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National Apprenticeship Week 2019

Legal apprenticeships: will you dip your toe or take the plunge?

Hilary Yeo

University of Law

Lawyers by their nature are generally cautious, trained to critically evaluate information and plan carefully before acting. When changes happen, the sector often sits back and observes. If change relates to the training and resourcing of staff, very few legal employers will leap feet first into something that represents an upheaval to a known and tested system.

Taking up the challenge

Currently, the sector is facing major changes to the training of lawyers, with the introduction of new apprenticeship standards in 2016 for solicitor, paralegal, CILEx Level 6, probate and conveyancing technicians. Introducing a solicitor apprenticeship standard, has resulted in a proposal to introduce new assessment and qualification methods for all future solicitors. As a result, firms are having to undertake a wholescale re-think on how they will train their future lawyers and embrace the opportunities!

The introduction of the levy and favourable funding for non-levy payers has boosted interest in apprenticeship routes, but employers new to this are best advised to seek support to develop a successful apprenticeship programme. This needs to be right for the business and not purely predicated on the basis of available funding. The benefits are many if the programme is properly supported and planned; whether taking on one apprentice or launching a more substantial programme.

Where did it all start in the legal sector?

Back in 2012, ground-breaking changes in legal recruitment were triggered following a Skills for Justice initiative that led to the introduction of legal service apprenticeship frameworks.

Insurance law firms were some of the first in the legal sector to take the plunge. The sector’s clients and several regulatory changes have influenced legal providers in this area to deliver innovative solutions, often ahead of the curve, rather than sitting back.

Plexus Law was one of the first insurance legal practices to introduce apprenticeships. It was a huge learning exercise for all involved, many tried and tested methods for recruiting and training legal staff were quickly challenged. Apprenticeships are definitely different!

What do the experts think?

Hilary Yeo, Operations Director at Plexus says:

Our first cohort of Legal Apprentices were recruited in 2012 onto the Legal services Apprenticeship. In subsequent years, we recruited Apprentices in Business Admin then into HR, Finance, IT and most recently a Digital Marketing Apprentice.

Assessing the potential of an 18-year old against a graduate with work experience was definitely a new challenge, as was the pastoral care required to enable the transition from sixth form to the workplace.

We are very excited to now have 11 apprentices well on their way to ultimately qualifying as solicitors via the Solicitor Apprenticeship course at ULaw. The enthusiasm and the practical knowledge gained on the ground, not simply legal, but exposure to real clients has produced benefits to the business which cannot be underestimated, including a very low turnover of staff in this area.

Sue Lenkowski is an independent apprenticeships implementation consultant. At The University of Law and in her business, Sue has helped many law firms to set up programmes. Sue says:

Subject to a lot of regulation and specific eligibility criteria, it is essential that employers new to this world fully equip themselves with all relevant information and avoid trying to shoe-horn apprenticeships into existing graduate processes.

Senior lawyers who have been used to more traditional training routes need to adapt management styles and the firm itself needs to ensure it aligns recruitment and on-boarding processes to attract and retain the best talent.

A new way to develop legal talent

The University of Law has delivered the Solicitor Apprenticeship since 2016.

The knowledge and experience of practitioners who have recruited, managed and mentored apprentices in the sector to date has been invaluable in informing the University’s strategy and approach to delivery of the degree level standard.

The programme has now welcomed over 70 legal sector employers, from high street practice to global law firms as well as in house legal, local authorities and police forces. Apprentices on the programme include school leavers, apprentices progressing from previous apprenticeships and careers changers.

Employers are seeing real benefits in increasing the diversity of their workforce, offering opportunities for existing employees and providing people of all ages with career options. Without this scheme some may not have chosen to start or progress their career in the law.

For more information on Apprenticeships at The University of Law:

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