How Norfolk local government is using the apprenticeship levy to upskill their paralegals

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To help their public organisation overcome their talent development and training funding needs, nplaw chose to upskill their paralegals via the apprenticeship route. Here Matt Skelding, BARBRI Global Business Development Manager, caught up with Fiona Anthony, Practice and Professional Development Manager at nplaw, Norfolk County Council, as well as paralegal and solicitor apprentice Lizzie Baker, to hear how apprenticeships have benefited them.

About nplaw 

nplaw is a public sector shared legal service hosted by Norfolk County Council, advising a number of different local authorities in Norfolk. nplaw employs about 125 staff and their lawyers practise in a wide range of disciplines, including child and adult protection, planning, property, dispute resolution and governance.

An employer’s perspective 

Fiona Anthony, Practice and Professional Development Manager at nplaw, Norfolk County Council.

Fiona, please tell us a bit about yourself and your role.

I have worked in local government for many years, initially as Child Protection Solicitor. After about 10 years, I took some time away from practising law and was appointed to some non-executive director roles in publicly funded organisations, as well as teaching law part-time on various degree-level courses, which led me to qualify as a teacher. I returned to nplaw in 2015 as a Professional Support Lawyer and my role has grown over the years. As the Practice and Professional Development Manager, I am responsible for training and staff development and I assist our Director of Legal Services with running the practice. I am also nplaw’s Training Principal and oversee our 10 trainee solicitors and solicitor apprentices.

Why did you decide to go down the apprentice route?

At nplaw we act for several local authorities in Norfolk, but we sometimes find it difficult to recruit qualified lawyers, as not much is known about the many benefits of working in local government, including the wide range of work and great work-life balance.

I was of course aware of the new route to qualification as a solicitor by way of the SQE and had heard that apprenticeships might be available, but I was waiting to see how the sector would respond to these. However, circumstances meant that we moved a little more quickly than initially intended! 

Our first apprentice had been working with us as a paralegal for a few years, had a law degree and wanted to qualify as a solicitor. He was exploring the LPC route and considering taking a year out to do this full time, but it would have been expensive for him both in tuition fees and to lose his full-time income. As a public sector organisation, we were unable to pay the LPC tuition fees on his behalf. In short, we wanted to keep such an excellent employee and I was determined to find a way to do so while still enabling him to pursue his dream of qualifying as a solicitor. 

When I investigated graduate-entry apprenticeships further, I couldn’t quite believe it, as they sounded far too good to be true! We wouldn’t have to pay any fees because we could use the apprenticeship levy and our apprentice could remain working with us while studying at the same time.

There is a “hidden” cost to apprenticeships in that the employer pays the apprentice’s salary for five days a week, but one of those days is used solely for study. However, we see this as an investment in our staff which will be of benefit to us in the longer term if they remain with us when they qualify.

We soon realised that we had other brilliant paralegals working for us who could also benefit from following this route. Rather than recruiting externally, we wanted to reward staff who had already chosen to work with us, were familiar with our working environment and, importantly, had established support networks within nplaw. 

It has always been our aim to grow our own talent at nplaw and the apprenticeship route helps us to do that.

How easy was the onboarding from the Government side?

The application for a graduate entry apprenticeship for one of our paralegals, Lizzie Baker, was very smooth. Our contact at solicitor apprenticeship provider Damar, Kim Powell, was absolutely amazing. She answered all our questions very patiently and always responded quickly.

Lizzie joined the first cohort of graduate entry apprentices with Damar and BARBRI, undertaking the 18-month pathway to qualification as a solicitor. Lizzie passed SQE1 at her first sitting in January 2024 and will be sitting the SQE2 assessment in October 2024 with a view to qualifying in early 2025. Lizzie is not what people might think of as a “traditional” apprentice – she has not come to us straight from university but has spent many years working as a legal costs draftsman, and she has children.

We have been so impressed with the Damar-BARBRI apprenticeship that another of our paralegals has recently started studying on the 18-month graduate apprenticeship.

Additionally, we recruited for a Level 3 Legal Admin apprentice at the start of 2024. She is making excellent progress with Damar and we hope she will progress to the paralegal pathway and, finally, the three-year solicitor apprenticeship.

