What is a legal executive?

  • Last updated Jul 11, 2017 12:32:21 PM
  • By Adrian Mason, Principal of Advance CPD & CILEx Chief Examiner

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) was founded in 1892 and became a company limited by guarantee in 1963 with the support of The Law Society.

It's the body responsible for the training and standards of its 22,000 members, all of whom are independently regulated in line with the Legal Services Act 2007.

What does a legal executive do?

Legal executive lawyers are recognised as being one of the three core branches of the legal profession, alongside barristers and solicitors.

You may be surprised to learn that legal executives and solicitors do a very similar job, working alongside one another in private practice, local government and industry.

In fact, wherever you find solicitors, you are very likely to see legal executives. 

The Legal Services Act 2007 has paved the way for legal executives to become partners in law firms, effectively removing the last major hurdle distinguishing solicitors from legal executive lawyers.

There are now over 100 legal executive partners across the country and this figure is rising weekly. Legal executive advocates have the same rights of audience in court as solicitors in their chosen discipline.

Legal executives can become commissioners for oaths, work as autonomous practitioners and, thanks to the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, can apply for judicial positions in the same way as their solicitor colleagues.

The first legal executive judge has already been appointed.

Can graduates take the CILEx route?

Whilst the CILEx route to qualification has traditionally been viewed as a non-graduate way to qualification, this is changing very quickly.

CILEx provides a Graduate Fast-Track Diploma qualification for those who have a qualifying law degree completed in the last seven years.

This course can be chosen instead of the LPC. The Graduate Fast-Track Diploma takes around nine months of part-time study and costs around £2,900 in fees. 

As such, it makes a very economically attractive alternative to the LPC. For those non-law graduates who are considering the GDL and then the LPC, the full CILEx route is a great alternative.

This takes around four years of part-time study and costs just over £6,000.

What are the advantages of qualifying as a legal executive?

The first is that you do not need a training contract!

Instead you undertake five years of legal ‘qualifying employment’ which you can assume in any capacity, such as fee-earner, legal assistant or even administrative work, just as long as work is being supervised by a solicitor or legal executive. 

In contrast, in order to become a solicitor you must have a training contract. Training contracts are harder to come by and more and more firms are taking on LPC graduates into paralegal positions. 

The second major advantage in choosing the legal executive route is cost. The CILEx route to professional practice is a much cheaper alternative to costly solicitor training.

The third advantage of becoming a legal executive is the current buoyancy of employment opportunities.

Employers are increasingly viewing the CILEx route more favourably. Not constrained by having to offer costly training contracts, they know that trainee legal executives will bring versatility.

Legal executives can train in a variety of capacities in a legal practice, allowing them to undertake qualifying work whilst giving employers the flexibility to use their skills wherever appropriate.

The final advantage of becoming a fully qualified legal executive is the advent of the Legal Services Act 2007 which removed the last divisions between the professions.

However, for those who still want to qualify as a solicitor, if you are a fully qualified legal executive before you complete an LPC, you should be exempt from the two-year training contract.

I’m a graduate. How do I become a legal executive?

You'll study the following areas of legal practice: a compulsory Client Care Unit, and two electives in either Civil Litigation, Criminal Litigation, Family Practice, Probate Practice, Conveyancing, Company and Partnership Formation, or Employment Practice. 

One of the electives must correspond with an academic subject within your degree. The examinations are compiled and assessed by CILEx which is a qualification awarding body in its own right. 

The choice of electives does not preclude you from changing legal discipline later; it is just a requirement for Graduate Membership (the stage before being a qualified legal executive lawyer).

A word of warning: the CILExroute to qualification is not a “soft option.” The examinations are of a similar standard to those offered by LPC/BPTC providers.

Clearly, for CILEx members to attain fully qualified status alongside solicitors and barristers, the examinations must be of the same standard. 

Why haven't I heard about this?

Having read this you might be perhaps a little surprised that you haven’t heard of the legal executive option to fully qualified lawyer status. You are not alone.

I, along with colleagues from CILEx itself, undertake regular tours of universities across the England and Wales and we still find it incredible that students can complete a law degree without being given information about this valuable alternative.

Why is this do you think? Well, I can only put it down to outdated academic snobbery. There is still a view in some institutions that the only options open to their students are to either become a solicitor or barrister.

Bob Dylan once sang “the times they are a-changin’”, well they are a-changin’ in the legal profession too.

The Legal Services Act 2007 has brought a revolution to the provision of legal services and it is only natural that some take time to catch up.

My philosophy is simple. It is only when you know of all the choices available that you can make an informed decision about the future direction of your career.

We live in exciting times for the profession and you are well placed to take advantage of them. I hope that this article has played a small part in extending the choices available to you in this new legal world.


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