A flurry of firms have stated their commitment to recruiting legal apprentices as the profession continues to embrace alternative routes to the law.
National Apprenticeship Week is ongoing and there are now estimated to be at least 1,500 apprentices in the country working towards becoming a solicitor.
Schemes generally last for six years but do not require legal qualifications and effectively allow people to learn on the job whilst receiving a salary.
Among the firms announcing the extension of solicitor apprenticeships this week is national practice Co-op Legal Services, which is taking on five more candidates starting on £22,000 a year. Roles are available in Bristol, Sheffield, Manchester and Stratford-upon-Avon.
The solicitor apprenticeship roles are open to students who have achieved three A-levels and five GCSEs and will be undertaken over a six-year period, with individuals finishing the scheme as a solicitor.
Caoilionn Hurley, managing director of Co-op Legal Services, said: ‘We are working hard to help break down the misconceptions which surround this alternative route, and to showcase that a career in law is not for the privileged few.
‘There is a wealth of positives in the apprenticeship pathway as candidates are able to get hands-on experience from the start of their journey as well as the opportunity to start earning money straight away.’
National firm Irwin Mitchell already has 125 apprentices at various stages of their development and plans to take another cohort from September across accounting, business administration, IT and legal roles.
Lorcan Seery, apprenticeship manager at Irwin Mitchell, said there are still many misunderstandings surrounding entry into the profession.
‘Far from being just for post 16 students, they are a great way for existing employees to upskill; while for students, they compare more favourably with university options than many realise,’ said Seery.
‘Apprenticeships represent a serious investment and myths of photocopying or making the tea and a lack of a meaningful roles are just that. Our intake is working and studying in a range of diverse areas and are valued team members.’
Charlise Atkins, who successfully joined the Irwin Mitchell solicitor apprenticeship scheme, opted for this route over going to university.
‘With success in my A-Levels, and offers from university, my family had concerns I might regret not going,’ she said.
‘Now, my family can see I made the right choice and my career in law is now well underway. I still get my qualifications, while earning a salary at the same time.’
Meanwhile, Midlands firm FBC Manby Bowdler is leading a new campaign to open up careers in the law to people from all backgrounds – including through the apprenticeship route.
Breaking Down Barriers to Law will be launched in parliament later this month and will feature a number of other firms committing to recruiting from previously untapped areas.
‘We have been actively looking to clear the path into law careers for some time,’ said managing partner Neil Lloyd. ‘Not having a degree is certainly no barrier to progress with us.
‘As well as taking well-qualified graduates onto traditional training contracts, we offer solicitor apprenticeships to those who haven’t necessarily been to university – they could be school leavers, or those who have spent time in other jobs or training before considering law.’
Employment lawyer and social mobility ambassador Alice Kinder, the president of Birmingham Law Society, is offering a free employment law checklist to help those who are considering hiring apprentices to understand their legal obligations.
‘For businesses, apprenticeships can help to develop important expertise,’ said Kinder. ‘An apprentice’s learning will take place in the context of the organisation, meaning they can gain practical experience which may help to avoid skills shortages.’