Paralegal apprenticeships; a more direct route into the legal profession?
We’ve discussed the evolving role of the paralegal a number of times, and with law firms’ growing reliance on transactional services teams to deal with increasingly complex and time-consuming administrative and process work it is somewhat unsurprising to see a number of internationally renowned firms introducing paralegal apprenticeship schemes.
If one thing is clear, it’s that university is no longer a requirement for aspiring lawyers. Calls to improve social mobility, in what has long been seen as a highly selective profession, have led many firms to review their recruitment processes - which have been criticised for favouring students from Russell Group universities - and explore options to improve their apprenticeship programmes.
The introduction of apprenticeship programmes
In moves championed by the government, Eversheds Sutherland, Addleshaw Goddard, and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer have all introduced apprenticeship programmes which offer A-Level students an alternative route into the legal profession. Indeed, in a related, but arguably more radical change to increase route into the profession, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, is now allowing individuals to be admitted as solicitors under its “equivalent means” system, provided that they have the right quality and quantity of experience.
Addleshaw Goddard’s new solicitor apprenticeship programme, which will be run in conjunction with BPP University Law School, will see apprentices become part of the firm’s transaction services team (TST) after just six years. The TST - which was established to help reduce the administrative burden on associates, allowing them to focus on client-facing matters - has grown steadily since its launch and now has a total of 134 paralegals. Paralegals in the TST complete complex administrative and process driven work, and play a crucial role in an increasingly competitive, and cost driven legal marketplace.
The programme combines funded part-time study and in-house training, with apprentices rotating across a number of practice areas. After completing the six-year programme, successful apprentices will be awarded a LLB (Hons) degree, and after assessment by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, will also qualify as a solicitor.
Apprentices get the chance to immediately experience the workplace
Commenting on the new apprenticeships, Mike Potter, Partner and Head of the Transaction Services Team said, “The solicitor programme is standout in giving the apprentices immediate experience of the workplace, and is an excellent alternative to the traditional university route to qualification. It will shape the future of careers in the legal sector.”
These comments echo a consensus which is slowly, but steadily, being adopted by many leading legal practices. Law firms have long endeavoured to increase female representation within their organisations, however if practices want to feel the true benefits of a diverse culture, they need to embrace initiatives to improve social mobility.
With research from Byfield Consultancy finding that more than 80 % of legal trainees at the top 50 UK firms were from Russell Group universities, it is clear that the profession has a long way to go. However, apprenticeship schemes such as Addleshaw Goddard’s six year paralegal programme, and Eversheds Sutherland’s level seven trailblazer initiative, are a positive sign of shifting attitudes towards qualification routes within the profession. Paralegal apprenticeships provide aspiring legal professionals with the opportunity to gain experience and a qualification simultaneously, the pioneering firms championing them will undoubtedly reap the benefits of a more diverse and engaged workforce.
- Lynn Sedgwick, MD of Clayton Legal
The continued evolution of the Paralegal role