Even with financial incentives, some firms are reluctant to take on apprentices.
The apprenticeship levy – 0.5% of any payroll of £3m or over – will be paid by firms from May. As the levy can be clawed back to fund the employment of apprenticeships, it is government’s way of charging for something it wants to happen.
Some reticence around apprenticeships is rooted in a traditional divide in the working population – apprenticeships lead to a trade, but law is a profession. For a robust defence of legal apprenticeships, though, we can turn to those providing them and the apprentices themselves (see feature).
Certainly, combining study with a demanding workload is not an easy route to qualification compared with, say, three pleasant years at a Russell Group university followed by law school – the latter endured with the security of a superannuated training contract in the bag.
As the legal profession plans its future, its challenge, as legal academic David Howarth points out, is for the apprentice route to take in sufficient legal theory, and for the academic route to better reflect the practical demands clients will make on solicitors.
The government needs high-end professional training through apprenticeships to counter criticism that apprenticeships are just a nicely branded part of the ‘gig’ economy. But done right, apprenticeships could actually help raise standards in the law.