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Beginner's Guide

A changing legal profession

updated on 04 September 2019

Big changes are sweeping the legal profession - not least to the ways in which you can become part of it and how you will be trained once you get there. Alternative business structure (ABS) licensing has made it possible for commercial organisations, from supermarket chains to haulage companies, to hire lawyers and sell legal services to the public. Elsewhere, the introduction of legal apprenticeships as a new route into the profession should be on your radar, while the ongoing reforms to legal training could bring more radical change. Be aware of the following as you pursue your own legal career.  


Set up in the 1960s, today the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has become more relevant than ever in providing a path into law that does not require a university degree. The CILEx Level 3 and 6 qualifications (or CILEx Fast Track, for those with a law degree) are a route into the legal profession that combines study with on-the-job training. Qualified CILEx fellows are known as ‘chartered legal executives’ and can do much of the work traditionally done by solicitors in their chosen specialism. It costs up to £7,500 to complete Levels 3 and 6 to qualify as a chartered legal executive, and most CILEx students study part time or through distance learning. It is also possible for chartered legal executives to later qualify as solicitors by completing the LPC and a training contract.

Alternative business structures

ABS are radically changing the legal services profession. Before the introduction of ABS, solicitors worked individually or together in self-owned law firm partnerships, while individual barristers came together to pay for chambers in which to base themselves. The advent of ABS means that non-legal companies can now employ lawyers to provide legal services to the public. Examples of companies that are now doing this include the Co-operative, BT and Eddie Stobart. High-street solicitors are likely to suffer in the same way that many small grocers and bakeries were driven out of business by cheaper, better-resourced supermarkets. Many solicitors in the future may therefore find themselves employed by an ABS.

Training for Tomorrow

’Training for Tomorrow’ is an ongoing consultation on the ways that legal education and training should change to meet the needs of the profession and consumers in the 21st Century. Some big changes have already happened – with the ways to qualify as a solicitor made much more flexible. Firms are no longer bound to format their training contracts according to strict criteria, meaning that today one training contract may look very different from another, as long as both develop the core skills and experience levels required by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Importantly, this greater flexibility means that it is now possible to qualify as a solicitor by working as a paralegal or chartered legal executive (this is known as the ‘equivalent means’ route) – again, as long as you can prove that you have the equivalent skills and experience to what you would learn through a training contract. You can find out more about this by searching ‘paralegal’ and ‘equivalent means’ on LawCareers.Net. The Bar is also looking at potential changes, although no details have yet emerged. So with both the barristers’ and solicitors’ professions in ongoing consultations about the way they provide training, watch this space for possible further changes over the next couple of years…