Traditionally, prospective lawyers will have a degree in law and will then undertake a training contract at a top firm. Those who have a degree in another discipline will have to complete an extra qualifying year studying for the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL).
In recent years, new routes to qualifying as a lawyer have become more popular, such as taking a law apprenticeship.
The increased costs of university education combined with the rise in alternative business structures and a more modernised legal system have presented those with an interest in the law with new and alternative routes into the industry.
So, if you want to train as a lawyer, you might decide to choose an apprenticeship over university.
Why Should You Consider a Law Apprenticeship?
Increasing numbers of law firms have launched apprenticeships. Since 2017, all employers in the UK with an annual pay bill in excess of £3 million must pay a levy, which can only be spent on training apprentices. This has led to many law firms launching their own ‘trailblazer’ apprenticeship schemes.
This means, for the first time, it is now possible to join a top law firm in a fee-earning role without going to university.
A law apprenticeship is now a viable alternative to traditional routes into the industry. Law apprentices can gain professional legal qualifications (right up to solicitor level) alongside paid employment at a law firm.
University tuition fees have a considerable financial cost for graduates. Qualifying as a solicitor through a law apprenticeship will take the same number of years as the traditional route, but you won't acquire student debt on the way. You will have six years of work experience on your CV by the time you qualify and will be very familiar with the legal world.
Law graduates will face stiff competition for jobs post-graduation. Fewer applications are made for law apprenticeships, although there are also fewer places. In theory, this may mean apprentices have an advantage over accessing positions in top firms.
Entry requirements for apprenticeships are also, on average, lower than what is expected from trainee scheme applicants, so if you have slightly lower A-Level grades, you might find a law apprenticeship will suit you better.
You will also not be expected to have gained as much work experience before applying.
Why Might a Law Apprenticeship Not Be the Right Choice?
Aside from missing out on the university experience, a law apprenticeship only leads to certain types of legal jobs. If you are unsure about what kind of lawyer you want to become, you may want to keep your options open by going to university.
It is not currently possible to become a barrister from a law apprenticeship. A barrister tends to practise as an advocate representing clients in court and often specialises in a specific area of law.
If you are certain you want to be a solicitor, be aware that not all firms offer law apprenticeships and, as it's not a traditional entry route, not all employers will view the qualifications in the same way.
A lot of the magic circle and top firms still do not offer apprenticeships – and even those that do offer far fewer places than they do on their training schemes.
You should also be prepared for it to be a long slog to qualification. Working and studying at the same time for such an academic and demanding subject as law can make for a tough six years.
Who Can Apply for a Law Apprenticeship?
If you are 16 years or older and are not currently in full-time education, and are a UK citizen/have a right of residency in the United Kingdom, then you can apply for an apprenticeship.
There is no upper age limit either, so apprenticeships are also suitable for those who may be looking to make a career change.
There are four types of legal apprenticeships, which have different entry requirements:
The most junior apprenticeships are for those post-GCSE and are carried out instead of A-Levels or attending further education. The intermediate apprenticeship is more administrative.
- Entry Requirements: Five GCSEs at grade 9-4 (A* to C) or equivalent
- Length of Apprenticeship: 15 to 21 months
Paralegal Apprenticeship/Level 3 Advanced
Delivering training in one specific area of law, the paralegal apprenticeship can lead on to qualification as a solicitor by continuing the apprenticeship to solicitor level. Although a less common choice, apprentices can also continue to the chartered legal executive apprenticeship.
- Entry Requirements: Five GCSEs at grade 9-4 (A* to C). A-Levels at CCC or above (or equivalent) or an intermediate apprenticeship
- Length of Apprenticeship: 24 months
Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship/Level 6 Higher
The chartered legal executive apprenticeship is run by CILEx and leads to qualification as a chartered legal executive.
A legal executive is similar to a solicitor but is only trained in one specific area of law.
- Entry Requirements: Completion of the paralegal apprenticeship or a graduate with a qualifying law degree
- Length of Apprenticeship: Up to five years
Solicitor Apprenticeship/Level 7
The solicitor apprenticeship takes six years and, like the other apprenticeships, is a paid role which leads to qualification as a solicitor. The apprenticeship also includes studying for a law degree at a specified university, obtained at the end of the fourth year.
- Entry Requirements: A-Levels at BBB or above (or equivalent work experience) – some employers ask for higher – or completion of the paralegal apprenticeship
- Length of Apprenticeship: Up to six years
What Will Happen on a Law Apprenticeship?
