University or Degree Apprenticeship? Stratification and Uncertainty in Routes to the Solicitors’ Profession

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This article considers whether degree apprenticeships could disrupt traditional university routes to professional careers and redress longstanding inequalities in access between individuals from different social backgrounds. Using the solicitors’ profession as a pertinent case, issues of access and choice are explored, utilising Breen and Goldthorpe’s theory of Relative Risk Aversion (1997) to understand variation across social background. Drawing on 23 in-depth interviews with law students, trainee solicitors and solicitor degree apprentices from four universities and five law firms across England, the analysis illuminates the decision-making approaches of aspiring solicitors through both the university and the degree apprenticeship routes. Contrary to expectation, the degree apprenticeship route appears to be discounted as unfamiliar and risky by many of those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Instead it is tactically adopted as an alternative by some middle-class students. As such, the degree apprenticeship is not likely to disrupt existing patterns in access to the solicitors’ profession.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-58
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number1
Early online date18 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022


  • Degree apprenticeships
  • Higher education
  • solicitors
  • Legal profession
  • Stratification

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