There are two questions people ask me relating to qualification and Legal Knowledge Engineering: ‘do you need to be qualified?’, and ‘can you qualify?’. So, in case you are wondering, here are the answers.
Do you have to be qualified to be an LKE?
No, you don’t have to be qualified to get a job as an LKE, nor should being qualified put you off exploring the opportunity.
Similar skill sets
The skill set is very similar for lawyers and LKEs. The academic knowledge of law is and an understanding of the nature of legal work is fundamental. After all, our role as LKEs is to help to design and build ways of using new technology to assist lawyers – we can hardly expect the lawyers to have confidence in our ability if we have no idea what they do.
More than that, we are specialists in our field of the law – its just that our field is the application of technology to practice. We take instruction, advise and make recommendations, and represent our clients’ interests. Depending on the brief, some of us will do a lot of drafting of legal documents and legal research, too. So, LKEs do need a similar set of skills to practising lawyers.
Plus some other skills
That said, there are some significant differences, too.
LKEs are not subject matter experts in any particular area of law. While each of us will have our preferences, our expertise are primarily in the application of technology to the problem. This means that we need a good knowledge of and versatility when it comes to technology, as well as the law. We need to be able to work with and learn from subject matter experts on both sides of the table, not just the lawyers.
Does it help?
At the end of the day, your qualification status is not the be all and end all. As with most career paths, there are a range of skills that each project needs and they will be balanced differently for each project. For a project with a team of lawyers that are very reluctant to work with the technology, qualification may help instil confidence. For a project that requires a lot of detailed development work, it may have no special value at all.
I’ve met and worked with LKEs who have backgrounds in all sorts, from fee earning to computer science. I started my career in Pharma – and have been successfully engineering legal knowledge for several years without qualifying. So, don’t let qualification stop you if you’re interested in becoming an LKE.
Can you qualify while working as an LKE?
Well, the answer to that really depends on what you want to qualify as.
No, you’re not going to qualify as a barrister by being an LKE, let’s get that out of the way now. If you want to be a barrister, the experience might be valuable as a step on the way, but you’re going to have to go the traditional route to achieve the qualification.
If you want to qualify as a solicitor, the answer is also no – for now. Until 2021, you’ll still have to complete the GDL, LPC and a period of recognised training with an authorised training provider. While a few firms have attempted it, at the end of the day, it is still not practical to complete a TC as an LKE. The closest you can realistically expect for the time being is a seat in the knowledge management department.
But, times, they are a-changing. 2021 will replace the current system with the Solicitors Qualifying Exam (SQE). This will open up the ‘other means’ pathways, and enable people with enough qualifying experience to qualify as solicitors without completing the training contract. So, it is perfectly possible that, in a few years’ time, LKEs will be able to qualify as solicitors.
Chartered Legal Executive
Qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive is so often overlooked by people looking to qualify. The reason seems to be down primarily to elitism and marketing, because most people that aren’t Legal Execs have either not heard of it or think its not as good as an SRA qualification – despite the fact that Chartered Legal Execs can do all the same things solicitors can do. They’re even bound by the same code of conduct.
The main difference is that you don’t have to do a TC – you qualify by working (which is exactly what the SQE is going to make easier for the solicitor’s qualification, by the way). So, people tend to get their qualifying experience in one particular practice area; the area they were practising while they qualified. Because CILEx (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, the regulating body for Chartered Legal Execs) has already geared their path to qualification around the diverse legal support roles in which aspiring Legal Execs may be employed, it is perfectly possible that an LKE should be able to qualify by this means.
This is the route to qualification that I am pursuing. There’ll likely be plenty to come on the subject over the coming months, so if you’re interested in a case study, stay tuned.