updated on 01 March 2021
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 professional bodies 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 alternative academic routes to becoming a chartered legal executive lawyer. If you don’t have a law degree, you will need to take the traditional 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 on average around £10,000 depending on where and how you choose to study. This will typically take four years to complete part time and can be completed alongside full-time working. Timescales can be flexible and study can be tailored according to your personal and professional needs.
If you already have a qualifying law degree, irrespective of when this was achieved, CILEx offers a cost-effective alternative to the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar course through its graduate fast-track diploma, which usually takes around a year to complete part time and costs approximately £3,000.
Regardless of whether you follow the traditional CILEx route or the graduate fast-track diploma pathway, you will need to complete a three-year period of qualifying employment and submit a portfolio of evidence called work-based learning. Work completed as a paralegal, while studying, may be used towards part of this requirement; a minimum of one year of your qualifying employment needs to fall after you’ve completed your CILEx academic qualification. The last two years of your qualifying employment must be continuous.
If you already hold an LPC or Bar course, you will be exempt from all CILEx qualifications and can immediately apply to become a graduate member of CILEx and use the designatory letters ‘GCILEx’. You will still need to complete the qualifying employment requirement. On successful completion of the academic stage, and the qualifying employment stage, of training, you will become a fellow of the Chartered Institute and have the right to call yourself a chartered legal executive lawyer.
CILEx has a network of 80 accredited study centres in England and Wales that are approved to deliver CILEx courses and quality assured to CILEx standards. CILEx examinations take place 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. CILEx qualifications can be used to count towards qualifying as a solicitor.
As a fellow of the institute, 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 wholly at its discretion.
Salaries will vary according to your location and legal specialism. Starting salaries are usually up to £28,000 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, on average, £35,000 and above.
Once fully qualified (having completed three years of qualifying work experience), you can expect to earn on average up to £5,000; if you work in a big city or become a partner in a firm, you can earn much more (salaries of more than £100,000 have been stated).
What chartered legal executive lawyers do
Professional responsibilities increase with experience. Fully qualified and experienced chartered legal executives can 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:
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. In addition, 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 many of the top 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. Since early 2015, CILEx has been 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 practice 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.