17 November 2012
29 May 2012
19 September 2011
23 July 2012
1 October 2012
13 May 2013
Legal executives are increasingly dubbed the third arm of the law. This is mostly down to changes in the rules governing the whole of the legal profession, which have elevated the status of legal executive lawyers by bringing them more in line with their solicitor and barrister colleagues.
It is now permissible for a legal executive lawyer to represent a client in court. What is more, as well as being able to become partners in law firms, they can even become judges. Training as a legal executive is therefore an attractive proposition, especially for candidates for whom money is a barrier to gaining the qualifications needed to become a solicitor or barrister.
Although you can train as a legal executive without going to university, it is by no means an easy way of breaking into law. You will still need to complete a number of courses, as well as a minimum period of work experience under the supervision of a qualified lawyer. It is possible to combine the two stages, though, meaning that you can earn while you learn.
You can start training as soon as you finish your GCSEs (you need a minimum of four GCSEs at grade C or above, including English, or the O-level equivalent). The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (Cilex) offers a foundation qualification, which is the equivalent to studying A-level law. The Cilex Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice is set and assessed at honours degree level, allowing you to be a qualified paralegal and a fee-earner.
Both courses can be studied part-time and at your own pace, but each should take a maximum of two years to complete. There are a number of exams, which are structured as multiple-choice or closed-book tests. The courses can be completed in a number of locations around the country, not just in London.
Once you complete the academic stage of your training you need to undertake a period of qualifying employment to become a fellow of CILEx. You can only call yourself a legal executive if you are a fellow of the institute. Qualifying employment includes carrying out work of a legal nature under the supervision of a solicitor, senior legal executive, barrister or licensed conveyancer. Employment can be at a law firm or barristers’ chambers, or at the in-house legal department of a private or public company or central or local government.
If you hold a qualifying law degree awarded within the past seven years, you can choose to undertake the Cilex Graduate ‘Fast-Track’ Diploma, which is a cost-effective alternative to the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). The total cost is £2,338 and takes nine months of part-time study to complete.
Some employers may want to deliver their own tailored qualifications, as do Gordons and Irwin Mitchell. Both firms now use Cilex as part of their legal apprenticeship schemes.
The Legal Apprenticeship Scheme introduced by Leeds-based Gordons last year is aimed at young people who would otherwise find it difficult to enter the profession. The firm is funding five students who have just finished their A-levels to go on a course run by Cilex - and will pay their salaries. The course fees cost the firm £32,500 in total. The students will become legal executives and have the opportunity to take a conversion course and qualify as solicitors.
Irwin Mitchell plans to go into partnership with the College of Law and Cilex to offer tailored training courses to legal staff at all levels in the firm. The three-year partnership, branded IMU Law and Business School, will offer non-legal staff and lawyers legal training alongside business skills training tailored to their expertise. Under the professional development scheme non-law graduates will also be given theopportunity to complete the IM Graduate Certificate in Legal Practice.
Starting salaries for legal executives are usually up to £14,000 a year, while those who are fully qualified can expect to earn around £35,000 on average. Salaries of up to £92,000 in London have been reported in the latest salary surveys. A salary in the mid-thirty thousands may seem low compared with what solicitors earn, but with total legal executive study costs amounting to no more than £6,200, they will certainly notice the benefits.
Legal executives handle a variety of legal matters, including property transfers, formation of companies, High Court or county court disputes, drafting wills and handling family issues. Some legal executives focus on contentious matters; conveyancing, trusts, probate and administration; company and commercial law; and local government and public administration.
Cilex members are able to qualify as Legal Executive Advocates, which enables them to exercise greater rights of audience. This title can be awarded by Cilex after a legal executive has successfully completed the prescribed rights of audience qualification, which includes an advocacy skills course and evidence test. Recent developments following the Legal Services Act 2007 have also enabled legal executive lawyers to become partners or managers in multidisciplinary partnerships. They are also eligible to apply for prescribed judicial posts and become chairs of tribunals.
Almost 100 firms now have legal executive partner managers, and Cilex celebrated its first appointed judge in 2011.