What is a law apprenticeship?

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 Legal Education and Training Review in 2013, the rise of legal executives, increasing paralegal numbers, and alternative business structures (ABS). 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.

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 is 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 last five years an increasing number of firms have been pledging their support to external apprenticeship schemes or launching their own. Apprenticeships are here to stay.

What is a law apprenticeship?

A law apprenticeship combines paid work and training at a law firm with part-time study for professional qualifications. It is 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 over £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.

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 United Kingdom. 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 requires three A levels graded C or above.

How much will I earn?

The minimum wage for an apprentice is currently £3.70 an hour for people aged under 19, as well as for people aged over 19 who are in the first year of their apprenticeship. 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.

Paralegal and solicitor apprenticeships are mostly paid well above the minimum wage, with a paralegal apprenticeship in London typically paying around £18,000 a year, and the average annual salary for paralegal apprenticeships in the UK at around £14,500.

What are the different types of legal apprenticeships?

Intermediate apprenticeship

The intermediate apprenticeship is aimed at school leavers who have not done A levels and provides training in a legal administrative role. Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A* to C (or equivalent). Apprentices will learn administrative tasks such as research, secretarial work, working on client files and dealing with confidential information.

Paralegal apprenticeship

The paralegal apprenticeship delivers paralegal training in a particular legal practice area (eg, personal injury). Entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A* to C and two to three A levels graded C or above (or equivalent). It is a 24-month course and can lead on to further training via the solicitor apprenticeship route to qualify as a solicitor. It is also possible to go on to qualify as a chartered legal executive.

Chartered legal executive apprenticeship

A legal executive is another type of lawyer who is trained to specialise as an expert in one particular area of law. Within that area of law, the job of a legal executive is very similar to that of a solicitor – advising clients, drafting documents and conducting research to find solutions to problems. The chartered legal executive apprenticeship is run by CILEx and trains apprenticeships to qualify as a chartered legal executive. Candidates must first complete the paralegal apprenticeship before progressing onto this.

Solicitor apprenticeship

The solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme which integrates a law degree with on-the-job training at a law firm that ends in qualification as a solicitor. The entry requirements are five GCSEs graded A* to C and three A levels graded B or above (or equivalent work experience). Apprentices learn law and legal practice alongside gaining competence in legal skills, commercial skills and professional conduct.

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 would like to work.

Want to know more?

Read The Law Apprenticeships Guide online for more information on legal apprenticeships.

Meet Ellie who is a paralegal apprentice at law firm Irwin Mitchell LLP.

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