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Law Apprenticeships Guide

What's a law apprenticeship?

updated on 13 March 2024


Apprenticeships in the legal sector have been gaining momentum over 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 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. You can qualify as a solicitor through the apprenticeship route, meaning that this is a viable alternative to university and its associated tuition fees. 

Over the years an increasing number of firms have pledged their support to external apprenticeship schemes or launched their own. Apprenticeships are certainly here to stay.

Last year, more than 50 City law firms joined a new apprenticeship initiative, City Century, which aims to encourage the hiring of at least 100 new solicitor apprentices in London in year.

Find out more about this initiative via LCN’s News.

As well as several firms introducing new graduate solicitor apprenticeships in line with the SQE, the number of firms offering solicitor apprenticeships is also on the rise. Most recently, Shoosmiths revealed its plans for a new solicitor apprenticeship pilot scheme to run from the firm’s Birmingham office from September 2024. Meanwhile, magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP is set to recruit its first solicitor apprentices in September 2025, joining Linklaters LLP and Allen & Overy LLP as the third magic circle law firm to embrace this alternative route.

You can read more about the changes via LCN’s News and find out about the difference between a solicitor and graduate apprenticeship via this LCN Says.

On top of the movement on the solicitor side of the profession, there has also been increased talk regarding barrister apprenticeships, which are set to be introduced this year. The programme is currently being designed by a collaborative group made up of:

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. Aspiring lawyers can start as a paralegal apprentice before progressing onto a solicitor apprenticeship to qualify as a solicitor.

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 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 they take 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. As such, it's open to those who’ve completed a law degree or a Graduate Diploma in Law.

How much will I earn?

As of April 2023, the national minimum wage for an apprentice is £5.28 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 £6.40 as of April 2024.

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?

Intermediate 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.

Paralegal apprenticeship

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 or as a steppingstone onto the Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeships to qualify as a CILEX Lawyer.

Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeship

The Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeships offer a route to qualify as a CILEX Lawyer. CILEX Lawyers specialise in an area of law from the start, and once qualified hold equal standing to solicitors in their area of law, with full practice rights. CILEX delivers apprenticeships through CILEX Law School. Candidates must first complete the paralegal apprenticeship before progressing onto this.

CILEX delivers the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) – practical qualifications which combine legal knowledge with the skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers now and in the future.

You can find out more about the CPQ via CILEX’s LCN page.

Solicitor apprenticeship

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.

Graduate apprenticeship

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 the actual structure will likely vary 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 2024 online for more information on legal apprenticeships.

Meet Cyril, a solicitor apprentice at Mayer Brown.

Meet Esther, a third-year solicitor apprentice at law firm Mayer Brown International LLP.

Take a look at our checklist of skills you’ll need to become a legal apprentice.