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Want to be a lawyer but do not fancy or can’t afford to go to university? Apprenticeships in legal services are a fairly new concept, but a number of law firms have begun to introduce ways for school-leavers to earn while they learn
From September 2012, universities began to raise their tuition fees to up to £9,000 per year, and we are forever being reminded that the number of jobs available for graduates is tight. For aspiring lawyers, the potential debt continues to rack up through training, with many students having to fork out for the cost of the Graduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course, not to mention high living expenses.
Legal apprenticeships offer school-leavers a debt-free career path with a qualification at the end. Most current apprenticeships offer the chance to become a chartered legal executive: a role that’s similar to that of a solicitor.
To date, firms including Browne Jacobson, Co-operative Legal Services, DWF, Field Fisher Waterhouse, Freeth Cartwright, Gordons, Irwin Mitchell, Kennedys, Minster Law, Plexus Law, Pinsent Masons, TLT and Weightmans have rolled out legal apprentice schemes, with the majority choosing to harness the knowledge and expertise of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) to deliver the academic side of the training.
The law firms put up the £6,900 cost of CILEx as well as covering the full cost of other training needs. What’s more, the budding lawyer’s entry-level salary could go towards any living expenses.
This combined route can act as a substitute for A-levels, a degree and the professional training course requirement, giving school-leavers the opportunity to dive head first into a legal career while simultaneously learning the theoretical elements.
The average salary for a legal apprentice is difficult to predict, although the national minimum wage for apprentices is £2.65 per hour. DWF pays its apprentices £10,000 per annum, while first-year trainees at the firm receive a salary of £35,000.
Admittedly, the salary is markedly lower than a trainee solicitor’s, but it is easy to forget that a 16 to 18-year-old apprentice could have a head start of between five and six years in a law firm.
Type of work
Most apprentices to date have reported undertaking some similar work to trainee solicitors within their firm, although apprentices do not have to complete seat-rotation like trainees, allowing them to spend longer in a department they enjoy.
However, as an entry-level member of staff, apprentices will be required to complete more administrative work before gaining paralegal status.
Once a paralegal, they normally get the opportunity to get stuck into legal work while learning the theoretical side with CILEx.
It is possible to cross-qualify as a solicitor once you have completed CILEx training, although most qualified legal executives see little point in this.
To find out about apprenticeship opportunities, students can contact CILEx directly to see which law firms are partnered with it. However, if you are not that interested in gaining CILEx qualifications but fancy the idea of a career as a paralegal, it is worth contacting local law firms directly to see if they offer any ad hoc positions.
Also, keep an eye on the legal press. Lawyer 2B, for example, has a list of law firms on its website, as well as news stories about new apprenticeship opportunities.
“What are the most common mistakes candidates make during an interview/assessment day?”
You should keep in mind that you are being assessed in one way or another from the moment you arrive at an assessment day. You should ensure you are suitably dressed, and polite and enthusiastic to every person you meet.
Candidates often make the mistake of not knowing enough about the firm they are applying to or get it confused with another firm. We like to see well-prepared candidates who have researched the firm using a range of different avenues, including industry publications, our website and law fairs. You should also have a number of different examples to draw on in the interview that demonstrate the key skills and attributes we are looking for, such as initiative, communication skills and commercial nous.
A common mistake we witness at interview is candidates responding to a question with a pre-prepared response that doesn’t quite answer the question posed. It is important to be prepared but you need to respond to the specific question asked. Clarity and conciseness are important, both at interview and in written assessments – often less is more and brevity can have a big impact. Our last tip is to be yourself. We want to meet the real you, just like you want to meet the real us – a training contract is a big investment for both of us.
Simon Pilcher, partner, CMS Cameron McKenna