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Hiring the apprentice

The popularity of legal apprenticeships, which provide a fundable route into law, is growing. Jenny Pelling explains what they have to offer local government.

From the media frenzy for apprenticeships recently you might be thinking they are just the new political zeitgeist. Boris Johnson was pictured in an orange boiler suit with apprentices in Ilford; Manchester City Hall had ‘made by apprentices’ written around it; Ed Miliband said that HS2 should create 33,000 apprenticeships; and David Cameron – at the height of the media interest in apprenticeships during National Apprenticeship Week – spoke at Mercedes Benz in Milton Keynes about apprenticeships being the “new norm” and a strong alternative to university for those leaving school.

That might leave you thinking that apprenticeships are just for the manufacturing sector, with little relevance to the legal industry, let alone local government lawyers. But as someone who has been working on the development of legal apprenticeship qualifications for the CILEx Group for more than 18 months, I would challenge that view.

As we know from the Milburn report, for a while the Government’s focus has been on widening access to the professions, particularly law. Apprenticeships can provide diverse recruitment and increased social mobility.

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To throw that focus into sharp relief the Minister for Skills, Matthew Hancock MP, attended Herbert Smith Freehills’ offices in March to launch the new Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services. Seven apprentices attended the event from Browne Jacobson and one of its partners, Susan Mabbott, spoke about the value apprentices have brought to the firm. The following morning Katherine Price from Lyons Davidson spoke at the House of Lords about the apprenticeship model that the firm has long employed of offering career paths to young people through strong internal training and a career route with CILEx.

Recruitment and development

So, apprenticeships are relevant to law, and to local government. While there are impressive business benefit statistics from the National Apprenticeship Service, perhaps the main point for local government legal teams is in having a fundable route into law which you can offer to young people within the communities you serve, and to existing staff to improve their current skills. This provides an opportunity to have training delivered for your apprentices, by the likes of CILEx Law School, with government funding.

There is plenty of choice too: there are school leaver entry points with apprenticeships at Level 2 in Legal Administration (GCSE), Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services (A level standard) being developed by CILEx, Skills for Justice and the University of Law for this autumn, and Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services (first year degree standard) which has just launched with CILEx, Damar and Skills for Justice. Interestingly for local government, the development work on Level 3 legal apprenticeships includes having civil litigation, family, property and employment pathways: all relevant for local authority teams.


The Prime Minister said recently: “We have to take on apprentices in some government departments. And the public sector needs to look at how it uses apprenticeships.” While social responsibility goes deeper than lip service, it is becoming more common to see questions about local community initiatives and educational backgrounds in tender documents.

Ben Watts, Group Leader of Litigation and Social Welfare at Kent Legal Services, says: “Any legal team needs a range of people and experiences from a variety of backgrounds. Given the type of work that we do, we are particularly keen to ensure that our team also reflects the community it serves.”


We are all very aware of how difficult the job market is in the current climate, particularly for NEETs (those young people not in education, employment or training). For some time, jobs in major law firms have tended to go to triple A grade, Russell Group graduates. Now, apprenticeships are opening up opportunities in law for school leavers. They also enable legal services teams to be able to home grow their lawyers (there are exemptions from the CILEx qualification for some apprenticeships) and to free up their own time for more complex matters by delegating some of the more routine work to an apprentice.

Hillingdon takes the plunge

The London Borough of Hillingdon announced its recruitment of four legal apprentices on a two-year contract from March 2013 with ILEX Tutorial College (now known as CILEx Law School) and Vision Apprentices. The apprentices will gain six months’ experience in each of the housing and property, social services, corporate and planning departments.

Hilingdon’s legal team wanted to build the capacity of the department and, at the same time, do something positive for the local community. It advertised for four legal apprentices and was surprised by the strength of response. The four young people from the local area who joined the legal team in March will gain practical skills and experience while studying for a Level 2 Legal Administration Apprenticeship qualification, equivalent to GCSE/AS level.

Hillingdon Cabinet Member for Central Services, Cllr Scott Seaman-Digby, said: “The jobs market has never been more competitive, and so the council is pleased to be able to offer these young people the opportunity to kick start their legal career, and gain a qualification at the same time.

“Not only are apprenticeships a great way for young people to gain essential work-based skills and experience, but we are also looking forward to seeing what fresh new ideas, energy and skills they can bring to our teams.”

Muna Ahmed, one of the apprentices, commented: “This apprenticeship is a fantastic opportunity for me as I want to develop my skills in the work place at the same time as study. I’m really looking forward to getting some practical experience within the council, which will help me start my career in the legal industry.”

So this is no zeitgeist moment: apprenticeships are here for a long time. The Government has invested in creating new routes into the professions via apprenticeships. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives has offered an alternative route since 1963: the difference with apprenticeships is that government funding is available for the training costs, and apprenticeships will combine technical training with competence skills.

In the words of David Cameron: “The whole point of National Apprenticeship Week is to say to businesses large and small, to public-sector organisations, ‘have you thought about this properly?’.”

Jenny Pelling is Business Director of CILEx Law School



Louis Pepper joined Lancaster Council as its first legal apprentice. Here he explains how it came about.

What drove you to apply for an apprenticeship with the council?

In my final year of school I was faced with the daunting prospect of choosing a career path. I could take the traditional route – sixth form, university and hopefully a job. Alternately, I could opt for immediate employment or vocational training.

The university route was daunting. The price of higher education was getting higher and the level of student debt was following a similar curve. The prospect of money dancing in my pocket by taking immediate employment was tempting but not certain. Indeed, immediate employment did not necessarily lend itself to development of specialist skill or knowledge (or at least the probability of acquiring such skill was less certain). In the end I chose to study painting and decorating at a further education college.

Solving practical problems and undertaking practical work was enjoyable but not academically challenging. The prospect of undertaking practical academic work was intriguing and the catalyst that drove me to apply for an apprenticeship with Lancaster City Council.

Why did you want a career in a legal department?

Prior to applying for the apprenticeship with the council I didn’t want a career in a legal environment; in fact the thought of it hadn’t even crossed my mind. However, since I have started working here I have come to enjoy the study and practice of law. I have especially enjoyed the challenge of learning how law is interpreted and how the facts of a case can lead to differing legal opinions.

What do you do? What do you enjoy?

Each day is quite different. A lot of the work I do is administrative, which involves sorting through the post, taking telephone messages and photocopying. There are numerous other tasks I do such as drafting letters, researching points of law and preparing trial bundles. Sometimes I get to look at cases and make a summary on whether or not I think a prosecution is possible.

I especially enjoy attending licensing and planning committee meetings and court cases. This gives me more of an insight into how the English legal system works, the functions and practices of local government and how judicial and administrative decisions are made.

How the apprenticeship works

The apprenticeship is run by Damar training, which is based in Stockport, Manchester. An assessor comes out every month to see me and to see how I am doing. This gives me the opportunity to ask her questions if there is anything I am unsure about but also gives me a chance to express any concerns or worries.

Damar very much focuses on the administrative side of the apprenticeship; however another part of it is handled by CILEx Law School. This part of the apprenticeship is where I learn about the English law system and the European jurisdiction. The course with CILEx Law School only lasts for 13 weeks with an exam at the end of it.

Where do you want to progress?

At this time, I am unsure where I want to go after this apprenticeship is completed. However, by undertaking it I have given myself greater options and opportunities. It means I can go on to complete advanced and higher apprenticeships, which would help me if I wanted to pursue the course of a legal executive, or even a solicitor. 

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