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As a legal recruitment specialist I am fortunate enough to speak to a wide variety of law firms about their recruitment needs and what is required from prospective candidates looking to join them. Requirements differ between departments and partners. Each have their own preferences in terms of what they like to see on a CV, however, the one thing that remains fairly consistent is the need for a strong academic record. What does a strong academic record look like? Well, a 2:1 degree or above from a ‘good’ university and A’s and B’s at A Level normally. In a lot of instances, actual hands on fee earning experience in a particular area of law can be secondary to the need to recruit somebody with a sharp mind. After all, the sharper the mind, the easier it will be to teach an individual an area of law and it should also increase the chances of them possessing a very valuable commodity known as commercial acumen.
I read a very interesting Blog today that spoke positively about the Government’s pledge of £40m worth of funding for 20,000 Higher Apprenticeships in the next two years. Rightly so it endorses the alternative route to qualification (i.e. no longer the need for a law degree, then the LPC followed by a two year training contract), the advantage of growing your own talent, creating a more diverse workforce and being able deliver client work at a more competitive cost. I agree with the conclusion that the apprenticeships have the potential to transform the diversity of the legal profession but when academic rigour is often required to be a demonstrable asset in the make up of any would be lawyer, how are the new breed of apprentices with no or little academic track record ever really going to break the mould?
My concern is that you might end up with a two tier hierarchy. Those lawyers that take the traditional route and can demonstrate a high level of intellect plus commercial acumen versus those that travel on the alternative route who can demonstrate an excellent fee earning track record but have little or no academic track record. When demonstrable academic rigour is often required when shortlisting for a vacancy, how are those that take the alternative route ever going to be able progress their careers in the same way? I firmly believe that the profession will be instrumental in helping combat youth unemployment and in creating new and exciting opportunities for people to flourish. The next challenge will be making sure everybody has the same opportunities no matter which route is taken.