Solicitor apprenticeships are a relatively new way to qualify as a solicitor (a type of lawyer) in England and Wales.
The traditional route involved going to university to study a qualifying law degree like the LLB (or later moving from a non-law degree to law via a conversion course like the PGDL). This would come before actually starting work at a law firm as a trainee solicitor (for two years, before qualifying as an associate at the firm – depending on retention rates).
In recent years, however, law firms (note that this is not an option for barristers yet, although chambers are reportedly considering the move in the near future) have decided to embrace an apprenticeship route alternative. The details change from one provider (not always law firms – you could qualify in-house, for example) to the next. However, usually you’re looking at applying for these apprenticeships at the end of A Level study, then spending 5-6 years (around the same length of time as if you pursued the traditional route) as a solicitor apprentice.
Your time is generally split between studying (obtaining the same qualifications – a law degree, LPC/SQE, etc) and gaining valuable hands-on experience within the organisation. You’re likely to be handed similar introductory-level work as that of trainees – for example legal research, drafting attendance notes, bundling, editing contracts, etc (but not yet moving into directing overall case strategy, for example).
There are a number of skills that you are likely to need as a solicitor apprentice. Naturally, the same usual skills required of lawyers are needed – for example strong critical thinking abilities for analysing documents, or teamwork skills for collaborating on larger projects with co-workers.
However, solicitor apprenticeships need to be especially good at balancing multiple projects (time management) given their need to split their workload between studying and working. This can cause challenging work-life balance in some cases, though many solicitor apprentices are able to overcome this issue with good planning.
Salaries for solicitor apprentices vary widely between organisations. While the minimum wage that must be offered to apprentices is fairly low, most law firms in particular will pay far more than this, especially in London (though regional salaries are still relatively strong). Top city firms like Allen & Overy start their apprentices on £25,000, while smaller national firms are offering in the region of £20,000 – just to give you a rough idea.
As previously touched on, a range of different organisations offer solicitor apprenticeships. The most obvious starting point is looking at law firms (which traditionally offer training contracts too). A more detailed list can be found below, including a range of examples.
It is worth noting, however, that in-house legal teams also provide solicitor apprenticeships. Some of these legal apprentices go on to become legal influencers and detail their journeys, such as Holly Moore. She is an ITV legal apprentice who became the first person to qualify in-house through that route. Finally, some governmental departments and non-profit/charity bodies will also offer solicitor apprenticeship programs from time to time.
The application process for a solicitor apprenticeship often follows fairly similar routes to the process required for vacation schemes and training contracts. The process does vary widely between providers, but some of the common elements (along with our top tips) are outlined below.
The application form is a common first stage. You’ll be looking to demonstrate strong academic history (any work experience is a plus, but at this early stage in your career there is an understanding that you’re unlikely to have a huge CV). The key at this stage is to think carefully about what you do have and make explicit links between yourself and the organisation you’re targeting.
Common questions might include ‘why do you want to be a solicitor?’, or ‘why are you suited to this organisation?’. Try to give genuine answers while also going into detail, drawing upon tangible reasons for your answers (for example, citing specific cases that the firm have worked on).
There may also be a stage involving tests. These could be critical thinking tests like the Watson Glaser, or a situational judgement test (SJT). Generally speaking (for both), you want to try as many practice tests as possible, take your time in reading the questions and answers, and contextualise all the decisions you are making within the target organisation.
Finally, you are likely to encounter an interview (sometimes a group of interviews – known as an assessment centre). These may include tests of your commercial awareness (you should try to develop your knowledge of technical terminology related to your target organisation’s practice area – if applying for a governmental solicitor apprenticeship, do you know what a judicial review is? If applying for a Magic Circle solicitor apprenticeship, do you know what private equity is?). Alternatively, there could be more of the general questions (e.g. ‘why do you want to be a solicitor?’) that you encountered at application form stage. For interviews, besides the obvious need to give genuine and detailed answers, you should focus on projecting a friendly, confident outlook, and engaging well with your interviewers.
If you’re set on a solicitor apprenticeship within a law firm, there are a huge range of options to consider. This is not an exhaustive list, but we’ve attempted to cover a range of big names from a variety of different firm types (Magic Circle, elite US, Silver Circle, boutique, etc) here:
Many solicitor apprentices document their journeys on social media – this can be a great place to start. We already mentioned Holly Moore above, but other ‘lawfluencers’ like Maia Crockford (another solicitor apprentice, but within a law firm) similarly shed a more genuine light on the experience – watch our exclusive interview with Maia here.
The Lawyer Portal also hosts regular events discussing the upcoming opportunities in this space. On February 6th we’ll be hosting a webinar with top law firm Charles Russell Speechly, where the discussion will be around everything ‘solicitor apprentice’.
In short, solicitor apprenticeships are an excellent alternative qualification route which promises to offer greater flexibility (and also enhanced social mobility) when qualifying within the legal industry. In 2024, the number (and range) of providers is growing at a truly unprecedented rate – be sure to keep an eye out for all the latest opportunities.
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