The rise of apprenticeships – is this the future of the legal profession?

United Kingdom

In a constantly changing world law firms need to continuously adapt in order to meet the needs of clients and businesses. A somewhat new concept within the legal industry is the position of a legal apprentice, working as either a probate technician, chartered legal executive, paralegal or solicitor. This role requires the apprentice to study for a qualification in addition to working full-time. During my school years, I found that the notion of an apprenticeship was portrayed somewhat negatively, due to a misconception that apprentices were less educated and merely accepted an apprenticeship as a consequence of not receiving the grades to pursue the route of higher education. This false belief was additionally, in my experience, portrayed by many Sixth Forms and Colleges and I believe was commonly shared within some professions. Apprenticeships are now rising in popularity and availability, however, despite this, the concept is still contemporary and relatively uncommon in the world of law. Whilst apprenticeships initially originated in the manual labour sector, this role has now diverged into many professional disciplines, such as accountancy, science and nursing. Allowing individuals access to an apprenticeship scheme has been championed as promoting a diverse and inclusive working environment and producing highly skilled, well rounded workers, which, consequently, generates many benefits for both employers and clients alike.

There are many advantages to law firms when employing apprentices within their business. There is still a stigma surrounding the legal industry that it is a very traditional and specialised profession, often lacking new generation creativity. The apprenticeship role provides a greater opportunity for inventive, fresh ideas to be injected into a business, which is particularly significant as it allows for a diversity of views and ideas. This fresh perspective can boost business productivity as it pushes firms to be innovative and adapt with the times by implementing new and improved concepts. It is also a vital way in which businesses can learn and modify both their knowledge and their skills. Teaching others allows companies to reflect and think of ways to improve and revise their current processes to be up to date with cutting edge, innovative ideas.

Additionally, from a financial perspective, apprentices provide many economic benefits. Firstly, the government has been eager to promote such a programme and to provide businesses with support and funding to invest in the education and training of the apprentice. Depending on the size and income of the firm, the government can pay up to 95% in co-investment. This means that firms are able to shape and train individuals more economically than employing graduates. Secondly, the concept is also a highly profitable way to increase a business’s skilled workforce, as apprentices are charged out to clients at a lower rate but can still complete a wide variety of work. This ability to perform varied, flexible work is key for a firm to benefit financially from employing apprentices.

A significant benefit which seemingly coincides with hiring an apprentice is increased loyalty. In a recent survey, 74% of companies surveyed said that apprentices tended to be more loyal than non-apprentices. This is due to the firm investing not only money but also time into the knowledge, skills and well-being of such individuals. Due to this allegiance, firms have a means by which they can become ‘future proof’. When law firms devote time and resources to mould young talent, this creates a skilled work force that is tailored to suit specific business needs due to their advanced knowledge, skills and behaviours. This also occurs as a direct result of apprentices qualifying into the legal profession not only with a fully-fledged qualification but also with years’ worth of valuable work experience. Such individuals have applied themselves to work in the legal industry and, consequently, are hungry for success. This investment also creates an employee who is committed to the firm. When a company, such as CMS LLP, devotes a lot of money, time and resources into an individual’s development, the likelihood of that individual remaining in such company is very high. As a whole, employing and financing apprentices creates accomplished, enthusiastic, diligent workers who are keen to help the firm advance in a highly competitive market.

As a direct result of these many advantages for law firms, there are, consequently, huge benefits for the company’s clients also. As apprentices will qualify already having many years of experience working in the legal arena, they are likely to be more competent at representing and working for clients as they will better understand such client’s business needs. For the same hourly fee as those who qualified through the traditional route, clients will receive a well-rounded service from a more experienced and knowledgeable newly qualified solicitor as the apprentice has already been practising law for four or more years. Additionally, the wider accessibility of apprenticeships and the way in which they future proof a firm’s work force is a way to ensure that there will always be an abundance of highly skilled, well trained solicitors who are both willing and capable of taking on the wide variety of work required by clients.

As a young adult wanting to pursue a career in a professional discipline, there are a huge variety of advantages in becoming an apprentice. Not only is it a debt free way to obtain a qualification such as a law degree, but it also provides you with hands on work experience. Apprenticeships help to develop a young person’s work and life skills and provides an advantageous route to those who are eager to pursue a career in a highly regarded profession. Obtaining a solicitor’s qualification via this route opens numerous opportunities by enabling young people to network with professionals and expand their knowledge. It is an alternative path for those who do not wish to merely study a somewhat abstract subject, as such knowledge learnt through study can be seen and applied in practice. An apprenticeship introduces young, enthusiastic individuals to the world of work, helping them flourish by giving them vital work experience that cannot be obtained from just studying and/or short office placements. Creating such an early connection with a law firm allows apprentices to build relations and develop new skills at the very beginning of their legal career. I believe this route creates accomplished, socially conscious, assiduous individuals who bring a different set of skills and perspectives to a firm.

Due to financial pressures and endlessly changing demands, law firms must adapt in order to hold their position in the market. Considering the current circumstances as a result of COVID-19 and the colossal impact the pandemic will have on legal spending, it will be hugely beneficial for firms to have available individuals able to perform to a high standard but charged at a lower cost to clients for specific types of legal work. Such employment will allow firms to deliver services in an efficient and cost-effective way without having to compromise on quality. In order to maintain a competitive position in the industry, law firms will need to continue to remove the traditional stigma surrounding the profession and create opportunities for those who are less fortunate or who do not wish to take the traditional route to become a solicitor. This will help increase diversity, improve a firm’s ability to be economical and create greater employment longevity within the world of law. This new direction of legal qualification will be revolutionary, as it will not only challenge traditional norms but also progress the way in which law firms practise for years to come.

Apprentices are the future faces of law.

Rachel Cooper, Partner, comments ‘those firms that do not embrace legal apprenticeships as a route to qualification will miss the opportunity of finding some of the most dynamic, gifted and hardworking young people. The addition of Tanisha to our team has greatly enhanced how we deliver work; she has far exceeded my expectations. To be given the opportunity to support Tanisha’s development at the start of her legal career is a joy.’

Author – Tanisha Orchard (CMS Solicitor Apprentice)

Contributors - Natasha Ricioppo and Rachel Cooper.