National Apprenticeship Week 2013 kicked off on 11 March and fittingly it was also the launch day for the new Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services. Apprenticeships have been around for hundreds of years, although law apprenticeships hadn’t been available as a means to access legal careers. From hereon this all changes – exciting times!
For those not versed in ‘educationspeak’, Level 4 is equivalent to the first year of a degree. The new law apprenticeships will be for those with A-levels to earn and learn in a legal environment, and get a transferable qualification with it. Legal Apprentices will study part-time, alongside work. They will be monitored closely by their supervisors and be required to pass assessments before they can complete the course.
Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services
Level 4: benefits to law firms
Apprenticeships in law also offer many benefits to firms:
- Being able to offer a real opportunity to those who might not otherwise get one;
- Being able to train people in-house allows firms to mould their development to business principles;
- Greater transparency for clients, who know that the people dealing with their case are regulated and assessed;
- Government funding is currently available for law apprenticeships.
So once someone has completed a Level 4 Apprenticeship, where do they go from there? This was the question debated at a breakfast event at the House of Lords.
Level 4 law apprenticeships
On 12 March, a panel at the House of Lords discussed the future of law apprenticeships. It was chaired by President of the Supreme Court Lord Neuberger and I spoke alongside the heads of the Law Society, Solicitors Regulation Authority, CILEx, Skills for Justice, the City of London Law Society’s Education and Training Committee and the National Apprenticeship Service.
The proposal on the table is that a Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services is designed to replace the law degree and the Legal Practice Course and the Training Contract. This would completely overhaul the way that solicitors qualify in England and Wales. Currently, save in very limited circumstances there is no way to qualify without taking the Legal Practice Course ( LPC) . The closest to the new Legal Apprenticeship is the CILEx route, which again involves work-based learning and part-time study. CILEx celebrates 50 years this year and achieved chartered status last year; in spite of this, CILEx lawyers still have to pass the LPC to qualify as a solicitor.
My talk at the House of Lords was based on two main points:
- At Lyons Davidson, we have been giving opportunities for law careers to unqualified staff for years. Some work their way up through the firm with in-house training, learning from their supervising solicitors and partners, and have great careers as paralegals. Others want to qualify, so provided certain criteria are met, Lyons Davidson will support their study through CILEx by paying course fees and allowing time off for exams.Our work with A-Level students is also long-established. We have been working closely with Career Academies UK in our Leeds, Bristol and now Cardiff offices. Career Academies is an organisation that sets up links between local business and schools or colleges to establish mentoring schemes, paid summer internships and to deliver ‘guru’ lectures to the students. These new law apprenticeships will make our work with Career Academies even more meaningful.
- The current system for law careers is simply unfair. There are undoubted benefits of obtaining a university education, but it isn’t for everyone. Add to that the cost of a degree (circa £30,000) and the cost of the LPC (circa £14,000), and it can mean that that forcing people to follow the traditional route towards the solicitor title is pricing people out of the profession. Lord Neuberger quite rightly said that our profession is based on fairness – let’s practice what we preach.It also doesn’t make sense. If someone has worked as a paralegal for years, passed internal audits with flying colours, sat in on countless hours of in-house (or even external) training, and quite possibly helped to train trainee or newly qualified solicitors, making them sit the LPC in order to gain the title is simply a waste of resources, when other quality assurance measures can be put in place.
The Law Society is currently undertaking a Legal Education and Training Review. This Legal Apprenticeship proposal must be on their agenda. It is better for firms, better for the individual and better for the economy.
Legal training and supervision
The only concern that was raised by other panel members was ensuring that clients continue to receive a high-quality service from the legal profession. However, experience tells me that companies like Lyons Davidson have much more training, supervision and auditing in place than some more ‘traditional’ firms. Quality is essential in our game: if it wasn’t then we wouldn’t be so successful.
I am proud to say that the new apprenticeship in law won’t mean a massive change in recruitment or training strategy at Lyons Davidson, as we have been doing this for years, albeit without the ‘badge’.
I’m also hopeful (and a bit excited!) about the possibilities to come for our existing and future staff to be able to realise their ambitions for law careers without putting themselves on the breadline.
For more information about law apprenticeships contact Katherine Price by emailing [email protected] or phoning 0131 344 0251. For information about working at Lyons Davidson or law careers in general visit the Lyons Davidson Law Careers website or email [email protected].