The legal profession is beginning to realise that a law degree is not the only route to a legal career. Research by the National Apprenticeship Service shows that 77% of employers who already have apprentices believe that apprenticeships make individuals more competitive and 88% believe that they lead to a more motivated workforce.
This enthusiasm for apprenticeships grew significantly in 2013 with several firms launching their own formal schemes, including Shoosmiths and Thomas Eggar – the latest firms to launch an apprenticeship program for school leavers. Not only did the new Higher Apprenticeships in Legal Services launch in March, which is equivalent to the first year of a degree, but the government also announced that it may be possible to enrol on apprenticeships equivalent to bachelors and masters degrees as early as this year. So what do these legal apprenticeships involve and why are they on the rise?
A legal apprenticeship is quite simply an alternative to the traditional law degree. As a legal apprentice, you can receive professional training with a law firm or in-house legal department whilst earning a salary. These apprenticeships offer a number of different training opportunities from various providers for existing and new members of staff. They offer a combination of on-the-job training and nationally recognised qualifications. Within the legal sector, they are available in legal administration and legal services.
In most cases, an apprentice will join a law firm straight from school to work in a role similar to that of a paralegal. Most of these apprentices will also receive on-the-job training that directs them towards a formal qualification, for example as a legal executive through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Various schemes have been launched over the past few years including a scheme by the Co-op, an early adopter of the ABS model, who has announced that it will create 3,000 new jobs in the legal services sector, many of which will be apprenticeships. Clearly the emphasis here is on helping school leavers get into work, combined with training them and giving them essential skills needed in order to progress further up the career ladder.
There are many providers who offer the legal apprenticeship, including: Damar Training, Skills for Justice, Pearson in Practice, CILEx and The National Apprenticeship Service, all of whom are also partners in launching the new Higher Apprenticeships in Legal Services scheme. All of these providers are naturally very enthusiastic about this ‘new breed’ of apprenticeship pathway. It is difficult not to share in their enthusiasm when you think about the number of LPC-graduate paralegals that would have been much better off just going straight into work and establishing themselves in fee-earning roles sooner, with much less debt to pay off.
Apprenticeships are on the rise for a number of reasons, mainly due to the benefits they provide for both the employer and the prospective apprentice. For the employer, it gives them a chance to teach their potential employees the skills and attributes which they desire for the firm. In other words, it gives them a firm opportunity to tailor-make employees. This idea of tailor-making perfect employees to fit the firm’s mould sounds very appealing to employers; however it could bring with it a sense of restrictiveness for those employees who wish to move onto different firms after completing their apprenticeships. Hilary Yeo, a graduate recruitment partner at Plexus Law, a firm that has just taken on seven new apprentices, disagrees. She believes that the skill sets learned from legal apprenticeships would be very transferable. The transferable skills gained from these apprenticeships may be worrying for employers looking to keep their perfectly molded employees.
However, Yeo believes working closely with apprentices and providing high quality support and mentoring, as well as offering pathways to senior roles and partnership, will lead to most employees hopefully staying for the long-term after ‘growing up’ with their firm.
For those looking to enter the legal profession, the main benefit is quite clear. With the estimated overall cost of entering the profession through university at around £100,000, including living expenses, it is no wonder why those seeking a legal career are looking towards apprenticeships. It has also been expressed by Supreme Court President Lord Neuberger that a strictly university-based route to the legal profession presents a significant threat to the diversity of the profession. In a speech on reforming legal education in November, Neuberger expressed that ‘a less diverse profession is an impoverished one’ that is unable to ‘reflect and support a flourishing democracy committed to the rule of law’. All the more reason for firms hosting the new apprenticeship schemes and the legal profession in general to be hopeful for the future.
It is no surprise that the legal profession is introducing these innovative apprenticeships with the way tuition fees are following the coalition government’s choice to triple the fees. School leavers are now realising the harsh fact that not only is university extremely expensive and guaranteed to leave a hefty debt, but there is no guarantee of employment at the end of their degree. It is expected that this harsh reality would trigger a weighing up of options amongst those wishing to enter the competitive profession. With all the benefits legal apprenticeships bring and the lack of costly complications, it is no wonder that this route to a legal career is becoming all the more appealing to the aspiring lawyer.
It appears that the profession is coming to a vast realisation that a law degree, though not without its merits, is not the only route and possibly not the easiest route to progressing into a legal career.