Gowling WLG and Fieldfisher are to begin training solicitor apprentices with the University of Law (ULaw) as part of a training course designed to create new pathways to becoming a qualified lawyer.
The new course from ULaw, which officially launched on 25 September, will see 28 apprentices this autumn begin the six-year process in a programme aimed at encouraging a wider pool of candidates to enter the profession.
The course includes a combination of work-based and online supervised study, together with practical and academic activities that will give students a LLB in legal practice skills and ultimately allow them to qualify as solicitors. The programme is also designed to comply with the Government-backed trailblazer standard for legal apprenticeships.
Once apprentices complete the assessments and parts one and two of the incoming solicitors qualifying exam (SQE), which is due to come into force in 2020, they will be able to apply to become fully recognised as lawyers.
The SQE – often dubbed the ‘super exam’ – is part of an ‘outcomes-focused’ overhaul aimed at improving work-based training options and to open the profession up entrants without degrees.
Locations for the apprenticeships include London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds, which ULaw claims will help to widen ‘opportunities for participation and is designed so that it can be tailored to the role undertaken by the apprentice and develop the practical skills employers require’. ULaw is, alongside BPP, one of the two dominant providers of vocational training to major UK law firms.
Gowling is sponsoring three apprentices at ULaw’s Birmingham branch, while Fieldfisher has apprentices in London and Manchester. The programme is also being supported by personal injury specialist Plexus Law, which has apprentices going through the programme in London, Leeds and Manchester.
Emma Cox, head of HR at Fieldfisher, added: ‘Ensuring that we have diversity of talent is increasingly important. Our clients are from a wide range of sectors, many of which do not always recruit from traditional backgrounds. We need to have teams advising them which are more representative of the communities in which they operate.’
Lucy Dolan, early talent resourcing manager at Gowling WLG, said: ‘The three apprentices from our firm have already proven themselves as valuable employees during previous paralegal apprenticeships and we look forward to supporting them on this new venture.’
The SRA announced in April 2017 that the new single, centrally-set SQE will come into use from September 2020, replacing the current requirements for trainee solicitors to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) before undertaking two-year training contracts.
So far apprenticeships have been painfully slow to take off in the profession and moves to usher in the ‘super exam’ have been controversial with supporters of the status quo. However, a number of major law firms, including Burges Salmon, Reed Smith and Mayer Brown, have so far announced plans to train apprentices. With the profession’s dire record on social mobility generating more negative headlines, the pressure for more such initiatives is set to grow.
For more on the controversial super-exam see: ‘A bit like Brexit’: SRA super-exam draws strong reaction but is it knee-jerk resistance to change? (£)