A more diverse, inclusive, healthy and successful legal sector

legal apprenticeship reform

The creation of a legal sector that is more diverse, inclusive, healthy and successful – it’s time to have your say.

For many years, Damar and our partner-employers have championed the huge impact that good apprenticeships make to lives, careers and to organisations. We have been closely involved in the creation and delivery of apprenticeships in the legal sector and are proud that many talented, ambitious apprentices from diverse backgrounds and of all ages have now completed legal apprenticeships, with growing numbers now becoming qualified lawyers.

Law is a sector that employs about 550,000 people across roughly 12,000 employers, generating revenue of £40 billion a year. However, and despite many excellent initiatives, access and progression opportunities for those from non-traditional backgrounds are still not as good as they should be. The current complex landscape of vocational legal education (including apprenticeships), with its myriad qualifications, professional and membership organisations and professional titles, few of which link together in any meaningful way, acts as an unintended brake on social mobility, diversity and inclusion.

Apprenticeships and the government funding that supports them should be part of the solution. We are delighted that, on 18th July 2022, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education launched a review of how skills training serves the legal, finance and accounting professions (specifically, apprenticeships and T Levels).  However, we are concerned that the consultation, which ends on 30th September is too short, too broad and too shallow to be able to deliver meaningful change.

The paper, which we published in April 2022, sets out the issues and opportunities in more detail: you can access the paper here.

Nevertheless, the fact that a consultation is underway is an opportunity. That is why we are calling on all stakeholders to respond by email to LegalFinanceAccounting.IFATE@education.gov.uk and review the limited series of consultation questions here. We would also encourage you to attend the IFATE webinar on 27th September.

So, if you represent a law firm or in-house legal team, you work in the law, or are a law student, legal apprentice or are a buyer of legal services and you want a legal sector that is more diverse, inclusive, healthy and successful, please take a few minutes to respond.

A draft email is set out below. The email makes some suggestions, based on our experience, about an overarching framework and some common principles that might support meaningful reform. They are just suggestions – please feel free to amend these or to write your own email.

Suggested email to the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education:

To: LegalFinanceAccounting.IFATE@education.gov.uk

Subject: Review of skills training for the legal sector

Dear Sir/Madam,

As a stakeholder in the sector I/we welcome The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education (IfATE) review of how skills training serves the legal, finance and accounting professions. However, with an end date of 30th September, a narrow range of consultation questions and a scope that covers three very different professions, I am/we are concerned that the consultation will not deliver the intended outcomes (with which I/we wholeheartedly agree) namely:

  • Making sure that apprenticeships and wider technical education works for everyone regardless of the size and location of businesses and diverse background of trainees.
  • Fulfilling businesses’ current and future skills needs and support sustainability, social mobility, and inclusion.
  • Giving the people doing the training, highly relevant skills that are needed by employers and will launch them into long and successful careers.

Getting this right is crucial. Legal services in this country are an economic success story. The sector generates turnover of roughly £40b a year and makes a total contribution to the economy (GVA) of about £60b. It supports around 550,000 full-time employees and a little under 12,000 law firms (plus in-house teams). Legal services are a big net export and ours is the second biggest market in the world.

However, law continues to suffer from barriers to access for those from non-traditional backgrounds. 22% of qualified lawyers attended fee paying schools compared to 7% of the general population. Many law, legal and Bar practice course graduates incur costs of £60K or more only to find they cannot get a training contract or pupillage. And access is more challenging for those from minority ethic and socially disadvantaged backgrounds. Despite many excellent initiatives by individual employers and sector bodies, the pool of talent coming into the sector remains too narrow. To maintain and increase the UK’s competitive advantage, it is vital that employers access and train the best people, whatever their background.

The current complex landscape of vocational legal education, with its myriad qualifications (including apprenticeships), professional and membership organisations and professional titles, few of which link together in any meaningful way, is an unintended brake on social mobility, diversity, inclusion and employers’ access to talent. Perversely, and far too often, it restricts rather than widens the options for future professionals in the sector – lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

This review is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address these issues and support the creation of a legal sector that is more diverse, inclusive, healthy and successful.

In order that the consultation delivers the outcomes sought by the IFATE and which the sector so badly needs, we request that:

  1. The consultation period for the legal services review be extended beyond 30th September to allow as many stakeholders as possible to participate.
  2. The consultation specifically ask:

a) Whether an objective should be to support the creation of:

“A national framework for the sector which would simplify decisions about transfer between professions and qualification routes, support progression from paralegal to professional lawyer and facilitate the development of specialist pathways in niche or emerging areas.”

[This paraphrases a recommendation originally made in the 2013 Legal Education and Training Review]

b) What (if any) principles should underpin the structure of the apprenticeship and T Level pathways, with the following as suggestions (rationale in italics)?

i. A better range of stepping on and stepping off points.

Stepping on points suitable for, amongst others: A level leavers or those with other apprenticeships; T Level “graduates”; part-qualified and unqualified staff looking to progress within or enter the sector; those moving between practice areas; and non-law graduates. At lower levels, these must not restrict subsequent choices. Stepping off points that allow apprentices to achieve their potential without being “set up to fail”. As a minimum at: paralegal/claims handler (level 3); advanced paralegal/legal technician (level 4/5); legal professional (level 6) and qualified lawyer (level 7).

ii. Better spacing of progression options.

Apprentices and employers should be able to manage progression in ways that match their needs. Level 3 to Level 6 or 7 can be too big a step and can restrict social mobility and access to the sector.

iii. Greater transferability/recognition.

It is currently too hard (for example) for a conveyancing technician to transfer to a Chartered Legal Executive or solicitor apprenticeship, or for a paralegal apprentice to become a probate technician. Poor transferability and limited recognition limits opportunity and restricts the ability of employers to upskill their workforce to meet market needs.

iv. Equality across different areas of law

Apprenticeships should be accessible regardless of practice area. Prospective paralegals working in all the main practice areas should all be able to follow an apprenticeship (whilst recognising that it may not be possible to cover every niche area).

v. No mandatory tie to any one professional pathway

If professional pathways and apprenticeship standards are each aligned to the needs of the sector, it is possible to match qualifications with employer-led apprenticeship standards without mandating their inclusion. Employers and apprentices need the freedom to choose which (if any) qualifications to embed in the apprenticeships. Rigorous end-point assessment is there to ensure that common standards are met.

vi. A suite of standards that permits innovation whilst maintaining quality

The sector is evolving at pace. Well-designed standards will allow providers and awarding bodies to develop specialist content in emerging areas of law and practice such as legal technology and AI, particularly at higher levels, supported by a common core of legal knowledge and ethics.