Legal Apprenticeships: An Overview

14 March 2022 | Careers Advice | Guest Author

Legal apprenticeships, like all apprenticeships, are routes into a profession that pay you a real salary to do a real job, ​​while also gaining qualifications. These programmes allow school leavers to side-step student debt and get earning, without the need for traditional law degrees and conversion courses.

The quality and rigour of the traditional pathway has been retained though. All legal apprenticeships have been developed by a high profile panel of law firms, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), in order to widen access and remove the financial barriers of higher education, without lowering standards.

From legal secretary apprenticeships for those diving into the industry after GCSEs, to solicitor apprenticeships at the same level as a law degree, there are options available for any school leaver wanting to pursue a legal career while earning a full-time wage.  

Legal secretary apprenticeship

Legal secretary apprenticeships are usually Intermediate Apprenticeships, at Level 2, and take around one year to complete. Trainees on these schemes work to provide effective and efficient support in a law firm’s offices, assisting with day-to-day administrative matters as required. Different from paralegals, legal secretaries/administrators assist in the progression of cases but have primarily administrative, rather than legal, knowledge.

Entry requirements for legal apprenticeships will vary from law firm to law firm, but typically they will be looking for applicants educated to GCSE level in English and Maths, at least a grade 6 (B).

If you’re interested in pursuing this apprenticeship, remember that a positive, can-do attitude is arguably more important than academic qualifications here: you’ll need to be able to get along with everyone in the team – from other administrative staff to solicitors and partners – and generally be able to muck in with anything and everything they need. An exciting opportunity for the right candidate!

Paralegal apprenticeship

A paralegal apprenticeship is usually a Level 3 qualification, an Advanced Apprenticeship taking at least two years to complete, with applicants typically needing GCSE maths and English, and two A-levels at grade C or above.

Getting right into the nuts and bolts of the industry, a programme like this gives apprentices experience in things like drafting documents, carrying out research, reviewing client documents and developing client communication and data handling skills.

Apprentices on these programmes will gain qualifications and experience meeting all the industry requirements for becoming a paralegal, as well as others unique to each specific programme. Everyone completing a paralegal apprenticeship will, however, gain the CILEx Level 3 Diploma in Providing Legal Services. 

Completing a paralegal executive apprenticeship should also provide a gateway to other legal apprenticeships: they are included in the entry requirements for the chartered legal executive apprenticeship and the solicitor apprenticeship, so these programmes can also lead to many other exciting qualifications and great jobs.

Legal executive apprenticeship

This is a Higher Apprenticeship, meaning it’s a Level 6 qualification: on a par with a university degree. On a legal executive apprenticeship, you’ll learn how to negotiate on behalf of clients, and also how to represent them in both formal and informal proceedings, as well as things like conducting and applying legal research. Apprentices will also learn how to make decisions based on legal principles or the rule of law: high-minded stuff for a high-level programme.

Taking five years approximate to complete – and requiring applicants to hold GCSE maths and English, and two A-Levels at grade C or above – the chartered legal executive apprenticeship can be a development onwards from the paralegal apprenticeship.

By the end of the programme, those completing it will have gained the CILEx Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice, and can either then embark on a career as a chartered legal executive, or link it to the solicitor apprenticeship.

Solicitor apprenticeship

These programmes are seriously top tier – at a Level 7, equal to a master’s degree – a solicitor apprenticeship is a six-year programme incorporating academic studies with work experience at a firm, that leads to qualification as a solicitor.

Apprentices will study the fundamentals of law and legal practice – covering all the same content of a law degree, such as contract, criminal, tort and EU laws – and go on to gain a law degree and LLM (master’s), before taking the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) assessment. Depending on the particular programme, solicitor apprentices can receive a range of qualifications such as LLB (Hons), LLB in Legal Practice, LLB Hons Law in Legal Practice and Skills.

Minimum requirements for these programmes are typically a minimum of five GCSEs (including maths and English) and three A-levels, all at grade C or above. 

If you’re considering a career in law, it’s more than worth considering a legal apprenticeship. Getting paid to gain qualifications and real-world experience in one of the most prestigious professions out there…what more could you ask for?

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