This April, many law firms started paying the Apprenticeship Levy – effectively a tax of 0.5% of any salary bill over three million pounds. Affected firms are now busy exploring ways to spend their Levy vouchers to offset that cost. The vouchers can only be spent on training apprentices, including apprentice paralegals, chartered legal executives and solicitors but also accountants, marketing and HR professionals. The list of government approved Trailblazer apprenticeships is growing all the time.
Firms with a lower salary bill avoid the Levy but can still recruit apprentices with the government picking up 90% of the cost. For those firms there is now an available fund to help them grow their talent from within. BPP Law School is seeing a groundswell of interest in its legal and non-legal apprenticeship programmes and anticipates future legal apprenticeship programmes will accommodate apprentices joining firms at 18 (post A level) and post-degree (law or non-law).
A number of factors point to the conclusion that the profession may be on the eve of a revolution in legal training; where trainee solicitors may be called apprentices and where those apprentices are recruited from ambitious A level students as well as those with a law or non-law degree. Whilst this is driven by the Levy, it is not the only disrupter in the market. The SRA’s decision to proceed with the ‘SQE’, a new centralised assessment for solicitors, will also play havoc with the way in which law firms recruit talent into their businesses. The SQE has received a barrage of criticism to date and fundamental objections remain, for example, the over-use of MCQ testing and the narrow focus on the reserved areas of practice. Also controversial are the proposals for the end of the formal two year training contract replaced by a looser requirement to undertake up to four periods of work experience.
Change is always unsettling, but let’s be positive. Perhaps the profession and its new entrants will be better for it? A more diverse and motivated cohort may emerge, some of whom have been lucky enough to secure a funded route to a law degree and professional qualification and career. More firms may take up the opportunity to access government funding and train a new generation of legal professionals across all sectors opening up genuine funded career opportunities for example for criminal, family or immigration practitioners, so law students are not all chasing the more traditionally funded corporate / commercial training contract pathways.
Is your firm ready for the revolution?
Jo-Anne Pugh is a Director of Programmes at BPP Law School and will be attending the Tees Valley Law Society AGM on 28 June 2017 to guide you through the latest developments on the SQE, the Apprenticeship Levy and the range of apprenticeships your firm may be interested in to maximize its Levy spend or access levy money (if your firm is not a levy payer).