Opportunities for school leavers in law
While the ‘traditional’ route (ie through studying a law degree) is still the most common path into the legal profession, there are an increasing number of alternative ways for school leavers to get their start in the world of law. Currently, the most common routes for school leavers are paralegal apprenticeships, solicitor apprenticeships and qualifying as a chartered legal executive (CILEx). You may also be able to complete an intermediate-level apprenticeship in legal services, but this is slightly less common.
Several major law firms already run apprenticeships for school leavers interested in a career as a paralegal. Paralegals support the work of lawyers, such as through managing cases, drafting documents and conducting research. During a paralegal apprenticeship, your employer will sponsor you through a recognised qualification. This will typically be a level 3 qualification, such as a certificate in legal services or law and practice. These apprenticeships usually last around two years and applicants are expected to have strong A levels (or equivalent, such as a college diploma in law or a level 2 law apprenticeship). At the end of the course, you will begin a full-time job as a paralegal or paralegal assistant, from this point it is possible you can gain further qualifications to qualify as a CILEx or to cross-qualify as a solicitor. Firms who have previously offered paralegal apprenticeships include: Irwin Mitchell, Womble Bond Dickinson, Macfarlanes and DAC Beachcroft.
It is now possible to qualify as a solicitor through an apprenticeship. These tend to last for around six years and will include a law degree and the legal practice course (LPC) – a qualification that all solicitors need. The LPC is due to be replaced by the SQE starting from 2021; you can find out more information about this new qualification on our graduate careers website TARGETjobs. Your employer will pay for this degree and other qualifications. However, apprentices will have to balance studying for a degree with working full-time at a law firm, usually assisting a single team with their cases. Applicants for these apprenticeships are typically required to have completed A levels (or equivalents). At the end of the apprenticeship you will be qualified as a full-fledged solicitor, in the same period of time as a students who went to university, but with the added benefit of six years of work experience. Law firms who have previously offered solicitor apprenticeships include: Womble Bond Dickinson, Osborne Clarke, Eversheds Sutherland and Addleshaw Goddard.
The CILEx route
Chartered legal executives (CILEx) are lawyers that specialise in a particular area of the law. It is a ‘third route’ to the more traditional solicitor and barrister pathways. You can qualify as a CILEx through an apprenticeship, although you may be required to have previously completed a paralegal apprenticeship or another intermediate or advanced legal apprenticeship. Qualifying as a CILEx takes around 5 years and requires you to complete a certain period of practical work experience, which you will usually fulfil over the course of an apprenticeship.
Note on salaries
The national minimum wage for apprentices is £3.90 per hour (as of April 2019), but many legal services apprenticeships may pay more. Paralegals may start on £12,000, but wages can increase with seniority to more than £40,000.
Apprentice solicitors typically earn around £17,000 per year, which can increase to between £70,000 and £115,000 on qualification. By comparison, a trainee solicitor who has graduated from university and the LPC could start on anything between £25,000 and £50,000, although the salary once you are fully qualified is the same for graduates and apprentices. Commercial barristers may earn as much as £100,000 in the first year after pupillage, although this will vary according to each individual. According to CILEx figures, starting salaries for CILExs are around £15,000 to £28,000, and fully qualified chartered legal executives can earn between £35,000 and £55,000 in practice.