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, 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 £4,500 and £7,650, 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 £2,500 or less.
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. 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.
If you are a fellow of the institute before you complete the LPC, you may be exempt from the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) training contract. 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 77% 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 can undertake representation 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. Like solicitors, 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.
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 and business organisations, including The Co-op, Caterpillar, HSBC Insurance, Disney Corporation, the Ministry of Defence, the NHS, county councils, and charities such as the RSPCA and The Peabody Trust.
Partnership is the aspiration of most solicitors in private practice and that is shared by chartered legal executives. The introduction of legal disciplinary practices (LDPs) - partnerships of lawyers and non-lawyers - marked a significant change in the legal world. There are now LDPs across England and Wales, and chartered legal executives are in the majority of these.
LDPs were just the first stage in a massive shake-up of the legal market brought about by 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 second stage of this revolution was the introduction of alternative business structures (ABS). These represent a radical relaxation of the ownership restrictions around law firms and will allow non-lawyers to invest in or own law firms. Already major high-street brand names are offering legal services to the general public, and qualified chartered legal executives are ideal employees for ABS firms.
The quality of chartered legal executives as specialist lawyers is increasingly being recognised. CILEx has applied for the right to grant its members additional independent rights to conduct civil litigation and provide probate services (currently such rights have to be exercised under the supervision of a solicitor), as well as independent rights to conduct conveyancing and conduct criminal litigation.
Combined, these will essentially give chartered legal executives all the rights they need to practise on their own. Although they are not currently permitted to provide 'reserved services' without being in partnership with a solicitor or under his or her supervision, chartered legal executive lawyers can already run their own businesses offering unreserved services.
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.