Skip to main content
BPP University BPP Professional Education | Tel: 0330 060 3444

Pro Bono Work as a Legal Apprentice

Hanna McRobbie discusses combining their work as an Apprentice Solicitor with pro bono work in the Social Impact Team at BPP University

What is a legal apprenticeship?
The ‘Solicitor Apprenticeship’ with BPP University is an intensive six-year programme that involves four days per week working in a law firm and one study day each week attending lectures and seminars, preparatory reading and completing consolidation tasks. Over the six years, apprentices must pass all modules of the LLB Law and Legal Practice, complete a professional practice portfolio in line with the SRA Statement of Solicitor Competency and sit the SQE1 and SQE2 in the final year with a view to qualification.
For those who have already obtained a law degree, there is also the option to skip the first four years of the programme and complete the last two years of training before qualifying as a solicitor. This is known as the ‘Graduate Solicitor Apprenticeship’ and is a great alternative to the original training contract route. Additionally, many law firms also offer a ‘Paralegal Apprenticeship’, which allows those interested in law to complete a two-year certificate covering the foundational knowledge to work as a paralegal in a law firm.

What is it like to work as a legal apprentice?
I have almost completed my fourth year of the Solicitor Apprenticeship and I am honestly enjoying every minute of the experience. It is extremely challenging balancing work and study, particularly in the high-pressure environment of a law firm. The course is relentless with three terms per year and no summer break. It is also daunting having to quickly pick up the practical side of working as a legal professional, whilst progressing more slowly through the academic modules of the degree course. However, looking towards the law two years of the programme during which I’ll be rotating seats with the trainee solicitors at the firm, I finally feel like everything is coming together. The university modules are interesting and well-structured, so I have felt fully equipped for exams and coursework submissions. Helpfully, my law firm has been extremely supportive of my need to study and take time off around exams, as well as collate workplace evidence for my portfolio.

Who can do a legal apprenticeship?
Legal apprenticeships are open to both school leavers and career changers of any age or background who have a keen interest in law and want to qualify as a paralegal or solicitor.
My route into law was slightly unusual. After graduating with a degree in modern languages and launching myself into the corporate scene as a translator and project coordinator, it took me several years to realise that the legal professional was for me. I had always viewed the law sector as an impenetrable world and the role of solicitor was quite alien to me. I had no family members in law and no connections to the legal world. My first brush with the law was supporting fellow colleagues through employment law issues, whereby an employer was not properly compensating staff for mandatory overtime and weekend shifts. However, it wasn’t until I started volunteering with the British Red Cross as a Refugee Coordinator that I gained a deeper understanding of the law as a means through which society can be governed, and the urgent need for many individuals to access justice. Whilst I could signpost service users to law firms who would support them with asylum applications under legal aid or provide other immigration support on a pro bono basis, I realised I want to be able to offer more practical legal support.
I searched for ways that I could gain a law degree without access to additional student finance or extra funding. I had heard of apprenticeships, but thought they were only available for school leavers or more practical vocations. I started to explore this new route to gaining a degree and was immediately sold. Studying for free whilst gaining experience as a paralegal in a law firm and gaining a living wage salary with the option to qualify as a solicitor at the end of the programme – where could I sign up?!
Over the past four years, I have progressed through criminal and regulatory law, housing and real estate, employment and immigration law. I have gained an incredible insight into the criminal and civil courts and tribunals systems, and I understand much more about the commercial side of running a law firm, whether privately funded or via legal aid. I would recommend the apprenticeship programme to anyone wanting to enter the legal profession, as a school leaver or career changer, regardless of your age or experience, particularly those from more marginalised groups who have perhaps felt that the legal sector was not an attainable space.

Can you do pro bono work as an Apprentice Solicitor?
Alongside my work and studies, I also volunteer as a Student Advisor in the BPP Legal Advice Centre. The centre offers free support to a wide range of clients who may not be eligible for legal aid but equally cannot afford advice from a solicitor. I have volunteered in the Housing Clinic and dealt with a wide range of issues from homelessness applications and eviction notices to disputes with landlords about repairs and service charges. I have also recently started volunteering with the new Immigration Clinic supporting charities with anti-raids training.
But why, you ask, would an apprentice want to carry out pro bono work when they are already undertaking such an intense programme of work and study? Here are just some of the reasons that motivate me:
1. Advance legal knowledge: I am gaining experience in many different areas of social welfare law and developing my legal research and drafting skills. For those in smaller law firms or working in-house, volunteering is a great way to explore different legal practices and learn from a range of lawyers. It is also a safe environment to develop professional ‘soft skills’ such as note-taking and preparing robust attendance notes, which is perfect for early apprentices, and directly applicable to the workplace.
2. Improve interpersonal skills: I work with a wide range of clients at the clinic and have also had the opportunity to attend court on their behalf. I have significantly improved my interviewing and advocacy skills whilst gaining self-confidence. The service users are often different to the clientele of a commercial-oriented law firm, so it encourages me to adapt my communication style, and be sensitive to those in often vulnerable circumstances. I also collaborate with other student advisers and solicitors whilst building my professional network.
3. Giving back to the local community: I am a big advocate for supporting local efforts to improve access to justice. Unfortunately, the legal world is still very elusive and inaccessible, and I want to do everything I can to support people to access their rights. Pro bono work is just one avenue to providing those essential services. Solicitors often assist where they can by offering advice and support for free in certain contexts, and I believe that volunteering at a law centre or legal clinic is a great way for apprentices to start this practice to continue through into qualification.

Are there any practical considerations?
There are several practical considerations to bear in mind before taking on additional pro bono projects as an apprentice solicitor.
1. Time management: Whilst I am no stranger to balancing work and studies, time management is crucial. For some clients, legal advice is critical to keeping a roof over their heads, so it’s essential that I can hone that skill of prioritising tasks and working to deadlines, as well as setting boundaries in each area of my professional and personal life.
2. Conflict checks: Although I am volunteering in my capacity as a BPP law student, I may potentially be working on a matter for another party at the law firm. It is therefore vital to run a conflict check to ensure I am compliant and can work in the best interests of the client.
3. Communication: Deadlines often clash in the legal world, particularly with constantly changing court hearings, urgent client instructions and life generally throwing curveballs my way. It is so important that I keep the communication channels open at work and with the clinic in terms of my capacity to ensure that all the deadlines are met.
I really enjoy volunteering as a Student Adviser and gaining front line experience, and I have managed to make it work for almost two years alongside working and studying. As with many things, it is always about finding a balance. I strongly believe that pro bono work can only add value to an apprentice’s training, and potentially fill in some training gaps for those interested in social welfare law but who may not gain that experience in a corporate law firm. Furthermore, apprentices are not always given a certain level of responsibility at the beginning of the programme, so volunteering is a really good way to gain practical experience and give back to the local community.

How can I find out more?
For more information about volunteering opportunities at BPP, log into the Social Impact Page with BPP Futures: