Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has announced a partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University to train aspiring lawyers through online teaching.

The business, which last week revealed losses of £3.4m in the first half of this year, today revealed details of its academy scheme to improve access to legal careers and provide greater professional development opportunities for its legal, managerial and business support staff.

It says that its existing apprenticeship scheme will combine with the university’s postgraduate programmes to enable employees to progress from an apprentice role to that of qualified lawyer.

CLS said it seeks to provide ‘market-leading development for trainee solicitors’.

The academy scheme will also continue to use qualification routes offered by other bodies including CILEx, Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners and the Chartered Insurance Institute. Movement through career pathways will be assessed on individual performance and success rather than traditional progression based on length of service.

CLS says that the academy’s approach to legal education has been designed to reflect the changing shape of the legal services market and create a workforce more aligned to the rise of alternative business structures.

With university education costs rising, CLS suggests its academy will also have a ‘positive, socially inclusive’ impact by broadening routes in to legal careers.

A spokesman told the Gazette that the training will be free to staff, with the costs borne by CLS, though he was unable to estimate how much it would cost the business.

Co-operative Legal’s head of human resources, Gill Bailey, said: ‘Our new academy provides unique learning and development opportunities for our employees, whilst also supporting the business in developing a talent pipeline.

‘This will ensure that each and every career path is valued and that development and qualification ambitions can be met.’

She said the partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University will ensure the academy provides employees with the right skills, knowledge and experience to help CLS achieve its purpose of making the law as ‘accessible and unintimidating’ as possible.

Head of Manchester Law School at the university Miceál Barden said: ‘Our partnership with CLS is an innovative and exciting response to the changing face of legal services.

‘We look forward to working together through the academy to offer new routes into legal work and support the development of CLS staff across the business.’