Becoming a solicitor apprentice is an increasingly attractive prospect for many aspiring solicitors nowadays. Designed to offer increased accessibility to the legal industry (especially in a social mobility context), they are an ever-increasing topic of conversation amongst aspiring solicitors. While the traditional route has always been attending university to study for a qualifying law degree (or another type of degree, followed by a conversion course like the PGDL), the modern-day future solicitor can instead choose from a range of solicitor apprenticeships, which are becoming increasingly common. While we will discuss a summary of the key differences between those paths shortly, this page focuses on giving you a detailed guide to solicitor apprenticeships as a whole.
While solicitor apprenticeships are undertaken mainly by students upon completion of their A-Levels, some employers also offer solicitor apprenticeships to individuals who have already completed some legal training, such as a law degree, the Legal Practice Course or the Trailblazer level 3 paralegal apprenticeship. While these candidates also need to complete all the elements of the SQE, additional experience or education can accelerate the program and it may not take the full 5 – 6 years to complete.
The first thing to note is that there are many different types of solicitor apprenticeship. In fact, there are many different types of legal apprenticeship altogether – for example a Level 3 Paralegal apprenticeship. This page, however, focuses on the apprenticeships which can qualify you as a solicitor.
The most well-known type of solicitor apprenticeship is what’s known as the ‘Level 7’ Apprenticeship. This targets students who have just completed their A Levels and are considering an alternative route to university (in other words, those who have not yet completed a law degree).
It is also available to legal personnel who are not yet qualified, for example paralegals. They offer the opportunity to achieve an LLB (qualifying law degree), and will also include SQE preparation (for both SQE1 and SQE2) and qualifying work experience (QWE). Your QWE comes from the work that you’ll be doing at your sponsoring organisation (usually a law firm). You will generally split your time approximately 80/20 between work and study. The entire process takes 6 years in total.
Take a look at the University of Law’s level 7 solicitor apprenticeship.
While it is not currently possible to gain direct access to a Level 7 course without A Levels, there are alternative (lower ‘level’) legal apprenticeships which you can take to work your way up immediately after your GCSEs – although you will not be able to get onto a direct path to solicitor qualification just yet.
A relatively new option for those seeking to qualify via the solicitor apprenticeship route is what’s known as a ‘graduate solicitor apprentice’. While sounding slightly contradictory, these are actually great ways to boost your work experience credentials (and earn a salary) whilst having your fees paid for in the same way as you would for a training contract. You usually apply to a graduate solicitor apprenticeship in your final year of university, and essentially work alongside your studies for the SQE or LPC (with QWE ongoing as part of the deal).
Graduate solicitor apprenticeships are generally available to final students completing their LLB law degree, those or to have a non-law degree and have completed the graduate diploma in law (GDL).
The duration of a solicitor apprenticeship can vary depending on the type of solicitor apprenticeship and any relevant experience or education undertaken prior to the apprenticeship.
Level 7 solicitor apprenticeships tend to take 6 years to complete. However, students who progress from other legal apprenticeships or who have gained other relevant experience may be able to reduce this timeframe.
The majority of graduate solicitor apprenticeships currently being offered have a duration of 2.5 years. However, as graduate solicitor apprenticeships are a more recent development in solicitor qualification, the specifics around their structure are still being developed and it is therefore important to check the websites of individual providers for more information.
The Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship route usually takes 6 years in total (post A Level). Graduate solicitor apprenticeships will often last 2 years (with QWE included alongside SQE study – essentially law school with work on the side).
The Level 7 apprenticeship route is naturally a more complex one. Here’s a step-by-step summary of what it might look like across those 6 years:
What will that ‘work’ as a solicitor apprentice look like? This will include typical junior-level firm work (think of the kind of work offered to 2-year trainee solicitors), including legal research, reviewing documents, drafting documents, collaborating with colleagues and communicating with clients, and more. Take a look at our collaborative article with Dentons on the kind of work they offer their solicitor apprentices.
It’s important to note that, while a solicitor apprentice will have to complete legal qualifications like the SQE which cover a broad range of law, the type of law firm you’re based at will likely affect the exposure you gain to practical areas of law (especially since the new SQE route does not stipulate that specific practice areas are needed in your QWE anymore). For instance, while completing your solicitor apprenticeship at a firm which heavily specialises in tax law means you’ll still gain the breadth of knowledge needed via your SQE study, the other 80% of your time might be focused on more niche tax issues. This could be a positive or negative depending on your own preferences.
A solicitor apprenticeship involves spending 80% of your week at a law firm gaining practical exposure to the field and the remaining 20% studying and completing academic coursework.
