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updated on 21 February 2023
Apprenticeships in the legal sector have been gaining momentum for the past couple of years. The traditional route to being a lawyer has been challenged by, among other things, the apprenticeship levy, the rise of legal executives, increasing paralegal numbers, alternative business structures (ABS) and most recently the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE).
Combine this with university tuition fee hikes, which further increase the appeal of starting a career in law without the need for an expensive degree, and it's plain to see that the legal landscape is currently undergoing a massive shake-up.
Find out more about the SQE via LCN’s SQE hub.
Apprenticeships enable you to ‘earn while you learn’, gaining professional legal qualifications while working in paid employment at a law firm or in-house legal team. It’s now possible to qualify as a solicitor through the apprenticeship route, meaning that this is a viable alternative to university and its associated tuition fees.
In the past six years an increasing number of firms have been pledging their support to external apprenticeship schemes or launching their own. Apprenticeships are certainly here to stay.
Most recently, Hill Dickinson LLP has partnered with The University of Law to deliver a brand-new graduate solicitor apprenticeship programme, which will replace the firm’s traditional trainee model and see future joiners prepare for the SQE with The University of Law before joining the firm as solicitor apprentices.
You can read more about these changes via LCN’s News and find out about the difference between a solicitor and graduate apprenticeship via this LCN Says.
What’s a law apprenticeship?
A law apprenticeship combines paid work and training at a law firm with part-time study for professional qualifications. It’s an alternative path to going to university that offers the same career destinations but avoids the expensive fees. Some apprenticeships take 18 months to complete, but the more advanced levels provide training over five or six years – around the same amount of time as it would take to qualify through the university route.
Why has there been an increase in legal apprenticeships?
In April 2017 the government introduced the apprenticeship levy which means that all businesses that make more than £3 million a year must spend a proportion of their profits on training apprentices. Many law firms have launched their own ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship schemes to open the doors of their businesses and allow aspiring lawyers to join the firm without having gone to university.
In addition, the introduction of the SQE from 2021 means that the way future solicitors are trained has become more flexible, meaning that firms have been introducing apprenticeships for school leavers and graduates alike, allowing them to be trained in-house before taking the SQE to qualify as a solicitor.
Who can become an apprentice?
To become an apprentice, you must be 16 or over, not in full-time education and a UK citizen/someone who has right of residency in the UK. Most legal apprenticeships require five GCSEs (or equivalent) graded A* to C (9 to 4), while many paralegal apprenticeships also require two to three A levels graded C or above. The solicitor apprenticeship usually requires three A levels graded B or above (or equivalent work experience) – although minimum grade requirements may vary.
The graduate apprenticeship has been designed for, you guessed it, graduates so is open to those who’ve completed a law degree or a Graduate Diploma in Law.
How much will I earn?
As of April 2022 the national minimum wage for an apprentice is £4.81 an hour for people aged under 19, as well as for people aged over 19 who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. This rate is set to increase to £5.28 as of April 2023.
You must be paid at least the minimum wage rate for your age if you’re an apprentice aged 19 or over and have completed your first year. That said, employers in the legal services sector will usually pay significantly more than that.
What are the different types of legal apprenticeship?
The intermediate apprenticeship is aimed at school leavers who haven’t done A levels. Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent. Apprentices will develop skills to assist in the progression of cases on an administrative level. It’s usually a 15 to 21-month course.
The paralegal apprenticeship delivers paralegal training in a particular legal practice area. Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded 9 to 4 (A* to C) and three A levels graded C or above (or equivalent). It’s a 24-month course and can lead on to further training via the solicitor apprenticeship route to qualify as a solicitor. It’s also possible to go on to qualify as a chartered legal executive, although smaller numbers of paralegals take this route.
Chartered legal executive apprenticeship
A legal executive is another type of lawyer who’s trained to specialise as an expert in one particular area of law. Within that specialism, the job of a legal executive is very similar to that of a solicitor – legal executives advise clients, draft documents and conduct research to find solutions to problems. The chartered legal executive apprenticeship is run by the Chartered Institute of Legal Apprenticeships (CILEX) and trains apprenticeships to qualify as a chartered legal executive. Candidates must first complete the paralegal apprenticeship before progressing onto this.
CILEX has recently launched the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) – a new approach to on-the-job training which marries legal knowledge with the practical skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers in the 2020s.
You can find out more about the CPQ via CILEX’s LCN page.
The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme of paid, on-the-job training ending in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are five GCSEs graded 9 to 4 (A* to C) and three A levels (minimum grades vary among employers from CCC to AAB) or equivalent work experience. The apprenticeship also integrates a law degree, which is obtained at the end of the fourth year.
Apprentices learn law and legal practice alongside gaining competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct. For the first few years, apprentices will work towards their law degrees, while the final couple of years are likely to be working towards the SQE – the final centralised stage of qualifying as a solicitor that all candidates must pass, whether they’ve taken the apprenticeship route or another path.
Several firms have developed graduate apprenticeship programmes, which can take between two and three years to complete. It works in a very similar way to the traditional training contract but means firms can make use of the apprenticeship levy to fund the training and assessments. Eligible candidates include those who’ve completed a law degree, or a non-law degree and a law conversion course.
It involves on-the-job training and preparation for the SQE assessments but it’s likely that the actual structure will vary from firm to firm. Much like solicitor apprentices, graduate apprentices must also pass the SQE to qualify as a solicitor.
Find out more about graduate apprenticeships in this LCN Says.
Where can I find legal apprenticeship vacancies?
For the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of legal apprenticeship opportunities across the UK, look to our list of current vacancies. You can use our search tool to search for the types of apprenticeship you’re interested in, in the area you’d like to work.
Want to know more?
Read The Law Apprenticeships Guide 2023 online for more information on legal apprenticeships.
Meet Esther, a third-year solicitor apprentice at law firm Mayer Brown International LLP.
Meet Millie, a paralegal apprentice at RPC.
Take a look at our checklist of skills you’ll need to become a legal apprentice.