice of family law and criminal litigation), while one may be from a straight law unit if the apprentice chooses (eg, employment law).

Level 3 assessments involve multiple-choice tests, exams on each unit and practical assessments.

After completing Level 3, candidates move onto the CILEX Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice. Apprentices 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.

What qualification do I gain?

Completion of the Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship results in a Chartered Legal Executive Fellowship, which means that you’re no longer an apprentice but a qualified chartered legal executive.

What is 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 new SQE and pass 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.

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 over two or three years. Trainees start gaining on the job experiences and earning a salary.

Am I eligible?

The entry requirements are a 2.2 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 ad 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 on 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.

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

What qualification do I gain?

Just as you would if you completed the traditional training contract route, once you’ve passed the SQE exams and have passed the SRA’s character and suitability assessment, you become a qualified lawyer.

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. However, embarking on a legal apprenticeship is a big commitment in terms of time and effort, so it’s important to give real thought to what you want from your future career before applying for an apprenticeship place.

An apprenticeship can also limit your options more than the traditional university route, where a degree can be a platform from which to launch a range of different possible careers after graduating, and the university lifestyle can offer a once-in-a-lifetime chance to pursue new ideas and interests, and have a lot of fun while doing so.

Katherine Bryant (she/her) is a content and engagement coordinator at LawCareers.Net.