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The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) is a genuine alternative route to qualification for any aspiring lawyer.
Linda Ford goes into more detail about the new CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) route in this LCN Says published in 2021, and I created a short video for the University of Liverpool Solicitors Society on my journey pre-CPQ.
The CILEX route is known to be a more flexible, more accessible and less competitive route to becoming a lawyer. Employment prospects are high, and you’re not locked into a continuous two-year training contract, so it’s still possible to qualify even if you take a break or change your mind mid-route.
I’ve been compiling my work-based learning portfolio and gaining qualifying employment and experience since 2021 ready to qualify, hopefully, before 2023 ends.
In this time, I’ve found many positives for choosing this route to qualification.
Undergraduate law courses (LLB), Legal Practice Course (LPC) and, in some cases, Solicitors Qualifying Exam preparation course costs are astronomical, whereas studying with CILEX only sets you back around £11,000 total and employers may even offer to cover these costs. For a full breakdown of cost, check out the CILEX website.
The studying is part time and is completed via distance learning, which you can fit in around your own commitments. As for the practical training, I can gain it anywhere that I’m doing at least 20 hours of ‘wholly legal work’ a week with an ‘authorised person’. I’m not locked into any long-term contract.
Further, it’s perfectly acceptable to take a hybrid approach to your qualification journey – I’ve completed the LLB and LPC and then applied for CILEX membership to complete my practical training.
You’re an expert sooner
Legal executives can spend their entire time training in one practice area instead of four or more, so you’ll have a much deeper knowledge and expertise in your chosen practice area than a newly qualified solicitor with six months experience in their first seat.
Accessibility and immediacy of training
Your practical training can be gained while studying, even right at the beginning of the educational journey.
The training contract application process isn’t accessible for me because of the way my brain works when learning. I was a good student but I now benefit from learning on the job. The practical experience is particularly beneficial to my commercial acumen because I can see it in action rather than just reading about it.
The training contract process is also highly competitive at every stage. I attended an assessment centre where every applicant was attempting to outdo each other at every opportunity.
Therefore, CILEX was a much more attractive qualification route for me.
While legal executives may typically train in just one area, they study many different practice areas in great detail and can gain good deep expertise in their chosen area before they qualify. So, changing practice areas down the line might not be as difficult as it first appears.
Varied work and roles
Legal executives can become heads of department, partners and judges, same as solicitors and barristers. They can also apply for practice rights to carry out ‘reserved activities’ unsupervised in a Solicitors Regulation Authority regulated firm, and by doing so can augment their existing knowledge. This allows them to offer even more competent services, whether for an employer firm, or as a consultant lawyer or ‘lawyer-preneur’.
I’ve found a lot of the disadvantages aren’t necessarily to do with the route itself, but instead with the preconceptions that other lawyers have about CILEX.
Not as understood/respected as an alternative
I’ve found that I have to explain the CILEX route in much more detail than the training contract route, simply because it isn’t the route we all know. It perpetuates the idea that CILEX is a lesser pathway because otherwise more employers would be more aware of the route and what we do to achieve our goals.
Unfamiliarity in job adverts
Legal executives aren’t often included in job postings when solicitors are being sought. Even when pressed, the poster/employer still isn’t guaranteed to understand that a legal executive is a fully qualified practitioner in the same way as a solicitor.
I’ve seen plenty of senior solicitors claiming that CILEX is a lesser route for those with reduced academic ability, and that legal executives are ‘glorified paralegals’.
Not only that, but when speaking with other aspiring lawyers who are pursuing training contracts, I’ve been met with either disappointment or amusement when I say I’m working towards CILEX qualification. This might be because early in their journey they’ve been taught that the training contract is the only way to qualify.
These attitudes don’t help aspiring lawyers believe that CILEX is a viable route to qualification, especially those who can’t reasonably access traditional studying and training opportunities due to personal circumstances.
I won’t lie, I’ve often thought about applying for training contracts again because I rely on senior solicitors whose words carry weight for guidance, training and mentoring so I can prepare for life when qualified. It also such a well-trodden route that everyone knows so it just seems easier to take the path well-travelled.
But if I did, I’d be delaying my qualification by a few years, and possibly spending time working in seats that I don’t enjoy and won’t get the most out of. I have an idea of the area I want to train in and qualify into, and I deserve to enjoy my training!
I’m certain that CILEX is the route for me. The flexibility, accessibility and control that I have over where I work and what area I work in appeals to me. I’ve gained self-awareness of what I do and don’t enjoy, what I’m good at and what I struggle with, and what I need to do to become the best professional that I can be.