Joanna Hughes is a qualified lawyer who worked an international law firm as a lawyer and social mobility advocate for a couple of decades before setting up a new company, Joanna Hughes Solicitor Apprenticeships, to offer advice to law firms and in-house legal teams who wish to set up this route into the legal profession. You can learn more about Joanna and her business at www.joannahughes.co.uk!
Solicitor apprenticeships are making the news: The Lawyer is running a mini-series on them, and articles have appeared in The Guardian and The Times. The subject of solicitor apprenticeships has become even more newsworthy in the City in London following the announcement that the City of London Law Society Training Committee is putting on a workshop at Linklaters’ offices on 8 December, with 14 City-based law firms collaborating in that workshop to share their knowledge and experience with a view to encouraging other City law firms to start their own solicitor apprenticeships. Lubna Shuja, the President of the Law Society of England and Wales, will be opening the workshop with a video recorded for the event.
How do solicitor apprenticeships work?
Like all apprenticeships, solicitor apprenticeships involve on-the-job training and at least 20% classroom based learning. Solicitor apprenticeships are actually only one of a number of different types of legal apprenticeships, but higher and degree apprenticeships such as solicitor apprenticeships are becoming more common in the professions.
UCAS has launched a set of 18 ‘Industry Guides’ on apprenticeships, including a Guide on the legal profession. This Guide features a video of a brilliant young woman I have got to know called Rumaysah, who turned down a place at Oxford University for her Eversheds apprenticeship.
The first cohort of solicitor apprentices qualified in September 2022, and they are the best possible evidence for how the solicitor apprenticeships work in practice. You can follow the first ever in-house solicitor apprentice to qualify at @thatlawblog.
What are the benefits of the solicitor apprenticeship route?
For the employer, the benefits are economic, business and social. The economic benefit is that all training costs for solicitor apprentices are paid out of the Apprenticeship Levy that many firms will be paying already. The Levy was introduced in 2017 and is payable by all businesses with an annual pay bill of more than £3 million. 0.5% of that wage bill is paid to HMRC regardless of whether it is used or not for training costs. In addition on the economic case, history has already proved that solicitor apprentices are very valuable members of legal teams who can be charged out in the usual way. The business case is that apprentices bring a greater diversity of thought and innovation to a law firm in addition to their other skills. Finally, the social benefit for employers is, if introduced and operated effectively, degree apprenticeships can be a powerful social mobility tool.
For the solicitor apprentice, Maia Crockford sums up the three main benefits really clearly in Legally Speaking interview [Alternative Routes to Becoming a Solicitor – With Amy Weir-Simmons & Maia Crockford – S4E3 – Legally Speaking Podcast]. First, a financial benefit: in the UK student debt at the end of three years in a traditional University is £45,000. In the type of solicitor apprenticeships I am helping set up salaries will range from approximately £25,000 in Year 1 for an 18 year old to perhaps £50,000 more in Year 6 of the apprenticeship. In addition, all the costs of the training provider are paid by the employer. The apprentice pays nothing. The second benefit is the ability to gain real life experience within the legal sector, and the third benefit is growth of confidence and soft skills.
What are the main differences between the solicitor apprenticeship and the trainee solicitor route?
Solicitor apprentices complete their apprenticeships with a degree and SQE 1 and SQE 2 – just like trainee solicitors. And qualification opportunities should be exactly the same for solicitor apprentices because all employers with which I work are keen to ensure a parity of esteem between the two different routes.
But there are two key differences…
Age employers recruit
Employers typically recruit solicitor apprentices when they are in Year 13. They start at the law firms aged 18 or 19 (although it is worth pointing out that there is no age restriction on who can become a solicitor apprentice).
Length of employment
The solicitor apprentice employment contract is 6 years, compared to 2 years for a trainee solicitor.
Who is interested in solicitor apprenticeships?
We started this blog by talking about how increasing numbers of law firms and in-house legal teams are starting solicitor apprenticeships. But it is clear to me that solicitor apprenticeships are high on the agenda in high places more generally in the City too, because others I have come across in my wider work have been very interested in solicitor apprenticeships, including I. Stephanie Boyce, President of the Law Society 2021 to 2022 and Catherine McGuinness, former Policy Chair of the City of London Corporation and Chair of the Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce (having read a recent Legally Speaking blog on investing in a social proof strategy, I am pleased to say that I have on the home page of my Joanna Hughes Solicitor Apprenticeships website social proof quotes from both these people – and more!).
If you are an employer and think I could help you, visit my website. I would love to have a chat with you.
Author: Joanna Hughes – Director at Joanna Hughes Solicitor Apprenticeships.