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Legal Apprentices from an Employer’s view

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The legal recruitment market has been forced to take on massive changes in the era of Jackson and fixed costs for Litigation Solicitors generally and for personal injury practitioners in particular.  

Profit margins have been squeezed as never before and in many cases firms who have not planned in advance for these massive changes have had to close or merge with others who have. 

Writing as a partner and manager in a litigation centred practice I know only too well the demands which have been thrust upon us almost all at once. 

I have realised that quality employees in times of massive changes like these are a crucial ingredient in the key to not only survival but also prospering.  

A huge strain is lifted if the right staff are in situ helping you through these times. But you may be asking yourself doesn’t quality translate into “expense” and doesn’t expense translate into even “bigger overheads”? 

The answer is an emphatic NO – not necessarily. 

The Governments new Legal Apprenticeship scheme allows a firm to take on quality, bright and keen young people who would rather get on to the legal job ladder as soon as possible, proceed to an academic qualification either as a qualified Legal Apprentice or as a stepping stone into the Chartered Legal Executive qualification (CILEx). 

The massive, ever increasing cost of a university degree and the even greater cost of Law School for those embarking on Solicitors qualifications are now turning people off the traditional route. This is understandable to some degree. After Law School there are far more applications for training contracts than places available and often prospective trainees, totally overburdened with debt are forced to take paralegal positions indefinitely at a much reduced wage even compared with trainee wages.

I am testimony to this being only too aware of the volume of applications we get from such prospective trainees. 

Consider the alternative – a living wage straight after school, an opportunity to progress up the ladder in the firm and at the very least obtain a “foot in the door”.

At the same time, an academic course offering a considerable degree of flexibility with a qualification which I have no doubt will be increasingly more recognised by employers. 

As a medium sized Employer in the personal injury litigation industry in The North West of England who have been in practice for more than 25 years, we have always traditionally backed any employee who wishes to further their legal career. We have a number of staff who have been with us for many years who are perfect testimony to this policy and we have benefited as have our staff who have moved up the ladder within the firm. 

The fact that help is at last being provided in the form of Government subsidy can only be good news. 

Certainly the greater opportunities now available to and afforded to Chartered Legal Executives in terms of rights of audience etc are another massive incentive.

Traditionally perhaps thought of as the “poor cousin” to solicitors, Legal Executives are no longer being regarded in this category - Watch out solicitors (and I am one of them)! 

As for Employers and speaking as one myself, the advantages are significant. Lower overhead cost particularly with The Government’s subsiding costs of study for under 19s are an obvious one. I am far from being a fan of this government but out of everything they have done this it seems to me stands out as their only good policy I can recall certainly in the context of our profession, (possibly too in the context of everything else they have done). 

But it is more than just money. The candidates we have received when vacancies have arisen have been excellent – often A grade students who are keen, bright and hungry and have made the conscious decision to embark on an alternative career path to degree and law school. 

As an Employer I am increasingly finding that it is the quality of the employee, their attitude to the job in hand and personality that is more important more often than whether they have particular letters after their name anyway. 

As Employers in the Lawyer market now I believe we need to show flexibility and good commercial judgement when looking at recruitment. The legal world has changed and will continue to change at an even more dramatic pace and we all have to be ready for this and adapt quickly. The Legal Apprentice could be an answer to a lot of our problems. 

Jan Canter is a partner at KLS Law (klslaw.co.uk) in Warrington and currently has 2 apprentices on program for the Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services with The Law Academy & Damar Training. 

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