Law firms new apprentice scheme to rival university degree.

A Yorkshire law firm, with offices in Leeds and Bradford, has become the first to launch an apprenticeship scheme for College leavers; rivalling the traditional university training route.

Gordons has welcomed five people to undertake its annual apprenticeship scheme which aims to find and train budding lawyers without them having to attend university.The apprenticeships are the idea of Gordons Managing Partner Paul Ayre, who was inspired after watching BBC programme ‘Who Gets the Best Jobs?’ which looked at how the majority of the best jobs go to those from wealthy backgrounds.

Due to the recent rise in tuition fees the firm decided to launch the scheme in September, promising mentoring support, holiday days and an annual salary of £10,390 to bright 17-18 year olds who have achieved impressive A-level grades. The UK’s top 100 firm will also fund their fees to train as legal executives over a four year period, with the course fees alone representing an investment of over £32,500.

Karen Mills, Human Resources Manager at the firm, insists that the benefits outweigh the costs.“We are expanding our business and these people will grow with the firm. We are putting a lot of new procedures in place and by training with us they will adapt to the systems and already know what is expected of them”

All five apprentices have already started their on the job training at the firm, with three based at the Leeds office on Whitehall Road, and two in Bradford.  While there, they will combine working at Gordon’s with studying for the ILEX exams (Institute of Legal Executives) which will take four years of part time work, attending one evening class a week to qualify.

ILEX has recently been granted the accolade of a Royal Charter for its high standard of ethical conduct, efficiency and training. Once qualified, the apprentices will be able to call themselves ‘Chartered Legal Executives’ and will also be on an equal ranking with those who have taken the traditional university route.

“I think things are changing. The university route has always been the preferred route but other firms are now realising that there is merit in having on the job experience.  I think that will be looked upon favourably and certainly on equal merit to going to university.

Those who attend university incur the costs and then have to do a legal practice course which is another £9,000 and takes a lot of time out of actually working in a lawyer’s environment.  This scheme is an alternative route and means aspiring lawyers can join the firm, get their experience and earn a salary at the same time as developing a career” adds Mrs Mills.

The apprenticeship programme appears to be a growing trend with law firm Pinsent Masons also launching the scheme, paying school- leavers a yearly starting salary of £19,000. Current university students are concerned that in the current economic climate, where jobs are already difficult to come across, these in-house schemes are going to make it even harder.

Claire Goodman, a third year law student at Leeds Metropolitan University said, “ I am going to leave university with thousands of pounds worth of debt and struggle to find a job because they will be taken by people who have trained with the firms and know how they operate”.

Gordons insists that this is only an alternative route in to the law profession and that there is still a place for the traditional route. However, those who decide to take the traditional route aren’t guaranteed a job at the end of it.

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