ULaw fights back against the apprentices


Vocational-based training is fast becoming an expectation for both students and law firms, writes Laura Clenshaw

Nottingham Trent University (NTU) has been pipped to the post to become the first university to be granted an alternative business structure (ABS) licence, beaten by legal training giant the University of Law (ULaw).

John Latham, president and CEO of ULaw, has said that an ABS status means the university can provide trainees, law firms, and in-house clients with ‘a market-leading proposition that will equip trainees for the legal and commercial challenges they will face in today’s workplace’.

The licence will allow ULaw to expand its Legal Advice Clinic (LAC), where trainee solicitors provide advice on a pro-bono basis to members of the public in various areas of social welfare law, supervised by experienced solicitors.

Likewise, the East Midlands-based law school has applied for an ABS licence for its own LAC, which is already set to take on in excess of 180 pro bono cases in 2014/15 in various areas of the law, including employment, housing, business, and intellectual property law.

Similar approaches are sure
to be undertaken by other universities striving to mirror the business and training needs of law firms. The Legal Services Act, along with crippling legal aid cuts, means more firms have evolved their business model. Firms have ‘cookie cut-out’ employees to the extent that
a staff hierarchy that once consisted of trainees, newly qualifieds, solicitors, and partners simply does not exist any more.

The rise of apprenticeships, growing interest in the career of the paralegal, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx)’s resoluteness to put legal executives on equal footing with solicitors (legal executives can now recover costs at the same level as solicitors, to an extent, and can now set up their own practices), combined with external factors, have encouraged firms to think outside the box for their recruitment needs – and apprentices are receiving rave reviews.

Senior partner at Oliver
Fisher Solicitors, Russell Conway, recently asked whether university is necessary (SJ 159/6), and if we still had a cruel and ‘unusual farrago of potential trainees begging for a training contract’. The only negative he had in relation to apprenticeships was how to find them – something universities, and CILEx, are only too happy to help with.

Manchester-based Birchall Blackburn Law has announced
it will seek a cohort of students from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to support its fast-growing conveyancing team, and national firm Bond Dickinson is to recruit a further three school leavers as apprentices for its Plymouth office. Both sets of apprentices will undertake CILEx accreditation as part of their training.

Once it held the monopoly
on legal training, but now ULaw cannot hide its displeasure at the opening up of routes into
the market. In the final
consultation response to the SRA’s Competence Statement, ULaw expressed some
concern that qualification as a
solicitor was tied explicitly to ‘graduateness’: ‘The [ULaw] believes that the law should remain principally a graduate profession and prescribed pathways of learning must be retained in order to equip an individual with the knowledge
to practise as a solicitor.’

Announcing its newly granted ABS status, Latham added:
‘Being able to provide practical experiences in a client-facing environment is a fundamental part of the training needed
for aspiring solicitors.’ Indeed, Latham. To my knowledge, it would appear that the newer law schools are adopting a more vocational approach to training. But can we expect Russell Group universities and, dare I say it, Oxbridge to follow suit? SJ


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