Working at the firm can involve tasks such as researching cases for colleagues and clients, drafting and reviewing legal documents, advising and supporting clients; attending meetings and interviews and managing legal transactions. This will not only offer valuable insight into professional business environments but also a first-hand understanding of the work required of solicitors.
As mentioned, being a solicitor apprentice means that 20% of your workload will involve academic study. Your firm will partner with a law school such as the University of Law or the CILEx Law School to provide the academic portion of your apprenticeship.
The academic portion of a solicitor apprenticeship will cover content from a regular LLB degree and the SQE. While modules will vary across academic providers, students can expect to cover and be assessed in topics such as contract, criminal, tort and EU laws, as well as practical topics such as ethics and administration.
Watch our Q&A with Maia Crockford, a solicitor apprentice at an international law firm.
Applying for a solicitor apprenticeship program requires a great deal of research. Which firms offer them? What is the application process like, and what can I do to optimise my chances of success?
Check out our list of featured firms for solicitor apprenticeship opportunities.
The first point to consider is where you can obtain a solicitor apprenticeship from. While previously limited to smaller regional firms, solicitor apprenticeships are now becoming commonplace among major City firms – Allen & Overy launched theirs in 2022, and numerous other Magic Circle firms are now developing their own programmes.
Thus, the range of firms offering them is only likely to increase even more going forwards.
The grade requirements for a solicitor apprenticeship vary widely between firm and between the type of solicitor apprenticeship you’re applying for. If going down the traditional Level 7 path, you’re likely to need a solid academic record at GCSE (often you’re looking at mostly 6s and above), plus A Level grades of between BBC and AAB (with larger firms often falling closer to the latter).
If applying from university for a graduate solicitor apprenticeship, the vast majority of firms simply ask for a 2.1.
Grades aren’t the only deciding factor for your application, however. You’ll also be expected to complete a range of other steps, which may include application questions tailored to the firm, interviews (potentially multiple rounds, including some virtual and some in-person) and a range of aptitude tests (e.g. critical thinking tests like the Watson Glaser; you can try out a free practice test here).
Here are some quick tips for acing your solicitor apprenticeship applications:
The salaries you can expect to earn as a solicitor apprentice (assuming the Level 7 route) vary widely between firms. By default, you’ll be entitled to the national minimum wage (which is assessed by the government on April 1st each year), although most firms will pay considerably more than that. It’s worth noting, however, that many law firms pay more than the National Minimum Wage, and salaries usually reflect the type of role being completed (for example, legal assistant or paralegal).
Outside of London, you’re likely looking at starting on £14,000 and £19,000, whereas in London you could be seeing figures between £20,000 and £25,000. The standard process is to receive slight salary bumps each year of your apprenticeship, and upon qualifying as an NQ you’ll earn exactly the same as other newly qualified associates at your firm who arrived via the university/law school/training contract route.
The appeal of earning a salary whilst studying is naturally a major draw to solicitor apprenticeships for many (not to mention the fact your tuition fees will be covered too).
Making the choice between an apprenticeship and university requires detailed research and careful consideration, as we discuss at length in our guide to making the decision. It’s worth offering a quick summary of some of the most common factors to differentiate the two here, though.
Financial considerations are a major deciding factor – apprenticeships will allow you to earn a decent salary whilst you learn. Transferability (to non-law careers, for example) generally favours the university side, since solicitor apprenticeships can be seen as more niche. The two have vastly different timelines, as has already been outlined. Work experience can be gained at university (often during the vacations), but the depth and quality of such experience gained during a solicitor apprenticeship is difficult to beat. Work-life balance and social aspects of your choice often favour the university route, while valuable networking is possible (albeit in different ways) across both paths. Finally, the type of law you’re likely to be exposed to are quite different between a law degree (more broad) and a solicitor apprenticeship (possibly quite narrow depending on your sponsoring firm’s needs). In short, the decision is a personal one that must be made from weighing up your own priorities.
Becoming a qualified solicitor through an apprenticeship is a fairly straightforward process, which avoids the complications of graduate applications and competition for jobs.
In short, solicitor apprenticeships are an attractive alternative route to qualifying as a solicitor in England and Wales. There are a range of different types available from a range of providers (each with their own important distinctions in relation to salaries on offer, specialisations in practice areas, firm culture, etc), all of which requires detailed planning and research. The decision of whether to start your path via university or an apprenticeship may appear difficult (although combining the two is sometimes possible, as explained), but either route sets you on a solid path to qualification.
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