Lecturer's Insight

Solicitor Higher Apprenticeships? What the…….?

This article was written by Viv Ivins – LPC and PSC Course Leader, Principle Lecturer in Innovation and former Solicitor.

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I never get bored at work.

My days are rarely dull and I’m never short of something new to consider, but I wonder who else found themselves flicking through the Gazette last week to find the comment on page 10 written by Sue Husband?

Last week was National Apprenticeship week 2015. I can’t say I was particularly aware of that – it was not prominently marketed, however I did become aware, not just through this article, but because of a rash of meetings, all centred on the new ‘Higher Apprenticeships’. As a higher education provider, Lancashire Law School at UCLan are naturally involved in any new ‘higher’ education product and this is certainly an interesting development.

There is absolutely nothing new about apprenticeships – they have been around for centuries, founded on the principle that the best way of learning surely must be through watching and mirroring an expert in the task. Of course, often apprenticeships traditionally were focussed more on practical skilled based occupations. The modern apprenticeships helped redress the balance across professions and the brand-new trailblazer apprenticeships programme will seek to complete this renaissance.

Of course we are interested in any new opportunity to help improve access to the legal professions – even the SRA have thrown their weight behind this new scheme.

Yes, apprenticeships are evolving. The Gazette article highlighted Weightmans and Gordons as some of the big players embracing this shift. I attended a ‘Trailblazer in Law Provider Event’ at Simmons & Simmons shortly before Christmas, where additionally we were addressed by representatives of Addleshaw & Goddard, the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, Claire Johnston from DWF with the employer’s input, Vicky Purtil from Cilex and Julie Brannan from the SRA.

There is certainly an appetite for change in the professional bodies; a modest appetite for change amongst employers; and clearly an appetite for change in legal education providers.

Interest has been sparked because there will soon be brand-new apprenticeship-standards for solicitor apprentices (at level 7); chartered legal executive apprentice (at level 6) and paralegal apprentice (at level 4). Yes, that is correct – a full level 7 solicitor apprenticeship, with government funding, will soon be available.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/apprenticeship-standards-in-development

The new professional apprenticeship standards for these are not yet approved, but likely to be so in the very near future. What makes these innovative and really worthy of our careful scrutiny and probable support, are that in future, apprenticeships will be based on standards designed by employers to meet their needs, the needs of their sector and the economy more widely. These new employer-led apprenticeships will much better meet the needs of small and medium businesses; encouragingly the standards themselves will be short and easy to understand – just two sides of A4, but supported by a comprehensive assessment statement.

Taking on a legal services apprentice (whether paralegal, Cilex or solicitor) will become more streamlined, and wholly embraced as main-stream. The Skills Funding Agency has developed a rather straightforward table to help employers see at a glance the costs and benefits to them (link at the end). An SME employer will find extra financial support (‘incentives’) to enable them to get involved and encourage all to jump on this train as it gathers momentum….

Of course the legal profession was already going to have to come to terms with comprehensive changes to its methods of training future lawyers. The SRA’s ‘Training for Tomorrow’, has as its objectives:-

  • To focus better on assuring standards
  • To remove unjustifiable barriers to admission by encouraging new,

flexible and innovative ways to qualify

….and has published, its ‘Competence Statement’ (subject to the outcome of the ongoing consultation). Julie Brannan indicated that the new ‘Solicitor Apprenticeship Standard’ will be that of the ‘Competence Statement’ which is an ‘Activity-based model, generic for all solicitors’ setting out a broad definition of competence as being ‘the ability to perform the roles and tasks required by one’s job to the expected standard’ (Eraut & du Boulay, 2001).

SRA say that “the advantage of this definition is that it recognises that requirements and expectations change depending on job role and context. It also recognises that competence develops, and that an individual may work competently at many different levels, either at different stages of their career, or indeed from one day to the next depending on the nature of their work.”

Before admission to the profession, the apprentice will of course need to demonstrate their competence through rigorous independent assessment, focused primarily on testing their competence at the end of their apprenticeship.

For example, at the meeting before Christmas, we were informed that the draft assessment plan for the solicitor apprenticeship standard envisages:

  • End-point, synoptic assessment for all apprentices to be provided by a single, independent assessment organisation appointed by SRA
  • Meeting the requirements of Richard Review
  • At point of qualification

We were told that this model of assessment will be designed to ensure consistency and will increase confidence in – and value placed on – an apprenticeship, both by the apprentice and by potential future employers. I hope that is so, but of course it remains to be seen – there is hardly enough information available at the moment to enable anyone to form an evaluative reasonable analysis of these proposals.

But, well, there is a lot to take in here: a new vista of quality, high level apprenticeships, fully incorporating the values of university study with true real-life practical workplace experience; removing the burden of excessive loans from students; providing financial support and incentives to legal firms to get involved.

As a parent, I think this is a great step forward.

As a lawyer, I think this is a great step forward.

As a legal education provider, I think this is a great step forward.

As a legal employer – I hope you also think this is a great step forward.

Employers are being placed at the centre of this development. The standards are being developed by employers – to benefit employers. If you’ve not already read it, check out the article by Sue Husband – which contains stats and facts about the benefits in having apprenticeships in your organisation. Best of all, everyone can take advantage – very small high street firms, right up to the big blue chippers (whoever they may be….)

If you want to discuss this and find out how Lancashire Law School, can help you upgrade your workforce and training provision, come to an informal breakfast meeting on Thursday March 26th.  ‘Breakfast@8’ is free of charge and provides breakfast, as well as information and chat;  in Scholars Restaurant, UCLan.  Contact vivins@uclan.ac.uk for details.

P.S.   Click these links to the very latest published information on the new standards for Trailblazers.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/412179/Trailblazer_Apprenticeship_Funding_2014_to_2015_Requirements_for_Employers.pdf

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/employers-unveil-new-industry-designed-apprenticeships

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/411872/Quality_Statement.pdf

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