The traditional, university-based route to qualification is far from your only option. If your sights are set on a legal career but you don't want to pay high tuition fees consider a law apprenticeship
What legal apprenticeships are available?
Law apprenticeships exist in the form of government-backed, employer-designed 'trailblazer' schemes, which cater for apprentices working towards three broad levels: legal administration/support, paralegal or solicitor.
There is also a specialist pathway to qualify as a chartered legal executive. Each can be taken as a stand-alone apprenticeship, or can be linked for those who want to progress between roles.
- Set at GCSE level, CILEx Level 2 Diploma for Legal Secretaries teaches you about secretarial work in a legal environment, with a focus on either legal information processing or legal studies. Level 3 Legal Administrator Apprenticeships are also available and usually take between 15 to 18 months to complete.
- The Level 3 Paralegal Apprenticeship takes two-years to complete. You'll get an introduction to law and practice, legal research and client care skills. Upon completion you can work towards the Level 3 Diploma in Law and Practice (with exemptions) or the Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship.
- The Level 6 Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship takes five years to complete and is only available for apprentices who have completed the Paralegal pathway or those that have completed CILEx Level 3 qualifications. The scheme qualifies participants to work as chartered legal executives and provides exemptions from some units of the Solicitor Apprenticeship pathway.
- The Solicitor Apprenticeship is a six-year, Level 7 programme aimed at post A-level students, paralegals and chartered legal executives. The period of study is reduced for those who progress from other legal apprenticeships. The scheme covers all the content in a law degree and Legal Practice Course (LPC) and enables apprentices to gain a law degree and LLM (Masters). Once you've completed the apprenticeship and passed the Solicitors Regulation Authority's (SRA) centralised assessment you'll qualify as solicitor.
Thanks to these law apprenticeships school leavers now have a direct route to qualifying as a solicitor without having to go to university.
Which firms offer apprenticeships?
- Addleshaw Goddard
- Bevan Brittan LLP
- Blacks Solicitors
- Bott & Co
- Browne Jacobson
- Burges Salmon
- Charles Russell Speechlys
- Clyde & Co
- DAC Beachcroft
- Eversheds Sutherland
- Fletchers Solicitors
- Gowling WLG
- Hill Dickinson
- Horwich Farrelly
- Irwin Mitchell
- Mayer Brown
- Minster Law
- Osborne Clarke
- Pinsent Masons
- Plexus Law
- SAS Daniels
- TLT LLP
- Womble Bond Dickinson
This is not an exhaustive list, to find out whether a firm you're interested in offers apprenticeship schemes search their website.
Learn more about top UK law firms.
Who are they aimed at?
The majority of law apprenticeships are aimed at school leavers or career changers seeking an alternative to university. However, some legal apprenticeships require you to have more than GCSEs or A-levels.
For example, the Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship isn't recommended for school leavers; instead you'll need to have completed the Paralegal pathway or have completed CILEx Level 3 qualifications in legal services.
Individual law firms set their own entry requirements but the government's recommended minimum requirements for the majority of legal schemes are:
- five GCSEs, including mathematics and English - grade C or above (or equivalent)
- three A-levels (or equivalent) - minimum grade C.
- relevant employer-led work experience
- Level 3 advanced apprenticeship in a relevant role - business administration, legal services, providing financial services
- Level 4 higher apprenticeship in a relevant job - legal services, professional services, and providing financial services (may be entitled to exemptions from training
- paralegal apprenticeship (may be entitled to exemptions from training)
- legal executive apprenticeship (may be entitled to exemptions from training)
- law degree/Graduate Diploma in Law/Legal Practice Course (entitled to exemptions from training).
Research your chosen apprenticeship pathway carefully and contact potential employers to check that you have the qualifications to gain a place on the scheme.
What do law apprenticeships involve?
This largely depends on which apprenticeship pathway you take. The majority of schemes enable you to carry out paid employment in a law firm or an in-house legal team while gaining professional qualifications. You'll typically work 30 hours per week under the supervision of a mentor.
Those training for the Level 3 Intermediate Apprenticeship in Legal Administration will study a number of mandatory and optional units, alongside carrying out duties outlined by their employer. Units include:
- communication in the business environment
- proofreading in the legal environment
- working in the legal environment
- legal text processing
- taking minutes in meetings
- providing reception services
- family law
- principles of criminal liability and conveyancing.
If you take the Paralegal Apprenticeship you'll carry out tasks such as managing data and records, drafting legal documents and client correspondence, carrying out legal research, attending court hearings where appropriate, handling sensitive information and communicating with internal and external clients.
Those completing the Solicitor Apprenticeship will manage cases of their own. You'll research cases, interview and advise clients, establish and maintain effective working relationships with clients and colleagues, daft legal documents, undertake spoken and written advocacy, negotiate solutions, manage and progress legal matters and transactions, and keep and maintain accurate records.
How much will I be paid?
All apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), which as of April 2020 stands at £4.15 per hour for apprentices under 19 and those over 19 in their first year.
Apprentices who have completed their first year and are aged 19 or over are entitled to the NMW for their age range.
However, the majority of legal employers often pay their apprentices considerably more than the NMW so don't let the idea of low pay put you off if you're considering this route to qualification. Some firms also offer benefits such as childcare vouchers, private medical cover, pension contributions and discounted travel schemes.
Will I qualify as a solicitor?
This depends on which apprenticeship pathway you complete.
The Paralegal pathway and Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services don't qualify you to work as a solicitor, although it may be possible upon completing these apprenticeships to carry out further study and training (such as the solicitor apprenticeship) to qualify in this role.
The only direct route to qualifying as a solicitor through an apprenticeship is by completing the Solicitor pathway.
The introduction of a new centralised ‘super exam’ for all solicitors in September 2021, known as the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE), will affect trainees on the Solicitor Apprenticeship pathway. In order to qualify as a solicitor apprentices will sit parts one and two of the SQE. Stage one will form part of the on-programme assessment, while stage 2 will be the end-point assessment, which must be taken during the last six months of your apprenticeship.
How do I apply?
Competition among school leavers for legal apprenticeships is fierce so make sure that you research the firms you're applying to in order to tailor your application. Vacancies usually coincide with the end of the academic school year.
Application procedures vary between employers but typically require you to submit a CV and cover letter directly to the firm. For some vacancies you may need to fill out an application form. Read the job advert carefully to ensure you meet any additional application requirements. Find out more about applying for an apprenticeship.