How can the various types of legal apprenticeship help local authority legal departments? Noel Inge explains the benefits and how councils can set up schemes.
Since their launch in 2013, the popularity of legal apprenticeships has increased as employers in the sector become more aware of the benefits associated with the scheme.
There are currently two levels of legal apprenticeship, the most popular being the ‘A’ level standard advanced apprenticeship in legal services. At the end of an advanced apprenticeship (typically two years) an employer will have an effective technician level paralegal employee.
A higher apprenticeship is also available at first year degree level. Because it takes three years to complete and is highly specialised, most employers prefer the shorter advanced apprenticeship.
Both advanced and higher level legal apprenticeship use elements of the CILEx professional qualification, but include additional features that make them distinct.
Should a local authority employer want to employ an apprentice on primarily administrative work, but in a legal context, then an intermediate apprenticeship in legal administration is ideal. While not strictly speaking a legal apprenticeship, this GCSE level programme helps create legal awareness as well as developing business competency.
Reasons for employing a legal apprentice
Legal apprentices are a relatively inexpensive resource, but so, it is argued, are higher level law and LPC graduates. So why would an employer choose to develop a legal apprentice in-house when highly qualified graduates are available?
Much will depend on the type of work to be done. If an employer needs help with routine file handling matters then an apprentice is possibly a better choice. The apprentice can be developed into the role, the employer confident in the knowledge that the apprentice is learning rather than being concerned with the possibility of a training contract elsewhere.
Ultimately a bright apprentice will want to advance his or her career, and this can be done through the CILEx professional qualification. Indeed, legal apprenticeships are also a comfortable fit for those authorities seeking to fulfil their corporate social obligations.
For example, in respect of a CSR objective to broaden access to the legal profession, apprenticeships provide school leavers with access to a career in law without having to commit to the debt associated with a university law degree.
Perhaps more significantly, apprentices also gain valuable work experience. By contrast, lack of work experience has proved to be a significant barrier to entry to the legal services industry for law and LPC graduates.
There are other benefits associated with employing an apprentice. According to the National Apprenticeship Service survey 80% of employers said that apprentices were loyal, which had the effect of decreasing their staff turnover.
One reason for this loyalty is that employers can offer a career development path while the apprentice is in post. Apprentices can top up their legal apprenticeship qualification through further workplace learning and become either Chartered Legal Executives or solicitors. While development into professional status through this route takes longer than full time study, the benefits to the individual and organisation mean that once professional status is attained, the individual will already possess a wealth of practice experience.
Financial and organisational considerations
Given that authorities are under pressure to make savings, recruiting a legal apprentice in the current climate might appear to be an expensive luxury. However, since apprentices can be employed on a permanent contract or for a fixed term, the obligation can be finite. For employers who do not want to commit to employing an apprentice for the full duration of the apprenticeship programme, there is another option. Apprentices can be hosted by a third party (through an apprenticeship training association), which means that while the apprentice works for the authority, he or she can be handed back to the third party host with two weeks’ notice. There is an additional cost to using a third party host, which is currently £19 per week.
For apprentices who are under 19 when registered for an apprenticeship, the training is free. The main cost will be the apprentice’s salary. Local or national rates will determine the apprentice’s salary, but the national minimum wage for apprentices under 19 is £2.73/hr.
For those aged over 19 then the national minimum wage or appropriate local or national rate of pay applies. Charges for training apprentices aged over 19 but under 24 vary according to the employers’ size, the apprentices’ existing qualifications and the level at which the apprentice is studying.
Grants of £1,500 per apprentice may be available for authorities who employ fewer than 1,000 employees. These grants are under review and may be withdrawn at the end of 2014. More information can be found here.
What is in an advanced apprenticeship?
This is the most popular apprenticeship because of its manageable size and good balance between depth, speed of completion, availability of subject specialism and flexibility.
There are two major components, the first being the underpinning law, legal practice and skills qualification. This comprises four assessed Level 3 CILEx units.
The Units are selected according to the practice area in which the employer wants the apprentice to work. The employer chooses one from five practice areas. It is the selection of the CILEx law unit and legal practice unit that defines the practice area. The choices of law units and legal practice units are as follows:
- Civil litigation: Law of Tort OR Contract Law + Civil Litigation;
- Employment Practice: Employment Practice + Contract Law OR Employment Law;
- Family Practice: Family Law + Family Practice OR Child Care Practice;
- Private Client: Law of Wills & Succession + Probate Practice OR Elderly Client Practice;
- Property: Land Law Or Contract Law + Conveyancing OR Residential and Commercial Conveyancing.
The second major component is a competency qualification comprising twelve units that are completed by the apprentice producing evidence of competently performed tasks such as drafting legal documents using precedents, communicating effectively, managing files etc.
The competency units are assessed in the workplace by legally qualified assessors.
Apprentices must also show they are competent in Maths, English and ICT. This is usually satisfied by recent GCSEs at grade C or above.
An advanced apprenticeship takes approximately two years to complete.
More detail on the advanced apprenticeship can be found here.
The higher apprenticeship in legal services
The structure of the higher apprenticeship is broadly similar to that of an advanced apprenticeship, save that apprentices are assumed to already possess adequate skills in English, maths and ICT.
Detailed information on the underpinning law, legal practice and skills qualifications and the competency qualification for the higher apprenticeship can be found here. As with the advanced apprenticeship, the employer chooses a practice area. There are three from which to choose:
- Debt Recovery & Insolvency;
- Commercial Litigation;
- Personal Injury.
Employers should allow the apprentice three years to complete.
Intermediate Apprenticeship in Legal Administration
This is suitable for legal process staff and/or administrators. Unlike the higher and advanced apprenticeships, all of the assessment is in the workplace.
Along with generic business related skills, legal text processing and legal audio processing skills are developed. Legal awareness knowledge is in the form of two units which are chosen from a range of subjects.
Apprentices must study English, maths and ICT if they do not have recent qualifications in these areas. Intermediate apprenticeships are set at GCSE standard and take between 15 and 18 months to complete.
Delivery of a legal apprenticeship
Apprenticeship programme delivery methods vary depending on the level of the apprenticeship. The following is a brief description of how an advanced apprenticeship is delivered by CILEx Law School:
- For the four unit CILEx law, legal practice and skills qualification apprentices receive blended learning courses. These use formative coursework, webinars, webcasts, on-line and telephone teaching support and occasional face-to-face teaching/revision sessions.
- For the competency units, progress is discussed at twelve weekly reviews and in between by phone and email.
- There is close liaison between CILEx Law School and the apprentice’s supervisor.
Recruiting a legal apprentice
Employers can recruit at any time of the year, but they should remember that to be eligible for free training under the current rules the apprentice must be under 19 at the time of starting the programme.
Some employers choose to recruit themselves, while others prefer to use a full recruitment service.
A full recruitment service is a charged for service. It is the same irrespective of the number of apprentices recruited at the time. The service includes:
- aptitude testing;
- English, Maths and ICT initial assessments;
- telephone interviews;
- selection for employer interviews.
Even where the local authority chooses to recruit itself, we are happy to advise on the job specification and recruitment criteria. In particular we would recommend for the advanced and higher apprenticeships that employers look for candidates with good ‘A’ level grades.