You used the apprenticeship levy to pay for the apprenticeships: how has that benefited nplaw and how easy was it to utilise the levy?

Being able to use the apprenticeship levy to offer fully funded apprenticeship pathways to qualification has been absolutely game-changing for nplaw. In the past, working for a public sector organisation has prevented us from paying for candidates to sit the LPC, so it is fantastic to be able to develop our paralegals and support them towards qualification via the SQE route. 

It has been very easy for us to access the apprenticeship levy. We are fortunate that we have a dedicated apprenticeships team at Norfolk County Council which helps us to arrange the apprenticeships and supports us with the paperwork.

How do you structure the apprenticeship in practice, and what impact does the one-day-a-week study leave have on the work?

While we do lose a paralegal for one day a week, on the four other days our apprentices work with us, they are very hard-working and enthusiastic. Some of the subject areas they are studying tie in nicely with the work they are doing, which helps with their learning – and also means that they work for us with a higher level of understanding. Studying and working at the same time is very demanding but the two elements complement each other. 

We ask our apprentices to do seat rotations every six months, so they can experience different teams and see a wide range of legal work. We always try to include an opportunity to undertake advocacy and other practical skills, which not only help to develop the skills required by SQE2 but support the overall development of our apprentices.

Our apprentices choose which day will be their study day to fit around their own life and the needs of the team they are in.  We ensure that the study day is protected but there is flexibility if it needs to be swapped around for some reason. 

We are very aware that it can be difficult to study and work. The apprentices are all supervised by the senior person in the team they are working in. My role is to offer pastoral care and I hold at least monthly meetings with each of them throughout their apprenticeships to ensure that they feel properly supported, to check what skills and developmental opportunities we can offer and they can raise any issues with me about their work or study. Our apprentices are at different stages in the pathway but are incredibly supportive of each other as a group. We all meet together fortnightly to discuss work and study.

What benefits are you seeing in using apprenticeships? 

The benefits of upskilling our paralegals through apprenticeships are enormous. It helps us to recruit excellent paralegals whose ultimate aim is to qualify as a solicitor. We are able to support them in achieving that goal and we hope they will remain with nplaw once they qualify, which goes some way to solving our difficulties in recruiting qualified lawyers. We have a great retention rate for our trainee solicitors, and our staff can see that we are committed to developing them throughout their career.

An apprentice’s perspective: 

Lizzie Baker, paralegal and apprentice solicitor at nplaw.

Lizzie, tell us a bit about yourself?

I am currently completing an apprenticeship through Damar Training using the BARBRI online platform. I have passed my SQ1 exams and I am currently waiting to start the SQE2 course.

How manageable is studying alongside working?

I have always found it easier to study alongside working. I did my master’s degree part time and did better in that than I did in my first full-time degree. I think you approach studying differently if you are also working. It gives you more structure to your study day, i.e. normally sitting at your desk, at your work computer and with designated breaks. 

What have you found the benefits of BARBRI’s completely online platform to be?

Studying via an online platform and the self-paced nature of the SQE1 course meant it was very flexible. This was very helpful, given my busy lifestyle juggling a full-time job and parenting. This flexibility of self-paced learning also meant I could move around my weekly study day as required due to business needs, or split the study day if that worked better, depending on my workload. I quite liked BARBRI’s online platform in terms of layout and content and once I had been able to fully explore and get used to the platform it was easy to use.

How was the onboarding from a student’s perspective? 

Completing the necessary government paperwork for an apprenticeship was very easy, as was signing up to Damar Training, my apprenticeship provider. 

How has doing an apprenticeship benefited you?

The apprenticeship route has meant that I have a route to qualification as a solicitor at no additional cost to my family. Becoming a solicitor seemed an unattainable goal for many years due to the cost of the LPC. In addition, my degree result (a 2:2) made me ineligible for many training contracts and some LPC courses. 

As an apprentice, my exam fees and the cost of the training programme are all covered by the apprenticeship levy and, in addition, I am effectively paid to study meaning there is no reduction in income for my family.


If you’re interested in knowing more about how nplaw works, contact Fiona Anthony at

If you’re looking to explore solicitor apprenticeships to attract and upskill talent via the SQE route to qualification in the public sector, Contact Matthew Skelding at

For more information about Damar Training apprenticeships, contact Kim Powell at

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