Chris Ashford, legal education officer at Irwin Mitchell, put forward the concept of the Modern Legal Apprenticeship (MLA) at a conference last month as a viable alternative to university-based routes into the legal profession.
He said: "The MLA would probably consist of several stages, and an employee could join this 'elevator' at a variety of points, dependent on their age or experience.
"A first stage [could] be a national vocational qualification, followed by Institute of Legal Executives courses, possibly followed by the Legal Practice Course and then possibly an LLM. These would be studied while working for a firm and [could] be delivered on-site by distance-learning, externally or through a virtual learning environment.
"An MLA should not be seen as a simple stage, but as a process that will continue through an employee's working life, allowing them to develop at their own speed and according to their own needs."
Irwin Mitchell originally established its non-traditional framework to provide paralegals with a career path, but Ashford believes it could also help potential lawyers unable to afford university fees to enter the legal profession.
"The old adage 'adapt or die' has perhaps never been truer when applied to aspects of the university sector at present," added Ashford. "These are uncertain times and the threat of long-term decline is all too real. Friend or foe, legal education within practice is a nettle that must be grasped."