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You don't have to go to university to start a career in the legal profession - a legal apprenticeship provides the opportunity to gain qualifications while in paid work, through on-the-job training at a law firm. It's important to note that university tuition and maintenance loans are available and you don't have to start paying them back until you are in a job paying at least £21,000 a year, so high fees should not necessarily put you off higher education, but there are many reasons why you might decide that going to university is not right for you and a legal apprenticeship is a genuine - and free - alternative.
Apprentices develop skills and knowledge, and gain qualifications that lead to practising as a chartered legal executive - a type of lawyer who does similar work to a solicitor.
Earn and learn
To become a legal apprentice, you must be 16 or over, not in full-time education and a UK citizen/someone who has right of residency in the United Kingdom. You must also not be a university graduate. As mentioned above, you don't have to pay toward the cost of an apprenticeship yourself - you will be fully funded by the government if you are under 19, with your employer picking up a proportion of the cost after that. The minimum wage for a legal apprentice is £3.40 an hour (as of 1 October 2016) for people aged under 19, as well as for people aged over 19 who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. All other apprentices over the age of 19 are entitled to the National Minimum Wage - CILEx Law School reports that legal apprentices are paid £170 a week on average but “most employers in the legal services sector pay above that rate".
There are currently three separate levels of legal apprenticeship, run by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) in conjunction with law firms.
Level 2 intermediate apprenticeship in legal administration
This apprenticeship is designed for school leavers, taking a minimum of one year to complete. It includes learning about the English legal system and skills-based practical training in workplace administration, such as administering a legal case file. For those who gained lower than a C in GCSE English, maths and ICT, the apprenticeship also includes teaching to ensure competence in these subjects. However, it is likely that most law firms will take on apprentices who already have five A*-C grades at GCSE.
Level 3 advanced apprenticeship in legal services
This apprenticeship delivers paralegal competence in five areas of legal practice. It is suitable for school leavers with good A Levels, or as a progression route from Level 2. Level 3 takes 18-24 months to complete. Apprentices choose a practice area to specialise in from a choice of litigation, employment, family, property and private client. From September 2016, it will be replaced by the Trailblazer Paralegal Apprenticeship.
Level 4 higher apprenticeship in legal services
Level 4 is suitable for apprentices who have already completed the CILEx Level 3 qualification or equivalent. Apprentices once again choose a specialism (from personal injury litigation, insolvency and commercial litigation) and gain a CILEx Level 4 Diploma in that area.
Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship
From September 2016, it will be possible to complete a Trailblazer Solicitor Apprenticeship. This is a six-year programme while employed at a law firm that will lead to qualification as a solicitor. Apprentices will gain a law degree, as well as skills in law and legal practice, commerciality and professional conduct.
We are still in the early stages of legal apprenticeships and already many firms, as well as other organisations such as local councils, have taken them up. If you are considering applying for an apprenticeship, you can start your search for the right employer on LawCareers.Net’s apprenticeship board.