Apprenticeships can serve as a route into the legal profession, provide an upskilling tool for existing staff or help to develop skilled staff in the support services of your firm.
Legal apprenticeships offer an alternative way into the legal profession from the study route. Apprenticeships are designed around the employer’s needs and can help your firm to:
- widen the talent pool
- improve retention of staff
- promote social mobility
- develop talent from an earlier age
- increase productivity and employee engagement
Route into the profession
In 2016, four ‘Trailblazer apprenticeships’ were set up in England, replacing earlier legal apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships are a devolved issue in Wales and have been developed separately.
In England it’s possible to qualify as a solicitor, paralegal, probate technician or chartered legal executive by completing an apprenticeship.
For each apprenticeship, there’s:
- a standard, which describes the skills, knowledge and behaviours required
- an assessment plan, which sets out how the apprentice will be assessed during and at the end of their apprenticeship
The table below shows how long each legal apprenticeship takes to complete.
|Apprenticeship level||Years to complete the programme|
|Level 3 – paralegal||2|
|Level 4 – probate technician||2|
|Level 6 – chartered legal executive||5|
|Level 7 – solicitor||5 to 6|
The standards expected of apprentice solicitors are the same as those expected of all solicitors, with rigorous assessments before they are admitted to the profession. In order to qualify, solicitor apprentices will have to pass the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE), which will be the qualifying assessment for all solicitors from autumn 2021.
Some law firms may offer paralegal apprenticeships with the option to progress if candidates perform well and there are opportunities available. For example, a candidate might go on to do an apprenticeship as a solicitor or chartered legal executive.
Apprenticeships in Wales
Welsh apprenticeships have been developed in collaboration with Welsh businesses. You can express your interest in starting an apprenticeship programme at SkillsGateway, which contains information and advice.
A solicitor apprentice must meet the requirements of the level 7 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Practice (Wales).
Apprentices work alongside experienced employees to gain on-the-job skills while receiving outside training from an approved provider.
Training providers work with law firms to develop tailored programmes. Based on your firm’s business requirements and culture, they can:
- advertise your apprenticeship
- provide interview support
- deliver training
If your pay bill is more than £3 million, you’ll contribute 0.5% of the bill to an apprenticeship levy towards the funding of apprenticeships. This applies to less than 2% of UK employers. You must tell HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) how much levy you owe each month.
To find out more about how the apprenticeships levy works, watch our free webinar: LawTalk: Apprenticeships levy - making the most of the levy for City firms
Once you’ve declared the levy to HMRC, you can access funding for apprenticeships by registering for an apprenticeship service account online with GOV.UK.
If your firm does not have to pay the levy, you share the cost of training and assessing your apprentices with the government. This is called ‘co-investment’ and is paid by the training provider, who will invoice you.
For new starters from 1 April 2019, the rate of government co-investment has increased from 90% to 95%. You’ll only need to contribute the remaining 5%. Firms still pay the 10% government rate of co-investment for apprentices who started before 1 April 2019.
You must meet in full any costs above the funding band limit for any particular apprenticeship. The training provider will invoice you directly for this.
Funding, including levy contributions, can only be spent on training, education and assessment, including the final assessment, and cannot be used for wages or incidental costs, such as travel.
Use the funding calculator to estimate:
- your levy spend
- how much funding your firm will have available to spend on apprenticeships
- how much the government will contribute towards the cost of training
The funding available will depend on what proportion of your pay bill is paid to employees living in England.
The levy is collected across the whole of the UK by HMRC through the PAYE system.
You can transfer some of your apprenticeship funding to another firm. This gives employers more flexibility and helps larger employers to support apprenticeships in smaller organisations.
The allowance is 25% of your annual funding, which is calculated from the total amount of levy declared during the previous tax year. You can find out what your transfer allowance is on your online apprenticeship account.
Watch our free podcast to find out more about how the transfer works.
Funding in Wales
The Welsh government delivers its apprenticeship programme through the Welsh apprenticeship provider network.
Employing an apprentice
You must sign an apprenticeship agreement with your apprentice.
This gives details of what you agree to do for them, including:
- how long you’ll employ them
- the training you’ll give them
- their working conditions
- the qualifications they’re working towards
You can write your own agreement or use a template.
You must pay an apprentice the minimum apprenticeship salary but you can pay them more if you wish.
Legal sector apprenticeships – information for candidates on becoming an apprentice
Apprenticeships in the legal sector guide (PDF 1.6 MB) – our guide to hiring an apprentice
How to prepare for apprenticeships – Law Gazette article covering topics such as costs and building relationships with training providers
Law Management Section article discussing benefits and challenges of taking on legal apprentices
Three myths about apprenticeships – includes case studies from law firm Hillyer McKeown
Apprenticeship Ambassador Network – employer group promoting apprenticeships in England