Could budding lawyers skip Uni and go straight to the office?

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UK firm Addleshaw Goddard has announced a lawyer qualification plan for school leavers that will allow them to qualify as solicitors without obtaining university degrees.
 
The firm is spearheading the initiative and has helped the government draft and develop the new standards, called the “Trailblazers Apprenticeship in Law”, alongside a raft of other firms and in-house teams that include DAC Beachcroft, Simmons & Simmons, Clyde & Co and Eversheds.
 
The Trailblazer standards meet the requirements specified by ILEX Professional Standards Limited (IPS) and the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) for qualification as a Chartered Legal Executive or Solicitor.
 
The scheme is now in its second phase, and the employer-led group will consult on the development of a curriculum and assessment process that complies with existing SRA and IPS regulations, before the new standards are launched next year.
 
Gun Judge, HR specialist at Addleshaw Goddard, called the apprenticeship a “pivotal milestone for social mobility in the legal profession”.
 
The new pathway into law aims to expose the profession to those who can’t afford the UK’s university system, and Judge says it will open the doors to a more diverse talent stream.
 
But is a scheme like this the way forward for the legal profession outside of the UK in other countries, like Australia, where university fees continue to rise?
 
Australasian Lawyer asked a group of legal professionals what they thought about opening Australia’s legal industry up to bright high school leavers as a way to sidestep university.
 
The Australian managing partner of Squire Patton Boggs, John Pousen, is doubtful that the programme would add much value Down Under.
 
He recalls something similar that used to exist in Western Australia, where you could become a lawyer by becoming articled.
 
“It was a seven-year programme and it was brought to a head because it wasn’t being used so much,” he says. “In Australia there are so many law graduates and students studying law that it would be a bit counter-intuitive. I just don’t think the supply and demand make sense.”
 
The managing partner of Australian firm KWS Legal, Harriet Warlow-Shill, told Australasian Lawyer that she can see positives in the implementation of an apprenticeship programme, especially amidst the rising cost of university.
 
It would ensure that the legal profession is open to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and it would offer “fabulous” hands-on experience and insight into the operation of law, she says.
 
However, Warlow-Shill acknowledges that it would also come with large challenges to successful implementation.
 
The obvious one is that the resources, time and cost that would be required to ensure the programme is properly monitored would be simply “huge”.
 
She is also weary that an apprenticeship could lead to some firms “using” apprentices to assist practitioners in duties normally completed by law clerks.
 
Other challenges include whether or not firms would be discriminatory towards students who have completed an apprenticeship as opposed to a degree, and what would happen to the apprentice if either they or the employer is unhappy with the relationship, Warlow-Shill says.
 
From an academic perspective, Judith McNamara, the associate professor at Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Faculty of Law, says to have a comprehensive and in-depth understanding of the common law system and how to interpret legislation and case law requires years of intensive training.
 
“A university setting, where the core focus is on a mix of theory and real world cases is proven the best approach for creating the most competent legal practitioners,” she told Australasian Lawyer. “An apprenticeship style of training following university education continues to be used by many firms who run graduate programs. These programs produce excellent practitioners.”
 
However, a standalone apprenticeship program - without formal educational training - would not offer the theoretical basis needed to be a well-rounded practitioner and would only offer training in one specialty area of law, McNamara says.
 
She adds that like many universities, QUT offers a raft of scholarships and financial support so that attendance is within reach of most young people.
  • Yvon on 18/07/2015 12:02:48 AM

    I thought that there was already an excess of lawyers in Australia. On the other hand, I suppose that there is always more room for good lawyers, and if these measures would bring more talent into the pool, then it may be worth considering. What would be important is to really get the apprenticeship program up and running like you mention. http://www.markshenken.com.au

  • Chris Osborn on 24/09/2014 12:57:37 AM

    Like C Scott I qualified in England without a degree and I also practice in WA. I have practised in London, Hong Kong and Australia. I also qualified as a lawyer in California. My parents could not afford to assist me at university and the old four year articles allowed me to enter the profession. My daughter is also a lawyer and a graduate of UWA. Her law degree was intellectually rigorous. I welcome the proposals to open up opportunities to non graduates. I think that this could be an important for diversity in the profession as university fees in UK have increased and are set to increase in Australia.

  • C Scott on 22/09/2014 11:37:40 AM

    I was admitted in England in 1982, without a law degree, and have successfully practised law in the UK, Australia and internationally ever since. I find the published remarks about non-law-graduates having "inferior knowledge and competence" (Prof. Hamilton) or being of "decreas[ed] quality" (S. Wood) to be condescending and personally offensive.
    In my career I have met numbers of graduates from the finest law schools who did not match up as accomplished or successful practitioners. At a previous firm, I had to run remedial punctuation and grammar classes for such graduates.
    I would agree however that, in the state where I now practice (WA), there are too many law schools (of mixed quality) producing too many law graduates, because law degrees are very good business for academic institutions.

  • Darryl Goode on 17/09/2014 3:30:11 PM

    What a lot of pretentious poppycock, both in the article and in most of the comments to date.
    Ever heard of the Solicitors Admission Board (SAB) or the Legal Practitioner's Admission Board (LPAB)? We have had such a scheme in NSW for donkey's years. Though I am a Graduate of Sydney University, I greatly respect the members of my profession who hold a Dip. Law obtained through those programs.
    Many of our most respected lawyers- solicitors, barristers and judges. (Yes judges. I know of at least one recent High Court Justice who is proud to acknowledge his legal education through the LPAB.)
    Many senior lawyers of our biggest law firms, our senior Counsel and the leaders of our profession on the Council of the NSW Law Society, the Law Council of Australia (as high as President of both those bodies) are proud to be the holders of a Dip. Law.
    I find the best lawyers are those with a degree from the University of Life obtained through constant learning, respect for their peers, honesty and fairness towards their clients and their adversarys and above all a true sense of Justice.

  • Sarah Wood on 17/09/2014 1:18:41 PM

    University costs nothing unless you gain employment at the end of it and earn over a prescribed threshold. Law degrees are the cheapest of degrees because they require no equipment or material. I just don't think the financial barriers to completing a law degree are all that high.

  • Bernie Curtin on 17/09/2014 12:30:07 PM

    My family would never have had the ability to fund my studies (mature age entry and 3 children & no fees plus TEAS and part-time work). University places should go to the best not the richest.

  • Y Sui on 17/09/2014 12:07:27 PM

    You can invent 100 different ways to enter the profession, and I am prepared to embrace them all, PROVIDED THAT the standard and quality are never compromised.

  • Sarah Wood on 17/09/2014 11:46:42 AM

    This is one of the worst ideas I have ever heard. We should be always striving to improve quality in the legal profession. I fear such a move could only decrease quality in a profession which is already saturated.

  • Prof Phillip Hamilton on 17/09/2014 11:38:16 AM

    This is a reflection of the anti-intellectual movement in the UK. It is also a move to undermine graduates even though they are not socially superior. Surveys show that such schemes deliver inferior knowledge and competence.

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