The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) is the professional association representing around 20,000 qualified chartered legal executive lawyers, paralegals and other legal practitioners.
Changes in legislation mean that chartered legal executive lawyers are increasingly on a level playing field with solicitors or barristers, as they can now become judges, coroners, advocates and partners in law firms.
CILEx is recognised as one of the three main regulators of the legal profession alongside the Bar Council and the Law Society. The role of a chartered legal executive lawyer is now so similar to that of a solicitor that the average client is unlikely to be able to distinguish between them. In fact, many chartered legal executives supervise solicitors. The difference is that a chartered legal executive is a qualified lawyer who is trained to specialise as an expert in one or two particular areas of the law, whereas solicitors have a broader, more general legal training.
There are two routes to becoming a chartered legal executive lawyer, depending on whether you hold a qualifying law degree. If you don’t have a law degree, you will need to take the full CILEx route, which is comprised of the level 3 CILEx qualification (set at A-level standard) and the level 6 CILEx qualification (studied to the same standard as an honours degree). This full CILEx route costs between around £4,500 and £7,500, depending on where you choose to study. This will typically take four years to complete part time, although timescales can be flexible according to your personal and professional needs.
If you already have a qualifying law degree gained within the last seven years, CILEx also offers a cost-effective alternative to the LPC or BPTC through its graduate fast-track diploma, which usually takes around a year to complete part time and costs around £2,750.
Regardless of whether you go down the full CILEx route or the fast-track diploma, you will need to complete a three-year qualifying period of employment. Working as a paralegal while studying counts towards this, and only one year of your qualifying employment needs to fall after you’ve completed your CILEx qualification. However, the last two years must be continuous.
If you already hold an LPC or BPTC, you will be exempt from all CILEx qualifications and will just need to complete your qualifying employment. You can then become a fellow of the institute and have the right to call yourself a chartered legal executive lawyer.
CILEx has a network of over 70 accredited study centres that are approved to deliver CILEx courses and quality assured to CILEx standards. All CILEx examinations are set twice a year in January and June, and may be taken at separate examination sittings to suit your plans and study needs. Distance learning is offered through specialist study centres, including at CILEx Law School.
Training to be a solicitor
A career as a chartered legal executive lawyer is a worthwhile, rewarding and fulfilling career in its own right, but CILEx does recognise that there are those who have more traditional ambitions. That is why CILEx qualifications can be used to count towards qualifying as a solicitor. You can complete your LPC before OR after becoming a member of CILEx (this change was introduced in new regulations in 2014). Having done the LPC, you may then be considered exempt by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) from the training contract (or "period of recognised training") if you have (i) satisfied the requirements of the academic stage, and (ii) been engaged as a chartered legal executive in the practice of law. If you complete the LPC before you become a chartered legal executive, the SRA may require you to undertake a further period of work experience. However, it is important that you contact the SRA to get full details, as this exemption is at the discretion of the SRA.
Salaries will vary according to your location and area of law. Starting salaries are usually £25,000 per year while qualifying. Many trainee CILEx members report that they are on higher salaries than the trainee solicitors they work alongside.
After completion of your CILEx qualifications, you can expect to earn around £30,000 on average. If you already hold the relevant postgraduate legal qualifications, you do not have to take the CILEx qualifications and can immediately apply to become a graduate member of CILEx and use the designatory letters ‘GCILEx’.
Once fully qualified (having completed your three years of qualifying work experience), you can expect to earn between £35,000 and £55,000; if you work in a big city or become a partner in a firm, you can earn much more (salaries of over £100,000 have been stated).
CILEx qualifications are highly valued by employers, and as such, recent surveys have found that around 70% of CILEx students have their membership fees paid for by their employers and 60% have their course and exam fees paid.
What chartered legal executive lawyers do
Professional responsibilities increase with experience. Fully qualified and experienced chartered legal executives are able to undertake many of the legal activities that solicitors do and often supervise solicitors and other legal staff. They will have their own clients and represent them in court. Although chartered legal executives can be involved in many areas of law, the most common areas of specialism are:
- conveyancing – the legal side of buying and selling property;
- family – advising on divorce and matters affecting children;
- crime – defending and prosecuting people accused of crimes;
- company and business law – advising on legislation that affects clients’ businesses such as tax, contract and employment law;
- litigation – advising clients who are in dispute with someone else;
- probate – dealing with wills, trusts and inheritance tax; and
- personal injury – handling accident claims.
All CILEx members are independently regulated and must adhere to a code of conduct. They are required to continue training throughout their careers in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in the law.
The move to allow CILEx fellows to apply for judicial positions has seen the appointment of the first chartered legal executive judges. Additionally, there is a growing number of chartered legal executives acquiring their own advocacy rights in higher courts. Many are partners in legal practices.
Where chartered legal executives work
Chartered legal executives are found in over 60% of The Lawyer’s list of top 200 UK law firms, but it is not just legal firms that employ them. Such lawyers fill key legal roles in a wide variety of government bodies, local authorities, charities and business organisations, including Caterpillar, HSBC, Admiral Insurance, Disney Corporation, UK Border Agency, Ministry of Defence, Crown Prosecution Service, NHS, county councils, RSPCA and The Peabody Trust.
Partnership is the aspiration of most solicitors in private practice and that ambition is also shared by chartered legal executives. The legal market has seen many changes since the Legal Services Act 2007, which formally recognised chartered legal executives as fully fledged lawyers and enabled them to become partners in law firms.
The quality of chartered legal executives as specialist lawyers is increasingly being recognised. In 2015 CILEx will be able to grant its members additional rights to conduct litigation in civil, criminal and family matters, and provide probate and conveyancing services, as well as immigration advice, independently of solicitors.
Combined, these will essentially give chartered legal executives all the rights they need to practise on their own without being in partnership with a solicitor or under supervision.
If you are looking for an affordable and flexible career in law, CILEx is worth serious consideration.
Deborah McDonald is director of communications and marketing at CILEx. For all the latest information, visit www.cilex.org.uk. For details on becoming a chartered legal executive, visit www.cilexcareers.org.uk.