17 November 2012
Apprenticeships in legal services are a fairly new concept for the job market, with the title traditionally referring only to skills or trade roles. But in the past year, a number of law firms have begun to jump on the legal apprenticeship bandwagon, introducing several options for school leavers to earn while they learn.
Although the story of legal apprenticeships is yet to be written, clearly they are giving university-type training a run for their money by offering a cost-effective alternative to the traditional route into law.
To date Browne Jacobson, Co-operative Legal Services, DWF, Gordons, Irwin Mitchell, Kennedys, Minster Law, Plexus Law and Pinsent Masons have rolled out legal apprentice schemes, with the majority choosing to harness the knowledge and expertise of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (Cilex) to deliver the academic side of the training.
This combined route can act as a substitute for A-levels, a degree and the professional training course requirement, giving school leavers the opportunity to dive headfirst into a legal career while learning the theoretical elements simultaneously.
Why do it?
From September 2012, a number of universities are boosting their tuition fees up to £9,000 per year, while we are forever being reminded that the number of jobs available for graduates is tight. For aspiring lawyers the potential debt continues to rack up through training, with many students having to fork out for the cost of the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and the Legal Practice Course (LPC), not to mention living expenses.
Legal apprenticeships offer school leavers a debt-free career path. The law firms put up the £6,900 cost of CILEx as well as covering the full cost of other training needs. What’s more, the budding lawyer’s entry-level salary could go towards any living expenses.
The average salary for a legal apprentice is difficult to predict at this time, although the national minimum wage for apprentices dictates a minimum salary of £2.60 per hour. DWF pays its apprentices £10,000 per annum, while first-year trainees at the firm receive a salary of £25,000.
Admittedly the salary is markedly lower than a trainee solicitor’s, but it is easy to forget that a 16 to 18-year-old apprentice could have between five and six years head-start in a law firm.
Type of work
Most apprentices to date have reported undertaking some similar work to trainee solicitors within their firm, although apprentices do not have to complete seat-rotation like trainees, allowing them to spend longer in a department they enjoy.
However, as an entry-level member of staff, apprentices will be required to complete more administrative work before gaining a paralegal status. Once a paralegal, they normally get the opportunity to get stuck into legal work while learning the theoretical side with Cilex.
To find out about apprenticeship opportunities, students can contact Cilex directly to see which law firms are partnered with it. However, if you are not that interested in gaining Cilex qualifications but fancy the idea of a career as a paralegal, it is worth contacting local law firms directly to see if they offer any ad hoc positions.
Also, keep an eye on the legal press. Lawyer 2B, for example, has a list of law firms on its website as well as news stories about new apprenticeship opportunities.
Why not to do it
A legal executive in practice continues to tread a fine line between those who are treated as equal fee-earners and enjoy similar levels of autonomy to their solicitor colleagues, and those who negotiate the more difficult terrain of subordinate professionalism, such as being seen as either a failed solicitor or glorified legal secretary or paralegal.
However, those who have gone down the traditional route into law do often remark that it lacks the necessary hands-on experience from day one, and focuses too heavily on the theoretical side of law.
Standing in the profession
As many are aware, there is still a relatively large degree of snobbery in the profession, which can ultimately put people off alternative career paths.
That said, developments from the ratification of the Legal Services Act 2007 and the introduction of legal disciplinary practices (LDPs) have boosted the reputation of legal executives recently.
Further up the career ladder greater numbers of legal executives are receiving partner status, with more than 200 partners across Cilex. Legal executives can also now gain their own advocacy rights and even apply for certain judicial appointments.
As legal executives, the apprentices also have the opportunity to transfer to solicitor status should they wish to do so. However, most qualified legal executives see little point in this.