By Faye Phillips, StretLaw Associate
If you ask someone what an apprenticeship means to him or her, they’re likely to say ‘brickie’ or ‘plumber’. Now, they ought to be saying ‘future lawyer’. Sound odd? Well it is the reality, especially given the onset of alternative business structures (ABS).
I have to admit I didn’t know much about legal apprenticeships. I only heard about it recently from friends at university who were concerned if the high price paid for their LPC was worth it when school leavers now have the opportunity to work and learn at the same time and progress towards legal executive roles. LPC graduates I spoke with were concerned about this new scheme, having just gone through the costly traditional route.
So I decided to do some research about the new legal apprenticeship and the long-established CILEx route that surprisingly many students are not made aware of early on or are actually dissuaded from pursuing.
With the increase in tuition fees many young people today are put off going to university. The costs for aspiring solicitors are even more of a concern with increased undergraduate course fees and the added cost of the LPC. Legal apprenticeships are intended to make legal careers more accessible to those with talent but without the resources to shell out thousands of pounds with no guarantee of securing ‘that’ elusive training contract. The legal apprenticeship also aims to as diversify legal training, reflecting wider changes taking place in the legal profession, such as the recent growth of ABS.
Anyone wishing to become a legal apprentice must be 16 or over, not in full-time education and not a university graduate. It’s free for under 25s who secure one before August 2013 and after this date it will continue to be free for under 19s. The majority of apprenticeships thereafter will be at least part-funded by employers for 19-24 year olds, while some will need to apply for an advanced learning loan which ranges from £300 to the full cost of the apprenticeship (which varies from one employer to another). However, the total cost of an apprenticeship will be far less than a one-year’s worth of university tuition fees.
There are 3 different levels of legal apprenticeship catering for those who are new to law as well as people working in the sector who wish to professionalise their skills further. CILEx has participated in the development and implementation of legal apprenticeships, which form a government-funded pathway, which enables progression into a fee-earning paralegal role and work as a chartered legal executive.
Level 2 intermediate apprenticeship in legal administration:
This is designed for school leavers and legal secretaries. It takes around a year to complete and is free to those aged under 19. For people aged 19 and over, it costs £750 plus VAT. Many employers will partly fund these fees.
Level 3 advanced apprenticeship in legal services:
This apprenticeship is due to become available in autumn 2013. It is suitable for school leavers and support staff in the legal sector wishing to become paralegal fee earners. They can choose a practice area in which to specialise. Level 3 takes 18-24 months to complete.
It will be free for those aged under 19 and the government has also pledged to pay 50% of the apprenticeship fee for level 3 apprentices aged 19-24.
Level 4 higher apprenticeship in legal services:
This is a new undergraduate level apprenticeship developed by four partners; Damar Training, the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives and Skills for Justice, with the project is being funded by the UK Government via the National Apprenticeship Service. It is suitable for those who have already completed the level 3 apprenticeship or the CILEx level 3 qualification. Apprentices ‘earn while they learn’ and also study for a technical certificate which covers broad paralegal knowledge as well the specialist expertise in the apprentice’s chosen practice area.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)
CILEx is the professional body representing around 20,000 trainee and qualified chartered legal executive lawyers.
CILEx offers a unique route to a legal career and becoming a qualified lawyer without a requirement to having a law degree, although law graduates and graduates with non-law degrees can also qualify as a lawyer through the CILEx route.
In my experience, students have the idea that the status of a solicitor is superior to that of a CILEx. However that is just a preconception as CILExs are increasingly on a level playing field with solicitors as they can now become advocates, partners in law firms and judges, so there is no reason why they should be perceived as having a lower status than solicitors.
A chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer who is trained to specialise as an expert in a particular area of law, whereas solicitors have a broader, more general legal training.
The CILEx route to obtain a law qualification should be considered as an alternative to the traditional route by school leavers, graduates, legal support staff, mature students and those who already have family commitments.
The Advantage of CILEx
A big advantage of the CILEx route is the cost, which is significantly cheaper than the LPC fees for students aspiring to be solicitors. Students who already have a qualifying law degree gained within the last seven years can study a Graduate Fast-Track Diploma, which usually takes around a year to complete part-time and costs £2,400 or less. And there’s no need to secure a training contract. Instead you will need to complete a five-year qualifying period of employment (working as a paralegal while studying counts towards this).
The drawback, as the The Legal Education and Training Review (LETR) research report (June 2013) highlights, is that for those CILEx Fellows who may want to later qualify as solicitors having to take the LPC carries risks as well as costs, they provide:
“[I]n its current regulatory form [the LPC] is for most a major cost and time barrier, and without a prior offer of a qualified solicitor’s job at the end of it, it is no surprise that this route appears unattractive to the majority of those [wishing to re-qualify]. LETG response to Discussion Paper 02/2011”
Legal Career Awareness
Perhaps schools and universities need to do more to make students aware of the alternative routes and give non-biased advice about the pros and cons of opting for a non-traditional pathway into a career in law. But that said, schools are under-resourced and universities are businesses, so where is the attraction for either to do so? Answers on back of a postcard, please.
© Faye Phillips, 2013
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