Executive decision

Considering your future can be financially daunting when confronted with the astronomical cost of traditional legal education and training – university tuition fees up to £9,000 per year, Graduate Diploma in Law fees up to £9,400, Legal Practice Course fees ranging from £7,900 to £13,550, and Bar Professional Training Course fees ranging from £11,600 to £16,540.

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However, there is an alternative route to a career in law through becoming a chartered legal executive. The journey can be started from GCSEs up, with exemptions for those with A-levels and degrees.

While it takes five or six years to become a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), you will be working in a solicitor’s office or similar legal environment, thus allowing you to earn and learn at the same time.

Chartered 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 legal executive lawyers to represent clients in court, to become partners in law firms, and even become judges. Training as a legal executive is, therefore, an attractive proposition, especially for those for whom money is a barrier to gaining the qualifications needed to become a solicitor or barrister.

While salaries for school-leavers start at between £10,000 and £15,000, a fully qualified legal executive earns on average around £35,000, while experienced legal executives in London can earn up to £90,000.

So what are the different sources available for budding legal executives?

Employers

The first and most obvious port of call is your employer. Research completed by CILEx last year found that more than 50 per cent of employers surveyed contributed financially to the costs of their employees’ CILEx studies and more than 70 per cent paid their employees’ membership fees.

Even if an employer is unwilling to offer financial support, it may be prepared to help in other ways, such as: granting study leave; offering coaching and mentoring; and providing work experience elsewhere in the organisation.

Potential benefits that could be pointed out to an employer considering such support include enabling support staff to generate income for the organisation by converting them into fee-earners.

It must be noted that it is actually a benefit for your employer to pay for such training as the course fees are tax deductible and the VAT element is recoverable.

Also, if an employer is going down the apprenticeship route (see box, page 52), then organisations new to apprenticeships are also eligible for a grant of £1,500 per head to support the recruitment of their first 10 apprentices.

The Government

Despite government cuts there are still several initiatives in place that can help those undertaking legal executive study.

The most recent of these is the controversial further education loans (FEL) system being launched in March 2013.

Currently the Government pays half the fees of further education students aged over 24, but from 2013 students will have to take out loans of up to £3,700 to pay the full cost of training.

Critics of the scheme point to the Government’s own research, which found that just one in 10 learners would definitely continue their courses if loans were introduced, and a Department of Business, Innovation and Skills’ impact assessment predicting up to 150,000 could drop out of adult learning altogether.

To counteract some of these fears the Government recently announced a £50m scheme to help cover students costs, made up of a £20m bursary to fund particularly vulnerable learners – those with learning difficulties, disabilities and parents needing childcare – and £30m diverted from learner support budgets to be given to colleges to distribute.

Further information on FEL is available from the Skills Funding Agency at skillsfundingagency.bis.gov.uk or on 0845 377 5000.

Another recent development happened in March 2011 when the Education Secretary Michael Gove announced a £180m bursary scheme to replace the scrapped education maintenance allowance. The replacement scheme is intended to be “more targeted” at those most in need and applies to around 12,000 of the poorest 16-to-19 year-old students, who will receive up to £1,200 a year to stay on in education.

Further information on the bursary scheme is available at www.gov.uk/1619-bursary-fund.

Discretionary Learner Support Funds can also be used to help disadvantaged students aged 19 or over with the costs associated with further education, which may include childcare (if you’re 20 or over – if you’re 19, apply for Care to Learn instead), accommodation and travel, course materials and equipment. The Access to Learning Fund can also help with course fees.

Both access and learner support funds will be administered either by your local college and/or local education authority (LEA). Individual colleges and LEAs determine their own priority groups and maximum amounts they award.

If you are a student and a young parent (aged under 20 at the start of your course), Care to Learn can help pay for childcare and related travel costs while you are learning. Those eligible can get up to £160 per child per week outside London and £175 per child per week inside London. You are not eligible for Care to Learn if you are an apprentice who gets a salary.

Information on all these schemes and more are available at www.gov.uk/browse/education and via the Learner Support helpline on 0800 121 8989.

For students in Wales, the Wales-based employability and support project GO Wales offers small to medium-sized businesses in Wales that employ fewer than 250 staff up to £8,500 towards the cost of training graduate staff members – meeting 50 per cent of course costs up to £1,500 per eligible member of staff.

Funding is available until 2014, but it is recommended students contact the fund on 0845 225 60 50 or email info@gowales.co.uk/training.

It must be noted that funding is paid to organisations, not the individual taking part in the training, and individuals cannot apply for funding unless they are sole traders or self-employed.

Banks

Professional and Career Development Loans (PCDL) are bank loans to pay for courses and training that help with your career or help get you into work. Barclays and the Co-operative Bank are the two banks that offer such loans.

