Legal Apprenticeships – changing the way the next generation enter the legal profession

Tim Maddison, Head of Law, North East, BPP University Law School gives the lowdown on Legal Apprenticeships

Legal apprenticeships are still a relatively new route into the legal profession but are fast becoming a pathway to rival the well-travelled “traditional” university and LPC route. 

As we move into the new regulatory landscape of the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) and Qualifying Work Experience, this means of recruiting and developing junior lawyers is establishing itself as a viable alternative to the traditional training contract model

Our first cohort of legal apprentices started in 2016 and will qualify in 2022. The number of firms (of all shapes and sizes) and apprentices are growing. In just five years we have seen an increase from 70 legal apprentices (from 16 employers) to more than 600 (from over 100 different employers).

We are seeing a cultural shift taking place with highly capable students from a variety of backgrounds making a deliberate choice to follow the apprenticeship route.

There are obvious benefits to law firms from a financial, diversity, talent and retention perspective. Legal apprenticeships also genuinely create greater access into the profession.

We have been able to diversify our talent, taking on people who would never have applied for a training contract, and this has also been hugely valuable to the business.”

Burges Salmon

What is a legal apprenticeship? Put simply, it involves a combination of time in the workplace and study. Apprentices must have 20% of their time ring fenced for “off the job learning”. This would usually take the form of a study day in an apprentice’s working week. The remaining time would be spent in the workplace. At the end of the programme, apprentices sit an End Point Assessment; for

solicitor apprenticeships, this is the assessment that all solicitors will eventually need to pass as a requirement for qualification, the SQE.

“The benefits have been enormous.  We have recruited employees who are talented, loyal, committed, hard- working and appreciate the investment we have made in them.”

Bevan Brittan

What types of legal apprenticeship are there?

BPP are able to offer apprenticeship models for both post A-Level and graduate entry apprentices. These include the:

  • Paralegal apprenticeship;
  • Solicitor apprenticeship (gaining an LLB (Hons)); and
  • Graduate entry solicitor apprenticeship.

The apprenticeships vary in length and provide different options and flexibility for both the employer and apprentice.

What are the costs of an apprenticeship?

Unlike the traditional route, the apprentice does not pay anything towards their training. The cost is covered by the employer. 

If the employer has a wage bill of £3 million or more then it will be paying the apprenticeship    levy which is used to pay for the training. Non-levy paying employers are able to access government funding to cover 95% of the cost of the training.

Of course, the employer also has to pay the apprentice a wage which must be at least the national minimum wage.

Why should you think about legal apprenticeships?

Employers are able to grow their own talent and really shape the career of their junior lawyers, who arrive full of enthusiasm and drive.

Starting out with a firm and spending the next six years with them fosters a real sense of loyalty and helps with retention.

“Experience is a desirable skill within this industry and this route enables me to learn from a curriculum and legal professionals in the everyday environment.”

Bobby Jo Doherty, Paralegal Apprentice, Carpenters Solicitors

One of the key features of the post-A-Level apprenticeships is that they do not involve undertaking a traditional undergraduate degree. This opens up the profession to people who might not necessarily have been able to go down that route encouraging diversity and social mobility. Indeed, it is no coincidence that six of our legal apprentice employers were ranked in the top 75 firms for social mobility in the UK (all sectors) in the 2020 Social Mobility Index.

It is a cost-effective method of recruitment and gives employers the advantage of being able to compete for and attract talent by being able to pay for their education. By the time the apprentice is three or four years into the programme, many are taking on the roles and responsibilities of a newly qualified solicitor – just imagine where they will be when they do qualify!

It is a great way of progressing existing members of the team.

With the SQE coming into force later this year, the apprenticeship model (whether school leaver or graduate entry) can provide a solution to potential recruitment issues brought about by this new qualification.

As a firm, what do I need to think about?

Like any form of recruitment, selecting the right candidate is vital. At BPP our experienced recruitment team offer a free service and will work with firms throughout the recruitment process. It is also important to develop a training plan for the apprentices, thinking about where they

are going to be placed in the business and how they will progress.

We see apprenticeships as a partnership between ourselves and employers, ensuring that apprentices (and supervisors) are fully supported from start to finish.

“I will qualify with 7 years’ experience, doing the same work as many trainees, NQs, and solicitors with more PQE.

We’ve all heard the complaints about student debt. Apprenticeships can make law a feasible career path for some students who might not otherwise be able to consider it: young people who might be the next Lady Hale but simply can’t afford the university route.”

Tegan Johnson, Solicitor Apprentice, Kennedys

How do I find out more?

You can email to arrange a chat.

Tim Maddison is the Head of Law, North East at BPP Education Group