Legal executives: what will I get up to?
As a legal executive, your day-to-day job duties will resemble the duties of a solicitor far more than the duties of a barrister. In fact, if you join a solicitor’s firm, you are likely to be working side by side with solicitors much of the time. Unlike a solicitor, however, your scope of practice will probably be limited to a single specialty, and there will be certain activities that solicitors can perform freely that you cannot perform independently without meeting special requirements.
Who will I work for?
Legal executives can work in almost any position a solicitor can. You may find them working in:
- Private solicitors' law firms;
- Government offices;
- Legal departments in public sector organisations;
- Legal departments of private companies; and
- Other types of positions.
What Will I Do Every Day?
The possible daily tasks of a legal executive are too numerous to list here. Following are some typical examples:
- Litigation: Drafting complaints and motions, interviewing clients, etc.
- Assisting solicitors with various tasks;
- Providing legal advice directly to clients;
- Researching the law, applying it to facts and preparing case briefs and strategies;
- Attending court proceedings;
- Drafting contracts, wills, trust documents, divorce settlements and other legal documents;
- Certifying legal documents and affidavits under oath;
- Issuing summons and writs; and
- Administering oaths and witnessing the signature on a legal document, such as an affidavit, in which the signer swears to the truth of the contents under penalty of perjury.
Chartered Legal Executives typically specialise in a certain area of law. Some of the most common specialties are:
- Business law: Legal issues related to business, such as employment or taxation.
- Conveyancing: Arranging for the purchase and sale of property, especially real property.
- Criminal law: Defending or prosecuting someone accused of a crime.
- Family law: Divorce, child custody, property division, etc.
- Litigation: Settling disputes in court.
- Personal injury/wrongful death claims: Road accident injury claims, for example.
- Probate: Wills, trusts, inheritance tax and estate administration.
To perform competently in the foregoing activities, you will need to develop the following qualities:
- The ability to work effectively, both on your own and as part of a team;
- Strong organisational skills;
- Both verbal and written communication skills;
- Social skills such as tact;
- The ability to maintain strict confidentiality;
- Investigative skills;
- Negotiating skills; and
- The ability to work efficiently and effectively under pressure.
You can be certain that all of these abilities will be thoroughly tested by circumstances very early in your career.
Reserved Legal Activities
Following is a list of activities that legal executives are forbidden to undertake, except under the supervision of a solicitor or in compliance with certain exceptions:
- Exercising the ‘right of audience’: You normally cannot appear before or speak in court or call and question witnesses. A judge may grant a legal executive special permission to do so, however.
- Litigation: You cannot issue proceedings before a court in your own name or commence. prosecute or defend any such proceedings.
- You cannot independently prepare any instrument of transfer or charge under the Land Registration Act, submit a document for registration under the Land Registration Act in your own name; or prepare any other legal instrument relating to real estate or personal property, such as an automobile.
- You cannot independently engage in probate activities.
- You cannot independently perform notarial activities.
It has been said that “the law is a jealous mistress”, and this is no less true for a legal executive than for a solicitor or a barrister. As a legal executive, your working hours could vary greatly depending on who you work for, what city you work in and, more than anything else, what specialty you practice. Expect to spend 8 to 12 hours in the office on weekdays, and 3 to 8 hours on weekends and holidays.
What are My Career Advancement Prospects?
A legal executive is not an “assistant solicitor.” In fact, since 2007 the distinctions between legal executives and solicitors have largely disappeared. As a legal executive, you can become a partner in a solicitors’ firm (and over a hundred legal executives have already done so), become a judge, or even start your own firm as long as you do not engage in any of the reserved activities listed above.
Alternative Routes into Law