Three new apprenticeship schemes have opened up new routes into the legal profession. Jessie Barwick looks at the advantages for apprentices, firms and the legal profession.
The government's commitment to creating three million new apprenticeships by 2020 has shaken up education and training across the UK, and generated alternative avenues into several professions. Law is no exception – aspiring legal practitioners can now qualify through three new ‘Trailblazer' apprenticeship standards as solicitors, chartered legal executives or paralegals.
The Law Society supports alternative routes into the solicitor profession, as long as they meet the high standards of the current routes to qualification. Most employers that have embraced these new apprenticeships have decided to include a part-time law degree within the solicitor apprenticeship, and candidates will still be expected to pass qualifying exams. The new routes offer some real benefits to firms and in-house legal departments, and offer a practical and affordable alternative for those considering a career in the law.
We offer a range of support to employers considering taking on legal apprentices. We'll be hosting a series of events, in Birmingham (6 March), Cardiff (6 March) and Manchester (16 March), to mark National Apprenticeship Week (from 6-10 March), covering everything an employer may need to know about recruiting, training and supporting an apprentice. And In September 2016, we produced a booklet on apprenticeships, including a step-by-step guide to taking on an apprentice and profiles of several employers and legal apprentices. In this article, I pull out some of the highlights of the booklet to give firms an idea of what's involved in taking on an apprentice, and help you decide if this is the route for you.
Benefits for firms
The firms that we featured in the apprenticeship booklet were unanimous in their enthusiasm for the apprenticeship route. Sally Swift, head of legal support services for Browne Jacobson, said: 'Apprentices raise the game in terms of making a business take their learning seriously and bringing fresh people and ideas into a business.'
Many key figures now view the apprenticeship route as being on a par with the trainee route. Stephanie Challinger, Eversheds' graduate recruitment adviser, echoed the optimism of colleagues when she said: 'Generally, our view is that apprentices will be in a much stronger position than a traditional trainee. They're learning how to act in a business [and] making contacts from when they're 18.'
Future-proofing your business
Trailblazer standards allow employers to tailor apprentice training to meet the needs of their business. Having this flexibility allows employers to think about the future needs of their business, and adapt apprentice training to build the skillsets that it's going to need, rather than replicating those it already has.
Several firms featured in the booklet recognise apprenticeships as a real opportunity to remain competitive in a rapidly changing legal services market – particularly with respect to technology. Nicola Standley from Kennedys observed that apprentices bring a fresh perspective. 'They are really interested in changing things and using technology to their advantage.'
Mike Potter from Addleshaw Goddard sees 'a huge opportunity within the profession to apply technology in new and innovative ways' and with it, an opportunity to tap into the skills and attitudes of young people, who have grown up using technology and are willing to approach things in a different way.
'There's a role for apprentices to play in translating what new and existing technologies are capable of, and applying it to the work we're doing,' said Mark. 'One of our existing apprentices is involved in working with our new AI provider – she's 'training the robot'. She's gaining skills that are going to be really, really valuable but, importantly, she's bringing skills to the firm that we don't already have.'
Apprenticeships also offer an opportunity to ensure that you're finding the best and brightest talent from a broad range of different backgrounds. Providing legal services for increasingly diverse domestic and international communities means employers are searching for candidates who have varied backgrounds and experiences which are relevant to their business needs.
Stephanie Challinger noted that one of the key drivers for Eversheds in deciding to take on apprentices was to 'widen participation and to look into talent pools that we hadn't previously tapped into' in order to ensure the firm was well-equipped to meet the future needs of clients. As academic and University of Oxford vice-chancellor Louise Richardson noted: 'In an increasingly complex world, the best may not be those who look and sound like ourselves… Those with the greatest potential may not be those who have already attained the most. We need to seek them out.'
Benefits for apprentices
The government hopes that legal apprenticeships will open up the profession and increase diversity, by removing some of the barriers to pursuing a career in law. The Law Society's Junior Lawyers Division has been vocal in raising concerns about the ever-increasing cost of qualifying as a solicitor, and the deterrent effect this may have on capable candidates who are unable or unwilling to incur those costs. The costs of an apprenticeship are met by the state and the employer, so the pathway is significantly more affordable than the traditional route.
Sophie Fisher, solicitor apprentice at Kennedy's, said: 'I had applied to uni to do law and got all my offers, but I thought this was a better way. They pay for all my exams, they pay me, I get a study allowance… it definitely seemed like the better option.'
Apprenticeships are also a good option for those who are ready to get straight into the workforce. Emma Stokes, legal apprentice at the BBC, told us: 'An apprenticeship appealed because I would be learning not only about law, but about how law works within a business. I liked the idea of working and learning at the same time, because it meant that I wouldn't be stopping my academic progress, but I would be earning money as well.'
The firms we have spoken to are really excited about the individuals coming into their firms through the apprenticeship route, and the potential this brings to their business. By 2030, who knows? Perhaps most solicitors will be qualifying this way!
Find out more about legal apprenticeships
Download our booklet 'The apprenticeship route into law'
Download our guidance for legal sector employers on funding for legal apprenticeships
Register for our events on apprenticeships in Birmingham (6 March), Cardiff (6 March) and Manchester (16 March)