Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer is believed to be the first magic circle firm to offer paralegal apprenticeships, insisting the move will not affect its future trainee solicitor numbers.

The London-headquartered firm, in partnership with the University of Law, will take on two apprentices at its legal services centre in Manchester, starting in October.

Announcing the news, Olivia Balson (pictured), head of the legal services centre, said the firm wanted to encourage wider access to the law and increase possibilities for progression for the ‘very best’ talents.

‘These apprenticeships offer a flexible route for talented students to join the legal profession and opportunities to those already in the firm to nurture these talents,’ Balson added.

The firm has previously offered apprenticeships in its business services division, but a spokesperson told the Gazette that this is its first paralegal apprenticeship.

The scheme will have no impact on Freshfields training contracts, the spokesperson added. There are also presently no plans to offer legal apprenticeships in the London office.

The Manchester-based legal services centre opened in June 2015 with the aim of providing a ‘cost-effective, high-quality and efficient alternative delivery model for certain process-heavy types of client work’.

The team, based in the Arndale Centre in the city centre, consists of legal support assistants, transaction support lawyers and managers.

During the two-year programme, apprentices will study and take assessments in additional modules focusing on two of the firm’s key practice areas: contract and corporate law.

The intention is to offer roles to apprentices that successfully complete the programme, the spokesperson said.