Solicitors and Fee Earners within the legal industry have traditionally been known as the academic elite, with the bulk being made up of university graduates. Often, even Paralegals have postgraduate qualifications.
This may all change with the removal of the undergraduate fee cap next year which may, it is believed, start off a new “work while you train” type position. This is something that the legal industry has not really seen since after the 2nd world war when there was a shortage of solicitors, meaning that legal clerks were taken into the partnerships of law firms.
It seems that the process may already be underway with evidence that one of the leading firms in Yorkshire has launched a legal apprenticeship scheme for school leavers meaning that they will be able to qualify as a lawyer without going to university. This apprenticeship comes in the form of a 4 year scheme and will allow 5 “apprentices” to be paid an annual salary while being trained as a Legal Executive.
The government's main hope and aim with this is that initiatives like these will decrease the probable depressing effect on social mobility of the new undergraduate fee regime, which will almost certainly result in fewer students from poorer backgrounds going to university. To encourage schemes like this across the country, it has even been confirmed that the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, has promised to boost the vocational training budget by £222m per year. Whilst this generous promise looks likely to help, smaller, legal aid firms, it is unlikely that it will make much difference to the larger, national practices and hence why some of these firms have already gone ahead and launched their own internal schemes before any government funding has been agreed.
Will other firms now start to follow suit? Who knows? The only thing we do know is that this ever-evolving industry looks set to go through big changes in the years to come.