When people talk about ‘qualifying’ they are usually talking about qualifying as a Solicitor. Somehow that has become the default. Barristers ‘take the Bar’, they don’t talk about ‘qualifying’ in the same way, so there’s less confusion there. But Solicitors and Barristers are not the only types of lawyers. In England and Wales, there is a third option for those wishing to qualify: become a Chartered Legal Executive.
People seem to forget about – or just don’t find out about until too late – Legal Executives. These lawyers have the same privileges and standards of practice as solicitors, and the route to qualification is significantly more accessible and flexible than that to becoming a solicitor.
I mentioned in my post on Qualification and LKEs that I am pursuing this practice qualification. As this is so promising for us LKEs, I thought I’d take some time to explore this route to qualification.
What is a Legal Executive?
A Legal Executive is a regulated legal professional qualified in England and Wales to give legal advice, represent clients in matters and anything else that you would expect a lawyer to be able to do. Legal Executives can practice in firms, as part of in-house teams and anywhere else that lawyers practice. They are able to become partners and judges. Like solicitors, their rights of higher audience are limited.
Yes, in a practical sense, a legal executive is very, very similar to a solicitor.
What is CILEx?
CILEx is the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. This is the body that regulates Legal Executives. It is the equivalent to the SRA – Solicitor’s Regulation Authority.
As well as monitoring practice standards, CILEx takes an active part in the academic standards of its trainees. All exams sat by Legal Execs are set and marked by CILEx, not by the institution providing the teaching. While some institutions will administer these exams on-site, most CILEx trainees will sit their exams at a site administered by CILEx. This means that everyone really is meeting the same standards, wherever they are studying.
How do you qualify as a Legal Executive with CILEx?
Just as for all regulated legal professionals, Legal Execs have to undertake academic study and a period of work based training in order to qualify. Unlike the others, however, these are designed to be completed in tandem.
The academic training is modular. It is offered by a verity of institutions, so exactly how they will administer their courses varies, but the underlying purpose is that you undertake the course part time while you are working. So, you don’t have to find a way to afford to take a year off work (plus the setback that will be to your career) in order to get started. You have control of how much work you take on – how many modules you study at a time – and when you sit the exams, too. So, you can make it fit around your other responsibilities.
Work based component
Unlike a TC, the work based learning component does not have to be undertaken with an ‘approved provider’. You can qualify by working in any rolewhere the requirements are met. To qualify, you need to complete three years’ work in roles where these requirements are met, and one of these years must be completed after all of your academic study has been completed.
I’ll say that again – you can qualify by working in any role where you can fulfil the requirements. This is most legal roles that don’t require qualification – paralegals, even LKEs.
So, qualifying as a Legal Exec is the most accessible and flexible way of qualifying to practice law.
How much does it cost?
Exactly how much it costs to qualify with CILEx varies depending on what you need to study, where you’re based and how you study. However these factors come together, though, it is significantly cheaper than qualifying to become a solicitor. Overall, if you do 100% of your legal qualification with CILEx, it costs less than £10k, which is less than most GDL or LPC courses – and to qualify as a solicitor, you’d need to do both.
If you’re self funding, this is a no-brainer. Not only is it less than half the price, but as you’re not tied to academic calendars, you can spread the cost much more easily. Employers are more and more enthusiastic to support this route, too, because it is cheaper and it is designed to support your work.
I already started on the solicitor route, do I have to start at the beginning?
Nope – your existing qualifications will be recognised by CILEx. You’ll have to pay a small fee to get your status validated, but once they’ve verified, you’ll be able to take the ‘fast track’ to qualification. Loads of people enter at the Associate level and complete the level 6 training instead of the LPC.
What do the letters mean?
Trainee Chartered Legal Executives must be members of CILEx throughout their training. Membership is divided into bands, and some bands are entitled to put letters after their name.
Student and Affiliate members
These members are not entitled to put letters after their names, but they are still members of CILEx. These grades are for students completing the first stage of their academic training – roughly equivalent to the GDL.
ACILEx – Associate member
These members are completing the second stage of their academic training – roughly equivalent to the LPC. These members will often be working towards their work-based learning objectives in a professional legal setting.
GCILEx – Graduate member
graduate members have completed their academic training but are still completed their period of work-based learning. This is a period of three years total, at least one of which must be completed as at this level.
FCILEx – Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives
This is the designation for a fully qualified legal executive.