As an educational institution with a keen eye to innovation and responding to developments in the legal environment, we at Anglia Ruskin University have been exploring legal apprenticeships and how they might fit into the local legal picture and our offering to local firms.
Following a piece in the Spring edition of Light Blue, written by the Law Society Relationship Manager for this region, Jack Dunkley, which explained a little about these legal apprenticeships we started making enquiries of some of the volunteer lawyers involved in our Law Clinic to find out who was offering them, why and could we support this is any way.
Interestingly, we are only aware of one local firm that is training legal apprentices and that is Ashtons Legal which has 4 apprentices at the moment. The firm, which has a total workforce of 357, also has 6 current trainees.
They first started to explore the apprenticeship route to qualification in September 2016 when the local CILEx manager contacted them to suggest it; their CEO had heard about the scheme and wanted to give it a try. Ashtons already had a range of ways that their staff were working towards qualification:
- training contracts
- full CILEx route
- graduates coming in as paralegals/admin support and looking to qualify via either of the above routes
and apprenticeships just added another strand.
As a firm, they have mainly identified suitable staff members and suggested an apprenticeship to them, the advantage being that that they can pick people who embody their core principles and who they would like to keep long-term. The first apprentice they appointed had a non-law degree so going down the apprenticeship route avoided the need for them to do a conversion course. They are now in their 3rd year of their apprenticeship.
They use the apprenticeship levy to fund their apprentices. If you are an employer with a pay bill over £3 million each year, since 6 April 2017 you have been required to pay the apprenticeship levy and you report and pay your levy to HMRC through the PAYE process.
If you are a levy-paying employer, you can create an account on the apprenticeship service to:
- receive levy funds for you to spend on apprenticeships
- manage your apprentices
- pay your training provider.
The maximum levy funds per apprentice are £30,000 over 6 years. In Ashtons’ case, for each apprentice they pay £3,000 each year and the rest is made up from the apprenticeship levy pot. There is also a provision for the firm to claw back costs if the apprentice leaves during the apprenticeship period.
From the firm’s perspective, the administration of the scheme is not overly onerous; at the outset, the apprenticeship contract has to be set up and there is the ongoing management of the apprenticeship levy account. The apprentice’s tutor will visit the firm at least once a year to ensure that everything is going smoothly and the firm covers the cost of academic books which totals around £300. Apprentices must be given experience of three different disciplines as part of their apprenticeship but this has proved a very effective method of learning as apprentices experience an area of law first-hand, in practice, at the same time as they are studying it academically.
The only real disadvantage of running the apprenticeship scheme for Ashtons has been managing cover for the one day per week when apprentices are on study leave but this is more a case of managing workloads than anything else. Also, colleagues need to be conscious that apprentices have a lot of academic work that they have to do outside of work and awareness of these additional pressures is important.
As a firm planning to expand apprenticeships of this kind, Ashtons has indicated that they would be very interested in a local institution offering the academic element of the apprenticeship as it would cut down on travel expenses and time for their apprentices. As an academic institution, we would be extremely interested to hear the views of other local firms, whether they have their own apprentices, have considered getting involved with the apprenticeship scheme or who would simply like to know more about this method of qualification.
At the suggestion of the President of the Cambridge & District Law Society, Karl Dembicki, we would like to invite interested parties to a symposium hosted by our Law Clinic so that we can explore this innovative area of legal education in more detail. If you would be interested in attending, please contact me and we can schedule a suitable date to meet.
Law Clinic Director
Anglia Law School
Anglia Ruskin University