The big news this month in the world of legal apprenticeships is the approval of assessment plans for five new “trailblazer” apprenticeships being developed for the sector. The new apprenticeships are designed for: Solicitors , Chartered Legal Executives , Paralegals , Conveyancing Technicians , Licensed Conveyancer. 
The hyperlinks above are to the relevant page of the BIS website where you can download the full details of each apprenticeship. A sixth legal apprenticeship for probate practitioners is still in development.
Whilst the assessment plans have been approved some work remains to be done on the mechanics of delivery and administration. This means that the first apprentices are unlikely to be starting before September 2016.
The current position is that all apprentices starting after 1 August 2017 will be following new trailblazer apprenticeship standards rather than the current apprenticeship frameworks.
We will therefore have a period of at least 12 months of dual running, where apprentices are able to start either the current apprenticeship frameworks or these new apprenticeship standards.
So, with the apprenticeship landscape becoming more diverse (and complex), what do employers in the legal sector need to know? Jonathan Bourne, a former solicitor and managing director of Damar Training , has been at the forefront of legal apprenticeship development since the first discussions more than five years ago.
Here, he answers some of the questions being raised by employers:
With so much change, how do we stay on top of what’s going on?
Whilst greater choice is good news most employers simply don’t have the time to stay on top of every aspect of legal apprenticeships. That’s why, increasingly, our specialist team at Damar is spending more time consulting with firms about the various options.
Indeed, I think we are moving from a world where training providers’ relationships with employers were largely about provision (i.e. the employer knew what it wanted and the provider would simply deliver the qualification) towards a more partnership-oriented environment in which high quality professional advice plays a key part.
Already, we often meet employers who have been sold the wrong apprenticeship by a non-specialist provider – and with 200+ different apprenticeships in development across all sectors the risk of this will grow.
How are the new apprenticeship standards different from what’s currently available?
There are two main differences – they cover a wider range of roles and there are some changes to how the apprentice’s performance is assessed. Fundamentally though, the purpose of apprenticeships hasn’t changed since they were first used in the twelfth century.
They remain designed to develop an individual’s knowledge, skills and understanding of their job so that they are recognised as being fully competent, both by their employer and their sector.
The new apprenticeships place much more weight on a final “end-point” assessment, usually exams or assignments that the apprentice will need to complete at the end of their apprenticeship and which test the full breadth of their competence. This is the last of a series of hurdles that apprentices will need to overcome.
In most cases there are also exams to test the apprentice’s knowledge and a showcase or portfolio of evidence from the final months of the apprenticeship. The conveyancing apprenticeships also include a final interview by an independent assessor.
Apprentices will need to pass each of the various components before they can complete and some of the apprenticeships have a pass/distinction structure so that outstanding performance can be recognised.
Even though several of these elements exist within current apprenticeship frameworks, the end-point assessment will underpin the robustness of the programme. Employer and training provider will need to agree, with the apprentice, when they are ready to be put in for the final assessment.
How do the different apprenticeships link with each other?
In some cases there are explicit part-exemptions between apprenticeships. For example, the Chartered Legal Executives’ and solicitors’ apprenticeships pwill give credit to apprentices who have completed the current higher apprenticeship in legal services.
Even where there is no explicit exemption listed is unlikely that apprentices will be expected to repeat parts of the syllabus. This is because all apprenticeships work on the basis that if an apprentice has already been robustly assessed as competent in a particular area then there is no merit (or funding) in repeating the process.
So, it will be possible for apprentices to progress from, say, paralegal to Chartered Legal Executive as their career develops.
Which apprenticeship should my firm offer?
This is a really interesting question. The starting point of course is to look at what the apprentice will be doing, particularly in the first couple of years and match it to the most appropriate framework or standard.
The new apprenticeships also raise a more fundamental question: is it appropriate to offer a five or six year Chartered Legal Executive or solicitor apprenticeship to an employee fresh out of school? Alternatively, should a stepped approach be taken with, say, a paralegal apprenticeship over the first two years and then have some apprentices progressing to a shortened higher level apprenticeship as the route through to qualified lawyer?
Are there any changes to funding?
Yes but we don’t yet have the detail. The funding model for the trailblazers is slightly different to that for the existing frameworks but, as now, there is generally no net contribution to training costs for apprentices aged under 19 on enrolment and a more material (but still heavily subsidised) contribution for those aged 19 or over.
Although consultation is still ongoing, the recently announced “Apprenticeship Levy” is likely to mean that, for many employers, there is no further contribution at the point of use although larger firms will have to pay in to the levy fund.
Should we wait until the new apprenticeships are fully launched and the funding is clear before we do anything?
The best apprenticeship programmes are driven by business need. So, if your firm has a challenge for which apprenticeships may be some or all of the solution it is worth acting now.
The business needs that we see are varied but include staff retention (a particular issue in some paralegal teams), quality assurance, and succession planning and skills shortages in the labour market generally.
The current legal apprenticeship frameworks are listed on Damar’s website here . They cover a variety of roles and so in many cases there is already an excellent fit. As the range of apprenticeships widens you will have the opportunity to offer the new standards but there is no reason why there shouldn’t be a gradual transition from one to the other.
If you’d like to find out more about the current or new legal apprenticeships please contact Jonathan Bourne or Lesley Taylor at Damar on 0161 480 8171 or by email at email@example.com  or firstname.lastname@example.org .