Law apprenticeships are government-backed, employer-designed ‘trailblazer’ schemes, which provide an alternative route to university for aspiring lawyers to qualify into various legal careers. Apprenticeships involve working and studying concurrently, allowing apprentices to ‘earn while they learn’ and develop skills while on-the-job.
As university fees continue to increase, law apprenticeships have become increasingly popular as an option to avoid student debt, with a 40% increase in the number of apprenticeship opportunities made available in 2021.
The following legal apprenticeships are currently available:
On a legal apprenticeship programme, the work balance is based on an 80/20 principle which sees apprentices spend 80% of their time working in a law firm and 20% of their time studying for the academic component of the route. At the firm, apprentices work on developing their legal skills, commercial awareness and knowledge of different areas of the law.
This ‘work-based learning’ is then blended with part-time legal study which fills the remaining 20% of their time. Apprentices will be intermittently ‘released’ to an educational institution (which is partnered with their sponsoring law firm) for around one day a week to learn about theoretical aspects of the law. Some study may also be carried out online.
Either way, about 20% of the working week will be taken up by online or offline study of some form.
Legal apprenticeships were primarily introduced as a way to boost access and diversity within the legal profession, which is commonly associated with a lack of diversity. Legal apprenticeships are particularly successful in targeting individuals from lower socioeconomic background who may be fearful of the costs associated with university.
Other schemes do exist to help with getting non-traditional candidates through the door, of course – Aspiring Solicitors is one notable example in the work experience space, as is the help that Rare Recruitment offers applicants each year. However, the introduction of solicitor apprenticeships is a serious, long-term commitment by law firms to put their money where their mouth is, as it were.
Law apprenticeships have become increasingly popular for both aspiring lawyers and law firms who recognise the benefits of in-firm training and progression. As a result, more and more firms now offer law apprenticeships, with an estimated 2,000 apprenticeships offered nationally across around 400 employers.
Traditionally, firms around the mid-sized international and silver circle tier have led the way on solicitor apprenticeships, while larger City outfits such as the Magic Circle and elite US firms have lagged behind. They too are catching up now, however, and a range of firms now offer such roles.
Each law firm advertises its apprenticeship opportunities on its website, with detailed instructions regarding entry requirements, the application process and deadlines. Take a look at our deadline calendar to see which law firms are currently taking on law apprentices.
The calendar not only sets out application deadlines but also entry requirements, the type of apprenticeship being offered (solicitor/paralegal etc), salary details and direct links to application forms/processes).
The requirements for legal apprenticeships vary depending on which route you want to take and by firm. Most will expect applicants to have:
However, the apprenticeships on offer at the most prestigious firms have already proven to be massively oversubscribed, and so in reality grades higher than those listed above might be more likely to pass in an application process (a top Magic Circle firm is probably looking closer to straight As or even some A*s at A Level, for example, though check on individual websites for specific details).
While the higher-level legal apprenticeships require A-levels, there are still opportunities in legal administration for school leavers who have obtained GCSEs. For example, level 2 apprenticeships in legal administration are a good stepping-stone into the legal sector. You can undertake a paralegal apprenticeship from age 16, if you meet the minimum GCSR requirements.
Employers will often look for two or more GCSEs (with passes in English and Maths) but may take work experience into consideration in lieu of these core requirements.
Watch our Q&A with a legal apprentice about how to apply, the benefits and general advice:
You can apply for a law apprenticeship in various ways – much like with any legal job, the application process will vary from firm to firm. Some may require that you submit a CV and cover letter, while others may have their own application questions you’ll have to answer on an online form.
Most applications will involve sending a CV and cover letter, one or more interviews and an assessment centre. Law firms are keen to be as transparent as possible with their application process, so you will often find this information on the firm’s website.
When applying for legal apprenticeships, it’s important to make sure you tailor your application to the specific firm. You should detail your interest in the firm and why you’d be a good fit for their firm culture. Many firms have a news section on their site that highlights recent big cases and transactions, as well as a section explaining their values.
It is also important to relate your application to current affairs and demonstrate a sense of commercial awareness (by learning key concepts such as those found on Investopedia, and by following the news in places like the Financial Times or Economist).
All apprentices are entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), which as of July 2023 stands at £4.81 per hour for apprentices under 18.
Apprentices who have completed their first year and are aged 19 or over are entitled to the NMW for their age range (for example, £9.18 per hour once aged 21).
You can find the most up-to-date information on NMW here.
However, the majority of legal law firms often pay their apprentices considerably more than the NMW (particularly more of the top City firms). Some firms also offer benefits such as childcare vouchers, private medical cover, pension contributions and discounted travel schemes.
Salaries do also differ between locations. For example, CMS apprentices earn a starting salary of £25,000 in London, but only £22,000 in Bristol.
This is similar to many jobs that offer what is commonly known as ‘London weighting’ to account for the higher cost of living in the city, and the pros and cons of choosing a location must be carefully weighed up by the individual based on their own needs.
Each apprenticeship will offer different qualifications, for example, a solicitor apprenticeship will enable apprentices to start practising as a solicitor, but all of them will enable students to jump into working outside of the programme.
Some apprenticeships also enable students to progress into different areas – the completion of a level 3 paralegal apprenticeship allows students to work towards the Level 3 Diploma in Law and Practice (with exemptions) or the Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship.
Law firms may require apprentices to remain employed at the firm for a set period of time, while other may give you the option to apply elsewhere – for example, if there’s another firm with a practice area you’re interested in.
You can’t become a barrister with an apprenticeship at the moment – the only law apprenticeships that exist so far are targeted at solicitors, paralegals and chartered legal executives.
However, given the points already outlined above in regard to a general sentiment of wanting to increasing access to the legal industry, it is likely that the barrister route may consider apprenticeships in the near future.
The main pitfall so far has been the fact that barristers are traditionally (if somewhat erroneously) associated with the more ‘academic’ side of law (in contrast to solicitors, especially in corporate settings, working more on the business-orientated, less textbook-heavy side of law). As a result, this more ‘academic’ career has maintained its emphasis on a university education. Of course, this is likely to be eroded with the growing confidence in the ability of apprenticeships to develop these same kinds of skills.
Barristers have traditionally also suffered in regard to diversity even more so than solicitors. The former has an almost-exclusive emphasis on Oxbridge graduates at the top level, for example, and a wealth of data points to a lack of BAME representation too. Again referencing the points above, the apprenticeship route would likely to be a welcome change to the status quo of barrister intake if eventually introduced.
In short, legal apprenticeships are an increasingly popular (and widely offered) way to start your career in this industry. A range of roles are available (both as a qualified lawyer and elsewhere) from an increasingly growing range of firms. There are a number of pros and cons to be considered with this route in comparison to a traditional university education, but there are certainly a great number of benefits (both to the individual and the industry’s diversity as a whole) to this exciting new avenue.
Loading More Content