Solicitor Apprenticeships: What You Need to Know
I am a firm advocate for greater diversity within the legal industry, and this includes encouraging those from different socio-economic backgrounds to enter the profession. This is a cause close to my heart because I come from a low-income household, I am the only person in my family to attend university, and I had to maintain multiple jobs throughout my studies simply to afford to live. In these situations, it can be hard for students to devote as much time to their studies as, for example, their financially secure counterparts, and it can impact their grades and subsequent job prospects as a result.
Solicitor apprenticeships are an excellent way of earning money while you learn and gain experience at the same time. However, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of direction or promotion of this option in the legal industry, and I wonder whether this is a reluctance to change, a lack of understanding or a mixture of much more nuanced issues. Either way, this article hopes to clarify some key points about the process.
If you want to become a solicitor, paralegal, probate technician or chartered legal executive, then a Solicitor Apprenticeship might be an option for you.
While you are an apprentice, you will spend 20% of your time studying (this could be one work day a week or spread out over the week, as your employer decides) with the remaining time working within the firm. The apprenticeship can last from 5 to 6 years and include a variety of work.
The difficulty is that each firm may have different entry requirements for its individual schemes. However, the government’s minimum requirements are:-
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- 5 x GCSEs, including maths and English at grade C or above (or equivalent); and
- 3 x A Levels (or equivalent) at grade C or above (or equivalent).
Alternatively (or additionally), you may also have the following which meet the requirements:-
- Relevant employer-led work experience;
- Level 3 Advanced or Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in a relevant occupation (i.e. legal services, providing financial services etc.); and/or
- Law degree/graduate diploma in Law/LPC.
If you are a law firm considering adding additional requirements to your apprenticeship schemes, really consider whether these will put in place similar roadblocks to those from diverse backgrounds as the ‘traditional’ route. If those requirements do create obstacles, I would encourage you to reconsider your apprenticeship stipulations.
Like trainee solicitors using the ‘traditional’ routes to qualifying, Solicitor Apprentices will be required to sit the SQE1 (written multiple choice exam to test legal understanding) and SQE2 (practical assessment of interviewing and giving advice to Clients) before they qualify as a solicitor.
The costs of the SQE1 and SQE2 should be paid by your employers. At larger firms (annual pay bill of £3 million or more), they can recoup some of these costs through the apprenticeship levy imposed on them. This is perhaps why we are seeing the Apprenticeship route being adopted primarily by larger city firms. If you do not pay the apprenticeship levy (because you are a smaller firm), you pay 5% towards the cost of training and assessing your apprentice, and the government will pay your training provider the other 95% up to a maximum amount. There are other funding points.
Even if you are a smaller high street firm, I would seriously encourage you to consider the benefits of offering Solicitor Apprentice programmes. Some examples of these benefits include (but are not limited to) the following:-
- It demonstrates a clear commitment to socio-economic diversity within the sector, which fosters a good office culture and allows you to be more representative of the clients you serve;
- It can ensure you retain the apprentices for several years, reducing turnover and providing an opportunity to increase stability and brand loyalty; and
- In the long run, paying an apprentice and their SQE fees might be more cost-effective than regularly hiring for a more expensive paralegal and their recruiter fees every year or so when the said paralegals move on for Training Contracts.
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