Our world is changing and the legal profession has long been left in the past – but not any longer. The introduction of new Apprenticeships mean that many young people will now be able to enter the legal world without a university degree.
The legal profession has long been criticised for its lack of social mobility and its deployment of traditional recruitment methods. A recent survey by Byfield Consultancy found that 80% of legal trainees at the top 50 law firms are from the Russell Group of top UK universities.
Only 6.5% of schoolchildren attend private schools, yet 25% of students at Russell Group universities are privately schooled. Therefore, drawing candidates from this specific talent pool is unbalanced.
Consequently, law firms have taken steps towards opening access to law through alternative routes. One recent initiative is to introduce diversity through apprenticeship schemes for would-be paralegals and solicitors. For example, this year Eversheds announced an apprenticeship scheme aimed at 18 year old, A-level school-leavers, which allows them to qualify as a solicitor after six years.
“It means you can come out debt-free and qualify as a solicitor and get a degree whilst you earn,” says Catherine Knight, graduate recruitment manager at Eversheds. “Many of the apprentices had excellent A-levels with As and A*s and could have gone to university but chose to do this instead.”
The scheme has a starting salary of up to £17,200 and allows the apprentices to work full-time and study part-time, completing the scheme with a LLB (Bachelor of Laws) degree as well as work experience. The apprenticeship is fantastic for students worried about racking up student debts and gives them the experience most firms require. This year’s cohort of 8 apprentices were selected from hundreds of applications and began their journey in September.
The government is supporting the move towards apprenticeships with a target to create 3 million apprenticeships in coming years. When asked about how she would ensure a more diverse legal profession given the cost of a degree, Lord Chancellor Liz Truss replied, “[I am a] huge fan of apprenticeships [and it is] a big opportunity for some of our large legal services firms.”
Lord Chancellor Liz Truss talks Apprenticeships
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), the legal regulator, in a more radical move, is now allowing individuals to be admitted as solicitors under its “equivalent means” system, provided that they have the right quality and quantity of experience.
Through this initiative, Robert Houchill became the first paralegal to be admitted as a solicitor without doing a formal training contract. Houchill received the offer after proving his merit through a number of years of work with the firm.
Usually, the route into the legal profession follows a more academic path, with students completing a three-year law degree, followed by a year’s Legal Practise Course and then two years’ in-house training. This route can be expensive, with the Legal Practise Course costing more than £15,000 alone. Plus, at the end of such training, there is no mechanism for firms to compare standards.
To combat such issues, the SRA are considering overhauling legal training by creating a new Solicitors Qualifying Examination – a final two-part exam. This would make it easier for training providers to develop flexible courses – including non-degree or work-based routes – to widen access.
The creation of a two-part exam would improve diversity as it would enable students who had not attended an elite university or come up from the work-based route to be assessed on an even playing field, says Crispin Passmore, executive director of policy at SRA. It will also give law firms the confidence that all new solicitors have achieved the same standard. Passmore continues:
“If you are the first in your family to go to university and go to a modern university, then if your marks on the SQE show off your skills you will be able to show that around potential employers.”
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