Paralegal and solicitor apprentices are often paid above the National Minimum Wage (apprentice rate) of £3.90 an hour. Typically, paralegal apprentices are paid around £18,000 a year for those in London, with those around the rest of the UK paid around £14,500.
Apprentices work full time in an office environment with time out of the office to attend tuition and, depending on the apprenticeship, to revise for exams. Typically, this breaks down as 80% of your time working at the law firm and 20% of your time studying at your affiliated university.
You will not have a choice about which university will sponsor your training.
At the biggest firms, there will also be opportunities to attend networking events and socialise with other law apprentices, paralegals and trainee solicitors.
Tips for Finding a Law Apprenticeship
There is no centralised listing for law apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are advertised on the government’s website, on individual employers' websites and, occasionally, other recruitment websites aimed at the legal sector.
All companies will have individual entry requirements for applicants. Typically, application is by CV/online application form and then may include aptitude tests or other online reasoning tests before a varied interview process.
10 of the UK’s Best Law Apprenticeships
To assist with the application process, we have set out 10 of the best law apprenticeships offered by key legal firms across the UK.
1. Addleshaw Goddard
- Paralegal scheme is delivered with BPP University Law School and achieves a Certificate of Higher Education in Legal Services (Level 4) – equivalent to the first year of an undergraduate degree.
- Solicitor scheme is delivered with BPP University Law School and achieves an LLB (Hons) in Legal Practice.
Location: Leeds and Manchester
2. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
- Paralegal apprenticeship at Level 3 with BPP University Law School.
- Additional learning within the apprenticeship enables a Level 4 Certificate of Higher Education in Legal Services.
- Can progress to the Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship (prior study exempts you from the first two years).
- GCSEs: Five A* to C including Maths and English (or equivalent)
- A-Levels: Three, grades A* to C
For more on the application process at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, see our article on the Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner Training Contract
3. Burges Salmon
- Two-year Level 3 paralegal apprenticeship.
- With some additional study, a Certificate in Legal Practice can be achieved, set at Level 4 (equivalent to the first year of university).
- The Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship includes a law degree as part of the path to qualification.
- GCSEs: Grades 4 and above are essential (A to C). At least a 6 (B) in Maths and English
- A-Levels: BBB or equivalent
4. CMS Cameron McKenna Nabarro Olswang
- Six-year solicitor apprenticeship delivered with The University of Law.
- LLB in Legal Practice and Skills (Hons) from the University of Law.
- GCSEs: Minimum of grade 4 (A to C) in all subjects. Must have a 6 (B) in English and Maths
- A-Levels: ABB or predicted/BTEC Level 3
- Paralegal apprenticeship at Level 3 with BPP University Law School.
- GCSEs: Seven GCSEs at grade 6 or above (including Maths and English)
- A-Levels: ABB
6. Eversheds Sutherland
- Six-year Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship with BPP University Law School including LLB degree.
- GCSEs: Minimum of five, grades A to C (including Maths and English)
- A-Levels: At least BBB or predicted, cannot include General Studies or Critical Thinking
Location: Birmingham, Leeds, London, Manchester
For more on the application process at Eversheds Sutherland, see our article on the Eversheds Sutherland Training Contract
7. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
- Paralegal apprenticeship delivered with The University of Law (ULaw) in partnership with apprenticeship specialists, Damar Training.
- Two-year paralegal apprenticeship gaining a Level 4 Certificate of Higher Education in Legal Services, delivered with BPP.
- Level 7 solicitor apprenticeship, delivered with BPP. This takes four or five years to complete and involves the completion of a (Hons) degree in legal practice and will lead to qualification as a solicitor.
- A-Levels: Three at grade B or above (or equivalent)
Locations: Birmingham, Cambridge, Chelmsford, London, Manchester, Sheffield and Taunton offices
9. Stephenson Harwood
- Level 3 paralegal apprenticeship delivered with BPP University Law School.
- Six-year solicitor apprenticeship delivered with BPP University Law School.
- GCSEs: Eight at A* to C including English language and Maths
- A-Levels: ABB or above (or equivalent)
The legal landscape is evolving and changing. Despite not adapting as fast as other areas of business, lawyers and law firms are gradually moving towards alternative routes of entry to the profession and many firms are starting to embrace law apprenticeships.
For those who are certain that they do not wish to be a barrister, and wish to secure a debt-free education, a law apprenticeship can be a successful way to qualify as a solicitor at a top firm.
The combination of work experience and salary, as well as a recognised qualification, makes a law apprenticeship an appealing prospect.