The Third Type of Lawyer: Legal Executives

For many, attaining the status of ‘qualified lawyer’ is a dream and aspiration.

What with the inherent issues of legal education and training in the 21st century, for many that remains just that- a dream. However long they chase it for, it rarely seems to happen.

Traditional routes as solicitor or barrister seem overly competitive and laborious to break into. However, there is another way to train as a lawyer; by studying to be a legal executive.

The Solicitors Managing Clerks’ Association was formed 1892, training senior clerks to have some legal knowledge. With law firms in the middle of the century relying increasingly on senior and experienced clerks (similar to the modern paralegal), their legal training became increasingly more detailed and in depth. Effectively, those senior clerks and administrators became lawyers in their own right. This was finally recognised in 1963, where, in conjunction with, and with the approval of, the Law Society, the old Association became the Institute of Legal Executives, training senior and managing law clerks to effectively become lawyers. This expanded, and took off over the intervening decades, and effectively created a third way to train and qualify as a lawyer As a reflection of the Legal Executives’ status, 2012 saw the Institute of Legal Executives become Chartered (CILex).

Studying as a Legal Executive is much more practical, and hands on. Whilst learning legal theory and principles, the way the course is run and examined is a lot more practical. The vital legal skill of applying the law is learned the hard way, with the student practicing applying the law, and actually carrying put tasks such as conveyancing.

Unlike the traditional solicitors’ or barristers’ route, much of a legal executive’s training is done by putting the law into practice. To successfully qualify as a legal executive, it is mandatory for three years of work to be undertaken at a law firm, in a relevant capacity. As such, whilst solicitors and barristers are learning about the Land Registry and the relevant legislation surrounding registering land- the legal executive is already tearing their hair out in actually registering land, and checking details with the land registry prior to qualifying.

The result is s course of study that is more practical, and perhaps more robust than the traditional classroom learning of legal study previously. Studying to be a legal executive, with part time and distance learning, and practical experience is very much learning law for the 21st Century; it is a very modern approach to a very traditional profession.

Amongst its advantages is speed. Law graduates can wait for years in jumping through the various hoops of legal education and training. Law school, LPC or BPTC, training contact or pupillage; each stage takes time and effort, and there is never any certainty as regards progressing onto the next stage. CILex takes a totally different approach. There are essentially two levels to their studies, which can be studied at a time and pace to suit the student. Usually, however, the academic studies take two to three years. Aside from that, there are three years practical work experience in la law firm. Fulfilling those criteria means that the student becomes a fully qualified Legal Executive- a qualified lawyer, by another name. Indeed, very few of the general public will be able to tell the difference between Legal Executive and Lawyer.

Admittedly, though, the legal executive is a specialist in a few areas, and has a few restrictions imposed upon them. However, what with recent changes, and taking possible future trends into consideration, it is highly likely that those restrictions as will be lifted as the profession becomes increasingly similar to that of a solicitor or barrister. Higher rights of audience, greater job choice and flexibility will inevitably over time come the way of the Legal Executive. Indeed, it was only in 2010 that a Fellow of CILex, Ian Ashley-Smith was appointed a Deputy District Judge on the South Eastern Circuit. With rules concerning judicial appointments being relaxed as of November 2008, Mr Ashley Smith is but the first of many more judges drawn from Legal Executives.

Additionally, studying law, and working to become a lawyer, brings with it a great deal of debt, and is a very expensive choice of career. Not so with legal executives. For the course of study, and the fees imposed by CILex, the student pays on average £7,600. NUS estimates that students will graduate with debts of around £20,000- £30,000. For law students, the cost of the BPTC or LPC has to be added to that figure. Indeed, another attraction of the legal executive route is that you earn whilst working in practice whilst studying. Financially, it is by far the better option- which is why many potential lawyers are looking at the CILex more, and indeed choosing the CILex route.

Despite the positives of becoming a legal executive, there are currently restrictions to the areas of law available to legal executives, and barriers to practice. The major concern is that the rest of the profession, by and large, still does not know how to deal with the (relatively) new branch of the legal profession. Over time, however, that will change, as legal executives get more status, rights and recognition.

For those considering a legal carer, or for the paralegal aspiring to be a lawyer, CILex offers very good route to attaining that elusive ‘qualified lawyer’ status. Whilst considering how to become a lawyer, it is well worth considering the merits of training as a Legal Executive instead.

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