UK: Solicitor apprenticeships launched for part-qualified legal professionals

Legal Futures reports

The first solicitor apprenticeship scheme has been launched which is specifically designed for paralegals part-way through qualifications with other legal bodies, such as CILEX and the Council for Licensed Conveyancers (CLC).

Jonathan Bourne, managing director of leading apprenticeship provider Damar Training, said the three-year programme, delivered with global legal education provider BARBRI, would “open solicitor apprenticeships to everyone”.

Mr Bourne went on: “There is no requirement within a solicitor apprenticeship for a law degree and there is an important space in the market for a product which deliberately doesn’t include one.”

He described the new apprenticeship route as “built for the SQE” (Solicitors Qualifying Examination), which was at a “higher and slightly different level” to a university degree.

“I have had lots of conversations with firms since the end of last year, and I’ve not spoken to any employer who does not see this as a welcome addition to what is already on the market. It gives more choice, more options.”

Mr Bourne said to join the three-year programme, which begins this autumn, candidates would need to be paralegals with an apprenticeship or other qualification, people who had reached Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) Level 3, or conveyancing or probate technicians qualified with the CLC.

Without the new option, they would have faced the prospect of a six-year apprenticeship to qualify as a solicitor, “a real challenge for some employers and apprentices”.

Mr Bourne said paralegals would probably need two to four years of work experience, and may or may not be non-law graduates. If they were graduates, their rate of knowledge acquisition might be faster but the opinion of their employers was crucial.

He said he expected some of Damar’s current paralegal apprentices to join the new solicitor apprenticeship programme in the autumn.

A different solicitor apprenticeship programme begins next month at Damar for those with law degrees or graduate diplomas in law, taking 18 months for candidates to pass both parts of the SQE.

Both programmes will be made up of apprentices from a variety of law firms and in-house legal departments.

The partnership with BARBRI will give apprentices access to the BARBRI SQE materials and learning technology platform, which uses AI to tailor programmes to each apprentice. Apprentices will also receive individual and group coaching from legal tutors.

Lewis Drew, a paralegal at water services company Pennon Group who has a degree in English literature, said a graduate diploma in law had seemed to be “the only way forward” until the pandemic “pushed” him into the world of work.

He welcomed the ability to qualify over the course of three years “while gaining experience through my role as a paralegal”.

Lucie Allen, global managing director of BARBRI, commented: “Given the opportunities they present, it is no surprise that solicitor apprenticeships are being wholeheartedly embraced as a robust and credible alternative route to qualify by law firms, in-house legal teams and the wider profession.”

Mr Bourne suggested in December last year that at some point in the future the SQE could be “deconstructed” and its modules used to form the “final end-point test” for chartered legal executives and licensed conveyancers as well as solicitors.