A guide to law apprenticeships
Apprenticeships offer a route into the legal profession that combines full-time paid work with the study and qualifications that all lawyers need. While the ‘traditional’ route’ of going to university to study a degree is still the most common path into the profession (and is still the only way to become a barrister), it is now possible to qualify as a solicitor, paralegal or chartered legal executive through an apprenticeship.
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Solicitor apprenticeships are now offered by a number of large law firms. These are typically open to school leavers with A levels (or equivalent) and last for around six years. They include all the qualifications that you will need to qualify as a solicitor: a law degree and a postgraduate legal qualification. This postgraduate qualification is currently the legal practice course (LPC) but is due to start to be replaced by the solicitors’ qualifying examination from Autumn 2021.
Law firms that have previously offered solicitor apprenticeships include: Womble Bond Dickinson, Osborne Clarke, Eversheds Sutherland and Addleshaw Goddard.
What do solicitors apprenticeships involve?
These apprenticeships will usually last six years and will include a law degree. The tuition fees for this degree will be paid for by your employer and you’ll be expected to balance studying for this degree alongside your day-to-day work at the law firm. The method through which you study for the degree (whether you attend university remotely or in ‘blocks’ of a couple of days or weeks) will differ from firm to firm.
- You can find out more about what it’s like to do a solicitor apprenticeships by reading our profile of an apprentice at Womble Bond Dickinson here.
At the end of your apprenticeship
By the end of the six years, you will be a fully qualified solicitor. This takes the same amount of time as completing a degree, postgraduate course and training contract (the ‘university route’). However, apprentices will have significantly more practical work experience than aspiring lawyers who attended university. Apprentices may also be able to secure a permanent job role without the competitive application process for training contracts; it's likely, though not guaranteed, that the end of an apprenticeship will transition into a full-time ‘associate’ position at the law firm.
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. This may be studied through attending college at certain intervals, or you may be given access to online resources (‘distance learning’).
These apprenticeships usually last around two years and applicants are expected to have strong GCSEs and A levels (or equivalent, such as a college diploma in law or a level 2 law apprenticeship).
Firms who have previously offered paralegal apprenticeships include: Irwin Mitchell, Womble Bond Dickinson, Macfarlanes and DAC Beachcroft.
At the end of your apprenticeship
At the end of the course, you will likely begin a full-time job as a paralegal or paralegal assistant. From this point it is possible for you to gain further qualifications that will allow you to ‘cross-qualify’ as a chartered legal executive or as a solicitor, this may be through completing another apprenticeship.
Legal services and legal administration apprentices
These apprenticeships will train school leavers up to take on the role of a legal support role, such as a legal administrator or legal secretary. These typically last between one and two years, are open to school leavers with GCSEs (or equivalent), and result in a level 3 qualification in legal services or legal administration. At the end of the apprenticeship, apprentices may be able to proceed onto taking a paralegal apprenticeship, a solicitor apprenticeship or a chartered legal executive apprenticeship.
Becoming a chartered legal executive
Chartered legal executives (CILEx) are a ‘third route’ into the legal profession (alongside becoming a barrister or a solicitor). They hold roles similar to that of a solicitor, but specialise in a single, usually client-facing, area of law (such as conveyancing).
The CILEx route is facilitated by the CILEx Law School and there are a number of different levels at which school leavers can start on this route. However, usually, school leavers will need to have completed a previous apprenticeship (typically a level 3 paralegal, legal services or legal administration apprenticeship) or qualification in law (such as a law degree or a level 3 legal administration qualification) before being able to start a chartered legal executive 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.
How much can you earn on an apprenticeship?
A major benefit of apprenticeships, compared to studying a degree ‘traditionally’ is that apprentices will be earning a salary while they qualify. The national minimum wage for apprentices is £3.90 per hour (as of April 2019), but many legal apprenticeships will pay more.
- Solicitor apprentices typically start earning around £16,000 a year. This figure is likely to rise as they approach qualification, eventually reaching the same level as other newly-qualified solicitors (around £40,000). For example, apprentices at Osborne Clarke LLP start on £16,000, which increases to £38,000 in the final year.
- Paralegal apprentices typically start on £12,000, but wages can increase with seniority to more than £40,000. For example, Irwin Mitchell offers a starting salary of £16,289 (£18,928 in London) for their paralegal apprenticeship.
- According to CILEx figures, average salaries for legal executives is typically between £15,000 and £28,000 during training. This increases to between £35,000 and £55,000 upon qualification.
- For more information about the range of salaries that lawyers can earn, and to see how much lawyers on the ‘traditional routes’ will earn, take a look at our salaries article.