What is a legal executive?
A legal executive, formally known as a Chartered Legal Executive, is a type of lawyer. Although the practice of a legal executive is similar to the practice of a solicitor, the route to qualifying as a legal executive is quite different than the route to qualifying as a solicitor. Legal executives are considered to be one of the three core branches of the legal profession in England and Wales, along with solicitors and barristers.
The day-to-day life of a legal executive
Compared to solicitors, a legal executive’s training and practice tend to be more specialised, often focusing on a single area of law. Legal executives work side-by-side with solicitors much of the time, and the working hours per week are comparable. Like a solicitor, a legal executive may:
- provide legal advice
- research cases and legislation
- draft legal documents
- interact with clients and other legal professionals such as barristers
- represent clients in court on a limited basis.
Since the Legal Services Act of 2007 was passed, the only three major differences between solicitors and legal executives are that (i) the route to qualification as a legal executive is considerably less competitive and less expensive; (ii) the right of a legal executive to perform reserved legal activities (see below) is circumscribed, and (iii) salaries are typically (but not always) lower for legal executives than for solicitors.
‘Reserved Legal Activities’
Generally speaking, legal executives may not perform the following “reserved legal activities” unless they are employed by a solicitor’s firm and act under the supervision of a qualified solicitor:
- exercise of a right of audience;
- most probate activities; and;
- notarial activities.
Under certain circumstances, a legal executive may receive special permission to perform one of these activities on his own.
Under the Legal Services Act of 2007 and other legislation, a legal executive may:
- Become a partner in a solicitors’ firm, sharing profits with solicitors. In fact, over 100 legal executives have qualified as partners in UK law firms, and the number is growing rapidly.
- Act as a commissioner for oaths.
- Work as a sole practitioner.
- Become a judge.
- Qualify as a solicitor (after meeting certain additional requirements).
Where legal executives work
Like a solicitor, a legal executive may work in a private law firm, in government, or as in-house counsel for a corporation whose primary business is unrelated to the provision of legal services.
Why the CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) route might be right for you
The main advantages of pursuing the CILEx route are:
- It is considerably less expensive;
- You do not have to secure a training contract;
- You can work and study at the same time; and
- The employment outlook is strong.
If you have earned a qualifying law degree within the last seven years, or if you earned a non-law degree followed by a Graduate Diploma in Law, the CILEx route offers a Graduate Fast-Track Diploma, which you can substitute for the LPC. You will also need at least three years of “qualifying employment”. If you have not earned a university degree, you will need four years of part-time study to qualify as a legal executive.
The CILEx route is a relatively new way of qualifying as a lawyer, created to balance the increasing demand for lawyers with the increasingly competitive market for qualifying as a solicitor or a barrister. The employment outlook for legal executives looks strong, at least for the short- and medium-term future.
Alternative Routes into Law