The government has approved standards for a new apprenticeship route to the legal profession in a move that could pave the way for solicitor apprenticeships to start next year.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority welcomed the approval of the plans, which will enable apprentices to qualify as a solicitor, paralegal or a chartered legal executive as part of the government’s Trailblazer apprenticeship scheme.

The solicitor route will take five to six years to complete, and apprentices will need a minimum of five GCSEs, including maths and English at a grade C or above, and three A-levels, or equivalent.

People can qualify to become an apprentice without the required grades if they fulfil other requirements, such as relevant employer-led work experience or a level-three advanced apprenticeship in a relevant occupation.

Apprentices will first be assessed through functioning knowledge tests, which will consist of a timed exam in an assessment centre and a work-based assessment. They will then take a standardised practical legal exam, which must be completed within the last six months of an apprenticeship.

The standards approved correspond to the SRA’s statement of solicitor competence. The standards was developed by the Law Society, Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the SRA and firms including DWF and Olswang. 

However, the scheme was criticised earlier this year by the City of London Law Society, which said it was not convinced standards would be maintained.

Paul Philip (pictured), SRA chief executive, said: ‘It’s very good news that the Solicitors’ Apprenticeship Standard and assessment plan have been approved. Opening up the profession through improving alternative routes to qualification can make an important contribution to increasing diversity, so we see this as a positive step forwards.’

The SRA said the first legal trainees could join the trailblazer scheme by as early as September 2016.

Gun Judge, chair of the Trailblazer legal committee and resourcing manager at Addleshaw Goddard, said the scheme would open the doors ‘to a more diverse talent stream’.

‘Our apprentices create a huge contribution to the firm, and we will be looking to hire more,’ she said.