‘I want to study law.’ These words usually conjure up the stereotypical image of a stressed uni student, buried under a mound of books for a good few years of their life, the debt mounting as they plug their way through qualifications to get to that court room.
This is a popular training route for many but if it sounds a bit daunting, it doesn’t have to be this way.
It often surprises people that it’s possible to do an apprenticeship in law that will get you to legal practitioner level, and many budding lawyers are unaware that the government are also planning on introducing apprenticeships that will qualify people to solicitor level in 2016. In fact, if you’re looking at your options, going down the academic route is not the only one anymore, and you could even be getting paid to study.
The Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services, to give it its correct title, not only involves learning in the real world and earning money, but also includes the completion of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives qualifications (CILEx), a must for anyone considering entering the legal profession.
To find out more about this little known pathway to a career in law, we sat down with Alan Woods, Director of Apprenticeships and Vocational Education at The University of Law, the largest provider of professional legal education and training in the world. With a background in developing apprenticeships, this is one guy who really knows what he’s talking about. We asked him more about studying law this way and just what to expect if you’re considering it...
Can you tell me a little bit about your job and how you actually got involved with the law apprenticeship initiative?
Prior to starting full time with The University of Law in October of last year, I was the Chief Executive of the Sector Skills Council that developed the underpinning standards for the apprenticeship framework in legal services, both at level 3 and level 4, so we worked extensively with awarding bodies, training providers and professional bodies, particularly CILEx (The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) and The Law Society to develop those standards. I was asked by The University of Law to come and help develop their apprenticeship offer, which fits in really with the development of all these alternatives routes into the profession, and also to help universities to prepare for the solicitor apprenticeship, which is part of the government’s trailblazer scheme starting in 2016.
Given your background and experience, do you think that the stigma there has been around apprenticeships for a good few years now is dissolving with the development of Higher Apprenticeships like this?
I think that’s true. I think certainly with employers being more in the driving seat around apprenticeships it is. And actually, a lot of the apprenticeships, right across England, are being driven towards a higher level. Whereas before a lot of the apprenticeships were at Level 2, GCSE, Level 3, A Level standard, there are more apprenticeships being developed at a higher level.
I think with this, and the government’s pledge to provide 3 million more by the end of their term in parliament, apprenticeships will start to have that parity with academic qualifications which has long been the ambition and dream of those working in the vocational sector.
Law has traditionally been quite an academic subject to take, what would you say are the main reasons people should consider doing it as an apprenticeship?
There are a couple of key things that are happening that make this a viable route. One is that we are seeing new entrants into law who are potentially doing more legal practice that is commoditised – so personal injury, litigation, probate. Therefore, instead of there being a need for solicitors, actually work on cases like these can be done by someone with relevant knowledge and qualifications but not those that necessarily have all the facets of a solicitor. So there have been some changes structurally within the profession.
At the same time, what we’re also seeing is that firms are wanting to grow their own talent. We are increasingly seeing a range of legal teams, wanting to grow people through their own business from potentially a younger age so that they have all the benefits that accrue when you do that, instead of potentially taking someone who is older who has done a postgraduate qualification.
So let’s get this straight, is the value of doing an apprenticeship in law is on par with doing a degree?
At the moment law apprenticeship frameworks are at Level 3 and 4 so they are not at degree level. It's the kind of game changing that will happen with the scheme that the government is sponsoring from next year, where you will be able to become a solicitor through an apprenticeship scheme. That will be Level 7 which is the same as postgraduate. It will be a six year apprenticeship but it will enable someone to be a solicitor and to practise. It's also the CILEx route to qualification. So there will be a lot of changes coming in next year.
A good time to be looking at apprenticeships if you’re a budding lawyer then?
Yeah, absolutely. If you're a young person it's really key to keep your eyes open over these next 12 months if you're starting to think about a legal career. It very well may be that some big law firms and other legal providers, such as the banks who have their in house legal teams, that offer these kinds of apprenticeships. It's worth keeping up to date on the news around apprenticeships, definitely.
What can students actually expect doing an apprenticeship in law? What is a typical day for the apprentices you work with like?
They will be working four days a week at their local authority and then one day a week they come to the University of Law centre in Bloomsbury and will be taught by tutors from City and Islington College. They are one of London's leading apprenticeship providers but they'll be doing it in the setting of The University of Law. On a day to day basis, they'll be doing case preparation files, working with a range of in house legal teams and solicitors within the local authority in Hillingdon, looking at cases in commercial litigation in particular. They’ll be learning their craft over 18 months to the Level 4 Diploma in Commercial Litigation which is part of the apprenticeship. They learn on the job.
So they really will be getting into day to day life working in law? They won't be left to do the photocopying then?
No, no, definitely not. Because it's at Level 4, these are real roles that the authority wants them to do. And I'm sure that’s their ambition as young people. They are really going to do real legal work because it's actually at undergraduate level.
What can these apprentices go on to do when they eventually finish?
There is a range of opportunities that now open up before them, with suitable additional elements, they could take the professional qualification route and train as a CILEx lawyer. They could, by using their Level 4 apprenticeship, apply to university as it's recognised as a suitable entry requirement to study law. Or they could carry on with this apprenticeship and then do the solicitor apprenticeship that's starting next year. So a whole range of options, working or studying, are opened up before them.
And they're getting paid to do it!
And they're getting paid to do it, yes! It's an amazing thing isn't it?
It definitely is! Thanks for chatting Alan, is there anything you'd like to add at all?
I just think that because of all these changes that are happening within the profession, I would really advise people to keep close to university websites and the National Apprenticeship Service website, and your website too! They should be keeping up with the opportunities that are coming, because in the next 18 months you will start to see more opportunities and it's about making sure you're aware that these are just about to come onto the scene. Keep in touch with what's going on. It is possible for a career in law to start with a BTEC, A Level, or an apprenticeship with a college, so if you've got a burning ambition to get into it, there's no reason why it can't start from age 16 onwards.
If you’re interested in doing an apprenticeship in law, start your search on our dedicated apprenticeship homepage or check out our full list of law training courses here. Or, to find out more about the apprenticeships Alan’s referring to, have a look at The University of Law website.