The legal sector has long had the reputation of being traditional and elitist. With a view of shaking off such accusations, the profession is announcing the introduction of a new apprenticeship scheme, so writes Frances Ivens in Legal Week.
Apprenticeships are growing in popularity in this country. Many career paths that previously required a degree are embracing apprenticeships as a valid entry route. Companies such as Accenture, HSBC and Santander have had these schemes in place for a number of years now, with the route enabling its graduates to reach the same stage as their university graduating counterparts, within the same time frame.
A group of law firms have decided to implement apprenticeships as an entry route into the legal profession, enabling students to qualify as a solicitor without the need for going to university. The scheme will be part of a wider government led initiative (Trailblazers) to encourage the provision of apprenticeships in an increasing number of career areas.
The option is designed to open up the legal profession to a wider range of backgrounds. With diversity featuring higher on the agenda of recruitment plans across the country with each passing year, such an option would provide law firms with a mechanism to shed the reputation of elitism and traditionalism.
An apprentice will have to reach the standards set out by a predefined set of competencies. Law firms will outline these competencies, and these will be the minimum requirement for an apprentice to qualify as a solicitor.
The issue that law firms are being careful to address is that of a two tier qualification system, with apprenticeships deemed to be a “softer option”. The firms who are leading the way in defining the qualification are ensuring that a legal apprenticeship represent a “different” option, but one equally as rigorous. Addleshaw Goddard, Simmons & Simmons and Mayer Brown are amongst the 18 firms trialling the Trailblazers scheme, and believe the parity of the qualification is essential to its success. Organisers believe that once people see the quality of the assessment criteria, they will be left in no doubt as to the validity of a legal apprenticeship.
Firms are also looking at the possibility of including a university-backed degree. Such an option would ensure an apprenticeship also retains academic vigour.
The legal profession is the latest in a long line of careers looking to embrace apprenticeships as a method of furnishing early talent pipelines. With the advent of £9,000 tuition fees, and increasing number of students are seeking different ways to kick start their careers. Some of the country’s most talented young people remain receptive to the option of an apprenticeship. It is without doubt that the option of a legal apprenticeship will become one of the most sought after career routes in the country. If such a scheme was to enable a wider demographic of young people to enter the profession, the effort would be worthwhile. Lawyers are there to serve the legal needs of the people in this country. As a result, they should be representative of the population in diversity. Apprenticeships will be a positive step towards achieving such a balance.
Firms participating in the Trailblazers initiative
Clyde & Co
Simmons & Simmons