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Law Apprenticeships Guide

Apprenticeship v university

updated on 18 August 2022

University is the right path for some people because it offers the chance to study an interesting subject in detail and gain a valuable degree that opens career options. University can also be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, filled with opportunities for getting involved in new activities and meeting life-long friends. On the other hand, an apprenticeship offers a more direct path to those same career options, without the costs of going to university or the same intense competition for places.

Apprenticeships are also perfect for people who aren’t keen on more full-time study after finishing their A levels and want to kickstart their careers. It’s important to remember that in the legal profession, you can have the same career whether you choose university or an apprenticeship, which means that your choice is not so much about where you end up, but how you get there – some apprenticeships even involve gaining a university degree.

Find out what life as an apprentice is like with LCN's Meet the Apprentice interviews.

Law apprenticeships lead to three possible careers – solicitor, legal executive or paralegal. All three are also available if you choose to go to university. Find out more about what being a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal involves on pages 4 and 5 in ‘Career paths’. Meanwhile, this table explains some of the key differences between an apprenticeship and going to university.

 

Apprenticeship

University

Qualifications

Professional qualifications to become a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal.

Completing the solicitor apprenticeship also involves gaining a law degree. Apprentices will need to complete the new Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE) assessments to qualify as a solicitor.

A university degree in one of hundreds of possible subjects that’s widely recognised.

For law, a university degree in any subject makes you eligible for the postgraduate professional courses you must complete to become a solicitor, legal executive, paralegal or barrister.

Cost

None to the apprentice – the costs of apprenticeships are covered by the government and employers, while  apprentices themselves are paid at least the apprentices’ National Minimum Wage during their apprenticeship.

With tuition fees standing at more than £9,000 a year and living costs on top of that, many students leave university in tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of debt.

Duration

Eighteen to 24 months for the intermediate apprenticeship, 24 months for the paralegal apprenticeship and six years for the solicitor apprenticeship. It takes four years on average to qualify as a legal executive.

Undergraduate degrees usually last three to four years.

Work experience

Full-time work in a law firm or the legal department of a company or other organisation.

Optional work placements and internships – students interested in law should apply for work experience at law firms.

Social life

As an apprentice working and studying full time, you may miss out on some social opportunities that come with going to university, such as the chance to meet new friends among students from all over the world and enjoy all the experiences that university has to offer. However, offices often have great socialising opportunities too, with plenty of activities to get involved with, and you’re bound to make good friends.

The opportunities for socialising at university are fantastic. From the societies covering everything from political debating to cheerleading, to the thriving music, arts and social scenes at most universities, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Career prospects

Both law apprentices and university graduates can pursue a career as a solicitor, legal executive or paralegal.