Government backs new paralegal training scheme with £1m in funding

The Government has assigned £1m in funding to a new apprenticeship programme that will enable budding lawyers to train as paralegals and pursue an alternative route into law without the need for a university degree.

Pearson has won the tender to provide the training programme, which is expected to launch in early 2013. It is intended to target school-leavers who are interested in a career in law, but who cannot afford or do not wish to pursue a university education.

The announcement is part of the Government’s Higher Apprenticeship scheme, which is aiming to fund around 4,230 apprenticeships, targeting skills shortages in the legal, accountancy, aviation and engineering sectors.

Pearson in Practice will now tailor a specialised paralegal training programme before making it available to the legal sector next year. Participating candidates will undertake the training while in a paid apprenticeship with a law firm, for an average of up to 18 months, after which they will qualify as a paralegal.

The programme is set to target the entire spectrum of law firms, from large firms that may take on a bigger group of apprentices to smaller firms which may take on one or two. The firms will themselves decide what they will pay, with the national minimum wage for apprentices of £2.60 per hour the bottom limit. Pearson in Practice said it will encourage employers to pay above this rate.

CEO Fiona McBride said the company expects to see a broad take-up from a wide range of law firms, with the intention of boosting social diversity as well as female representation within the profession.

McBride said: “The Government has set out on this project in a bid to address skills gaps in the UK economy. There was previously very few apprenticeships available for non-graduates into modern, 21st century professions as those apprenticeships instead tended to be trade-based. The legal industry is one of few professions where graduate entry is the only entry point. This apprentice model has been used for a long time in the financial sector with very good results, including increased social diversity.”

The news comes after a large number of UK law firms last year joined together for the PRIME initiative, which sees firms commit to provide a minimum amount of unpaid internships to under-privileged school pupils in a bid to make the profession more socially diverse.

However, McBride said: “These apprenticeships will be paid. If you come from a less privileged background you would find it very hard to go into a position which was not paid.”