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The Oracle

Apprenticeship or university?

updated on 07 February 2023

Dear Oracle

I’m considering starting a legal apprenticeship, but are the career prospects the same as the full-time university route? What are the main differences between an apprenticeship and going to university?

The Oracle replies

Reading time: three minutes

Your question is answered in detail in The Law Apprenticeships Guide, which we highly recommend reading before making your decision. Broadly, if you’re interested in the solicitors’ profession, there’s no difference in terms of career prospects between doing an apprenticeship or the traditional university route. In fact, recently 17 firms have agreed to a Legal Apprenticeship Pledge, which you can read more about in our LCN Says: ‘What’s the difference between a solicitor and graduate apprenticeship?’.

However, if you want to become a barrister, your best course of action is to go to university – there’s currently no apprenticeship route to the Bar, although it has previously been discussed. A report from September 2021 suggests that it’s “clear that the apprenticeship route is a viable option to qualifying as a barrister” but there are some “barriers and hurdles” that require addressing. So, watch this space!

Legal apprenticeships are aimed at school leavers (and those already working as paralegals who want to gain some formal qualifications and progress in their careers) as an alternative to university. The high cost of going to university is certainly a reason why people might consider an alternative, while others prefer to get straight into their careers and develop skills within a work environment.

There are several types of legal apprenticeship, all of which involve on-the-job training at a law firm. The different pathways can lead to qualifying as a solicitor or chartered legal executive, as well as a job as a paralegal. If you do a six-year solicitor apprenticeship, you’ll also gain a law degree. Some firms have also recently introduced the graduate solicitor apprenticeship, which takes between two to three years to complete and is aimed at individuals who have a degree, or equivalent qualification.

Find out more about the graduate solicitor apprenticeship in this LCN Says.

All solicitor apprentices will now also be required to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) to qualify as a solicitor.

You can find out more about the SQE via LCN’s SQE hub.

To make your choice, you must decide what type of learning and working lifestyle will suit you best over the next several years. Are you keen to start your career without delay, or do you want to immerse yourself in higher education and all the great benefits that going to university has to offer for a few years (bearing in mind that you’ll likely be repaying your student loans for a long time afterwards)?

Be sure to further research and think about the type of lawyer you want to be, as well as the kind of training that best suits you.

You can see available apprenticeship positions here, and find out what trainee solicitor apprentice Maia Crockford enjoys about her apprenticeship in this LCN Says.

For more advice on choosing between an apprenticeship or university, plus all the apprenticeships info you need to get started, read The Law Apprenticeships Guide.