Alternative routes into law: the degree of difference between paying to learn and learning while you earn

With increased tuition fees coming into play next year, more legal firms are starting to offer paid apprenticeships and paralegal training schemes so that those opting out of university can still get into the legal profession. But are students convinced by these alternative routes?

Of those discussed, the only route that pays is the apprenticeship, which allows school-leavers to work their way up through the ILEX (Institute for Legal Executives) scheme. Last month, Pinsent Masons became the latest firm to launch a legal apprenticeship scheme for non-university hopefuls. Graduate recruitment manager, Edward Walker, explained that:

“The long-term goal of the programme is to develop a pool of talented legal executives across the firm while at the same time offering an alternative career route for students…”

DWF launched its scheme in August, following Leeds firm Gordons’ launch of its scheme in June this year. Other firms who have embraced the idea include Norton Rose, Eversheds, and Irwin Mitchell.
Gordons managing partner, Paul Ayre, said:

One of the barriers [to the legal profession] is the need to be university-educated… not all bright and ambitious 17 and 18-year-olds are able to… Our idea is to create opportunities for some of these.”

The chosen five receive a salary and have their training fees paid, estimated to cost over £32,500.

This trend may be a welcome alternative for many as it has become almost standard to work for free in this profession before being taken on full-time, and thats generally after or while studying for a degree. It is not hard to imagine the negative impact of this on social mobility within the profession. Cherie Booth QC, more commonly known as Cherie Blair, came from a working-class background, and is supportive of finding ways to open up the law to working-class students. She expressed concern that

“…if the legal profession doesn’t reflect society at large we’re not just losing talent… we’re undermining justice

Although more firms are starting to offer school-leaver schemes, there is still concern about how the profession values the ILEX route compared to a degree. TSR members share these concerns but are still making up their minds. Some are simply financially concerned about the difference in pay between a solicitor and a legal executive, while others see having a degree as offering more security and options.

‘Im currently doing A2 law, enjoying it and… would prefer to get onto an apprenticeship rather than go to uni.’

In response to the intention to apply for an apprenticeship, one post warned that ILEX is a lengthy process compared with the traditional degree route.

In the 2006 discussion ‘ILEX or Uni??‘ respondents advised going to university and not worrying too much about the cost. For those weighing up their options in the current economic climate, these schemes could now prove an attractive alternative to the fees hike.

In the meantime, we’ll have to wait for this year’s apprentices to advise their peers on The Student Room as to whether this alternative offers professional value or just financial.