University isn’t always the way

Jenny Pelling reflects on the development of the legal apprenticeship.

Think back to late September 2011. Amidst the news of the Occupy Movement taking over Zuccotti Park in Wall Street, there were stories aplenty in the press about teenagers setting off to Freshers Week and parents confronting empty nest syndrome, but being grateful that their kids had just made it to Uni before the full force of £9k a year tuition fees started. There was still an assumption held by many that University was the route to be followed to gain a career in law.

In autumn 2011, it wouldn’t have made the headlines, but work was beginning on the development of a new career path in law, via the creation of a government funded legal apprenticeship structure. Fast forward to now, and we have three new legal apprenticeship frameworks in place, attracting considerable interest from legal organisations, young people and their parents. It is no longer the unquestionable assumption that a bright school leaver will automatically go to university. Instead, many are turning their backs on a degree with the fear over emerging with £27k of debt into an uncertain job market, and electing instead to go straight into the workplace at 18 or 19, and follow an apprenticeship route.
And the reason they can do this is because so many employers are behind the initiative and they’re recruiting in large numbers. Whilst there has been a sizeable drop in the number of training contracts offered (10.5 % reduction from 2011 to 2012), there are many employers advertising for legal apprentices this autumn; intending to increase the numbers significantly again in 2014. The drivers are varied: social responsibility and looking for a new pool of school leaver talent, to needing to respond to cost pressures/work allocation and seeking a way of training up entry level staff with the support of government funding.

So what is the perception of this new route into law? Well first, it’s a route that’s existed for 50 years in essence through CILEx, whose mantra has been ‘learn as you earn’ and has always offered a non-graduate route to becoming a lawyer. So, the precedent is there, firms are used to the concept and apprentices and their parents are reassured that the new legal apprenticeship fits into the CILEx route, enabling apprentices to claim exemptions from CILEx.

What’s changing though is that we are seeing candidates applying for legal apprenticeships who have the grades to get into very good universities, but are electing to take the new Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services instead, or one of the other two legal apprenticeships we deliver. Take DAC Beachcroft for example. They’ve been instrumental in the development of legal apprenticeships and have just recruited five apprentices to join their Bristol and Newport offices working either in Claims Solutions or Corporate Recovery. Vision Apprentices, who were helping manage the recruitment, had applications from the local area, from candidates with As and Bs at A levels and Uni offers, and even from over 200 miles away with one of the apprentices relocating to Bristol and seizing the chance of getting into the legal profession with funded training. Another of the five apprentices, Mike, had been working in the HR team at DAC Beachcroft. He was so inspired by the opportunity offered by the apprenticeship, that he applied himself, and from 9 September he’ll be part of the first cohort of Advanced Legal Apprentices.

This article was written for Modern Law magazine, and can be seen on page 42 of issue 8.