Both the CILEx Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice and Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice, which last up to two years, or a three-year course that includes up to one year of work experience, are covered by PCDL if the organisation providing the training is on the PCDL Register, so check with your course provider.

If you are 18 or over, settled in the UK, have been ordinarily resident in the UK for at least three years prior to the start of your learning programme and intend to work in the UK, the European Union or the European Economic Area when the course finishes, you may be able to borrow between £300 and £10,000.

Loans are usually offered at a reduced interest rate and the Government pays interest while you are studying and for one month after you leave your course. Please note you have to repay the loan even if you do not complete the course or your course provider goes out of business.

After the interest holiday, rates go up steeply, so give your PCDL the heave-ho as soon as the interest free period ends. After checking any early repayment conditions, apply for the cheapest unsecured personal loan and use it to pay off the PCDL.

You can order an application pack from nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk and apply three months before your course starts to give the bank enough time to process your application.

Remember as a commercial loan product a PCDL should only be considered as an option once all other funding options have been investigated.

For further information visit www.gov.uk/career-development-loans or call the PCDL helpline on 0800 585 505.

Educational charities and trusts

There are various local and national charities and trust funds which may be able to offer you financial help to support your studies. They may also make small awards towards other expenses, such as books, travel and childcare, which are not covered by other sources of funding.

You may apply to many educational trusts and see if they can support you, but qualification may depend on several factors, including where you were born, how old you are, and the particular qualification you wish to study.

Family Action at www.family-action.org.uk provides information about education grants and has a grant search. As do www.turn2us.org.uk and www.scholarship-search.org.uk.

There may also be grants available from your local council. As different councils offer different funding, search for details on the website or contact them to ask for more information. To find your local council’s details enter your postcode on the Gov.UK website.

You could also approach the Educational Grants Advice Service on 01932 865 619 or the Educational Trusts’ Forum at www.educational-grants.org.

The following publications can provide further information: The Educational Grants Directory, published by the Directory of Social Change; The Charities Digest; The Grants Register; and The Directory of Grant Making Trusts, published by the Charities Aid Foundation.

The Prince’s Trust provides grants from £50 to £500 for education, training or work for those aged between 14 and 30.

For further information, contact the trust on 0800 842 842 or visit www.princes-trust.org.uk.

CILEx itself also runs a benevolent fund under which support can be given on a case-by-case basis to assist students in particular need with educational costs.

Other sources of information

In addition to the sources identified above, Learn Direct provides information about learning, courses or funding and can be accessed via a helpline on 0800 100 900 and www.learndirect.co.uk and www.moneysavingexpert.com is also useful.

It must be noted, however, that this area is complex and funding is dependent on many factors, including age, address, financial and personal circumstances, the qualification you wish to complete and your mode of attendance (full or part-time). There may be other sources of funding and support available on a local or regional basis, including help with child care and travel costs, so be sure to approach your college’s awards or welfare officer.

Apprenticeships

In the past year, firms such as Browne Jacobson, Co-operative Legal Services, DWF, Gordons, Irwin Mitchell, Kennedys, Minster Law, Plexus Law and Pinsent Masons have begun to jump on the legal apprenticeship bandwagon, introducing several options for school leavers to earn while they learn and offering a cost-effective alternative to the traditional route into law.

The law firms put up the £6,900 cost of CILEx as well as covering the full cost of other training needs. What’s more, the budding lawyer’s entry-level salary could go towards any living expenses.

There are three separate apprenticeships available delivering different levels of skills and knowledge:

The Level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeship in Legal Administration is designed to train in legal administration, ie to develop staff who can assist in the progression of cases but have primarily administrative, rather than legal, knowledge.

Level 3 Advanced Apprenticeship in Legal Services is in development and is likely to become available from autumn 2013. It will deliver paralegal competence and will be a progression route from the Level 2 Apprenticeship and a Government-funded alternative to the CILEx Level 3 Certificate in Law and Practice.

Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services is being developed for March 2013 by CILEx and a consortium working with Skills for Justice. The Higher Apprenticeship is designed for those who already work in the legal environment. It is set at undergraduate degree level and will deliver competence in file handling. Initial practice areas will include claimant personal injury, defendant personal injury, insolvency and debt recovery and commercial litigation.

Fees are covered by the Government for staff who are under 19 when they begin the apprenticeship.

While a proportion of training fees are currently payable for staff aged up to 24, from 1 August 2013 most apprentices aged 24 or over will need to take out a 24+Advanced Learning Loan. This works in the same way as a student loan, with repayments starting only when earnings exceed £21,000 a year. See www.gov.uk/24_advanced_learning_loans for more information.

The minimum wage for an apprentice is currently £2.65 an hour, but the average payment is £170 a week or £8,840 per annum. Most legal services employers in pay above that rate.

Training costs

Training a paralegal with no relevant qualifications to become a Chartered Legal Executive:

Year 1

CILEx Level 3 Certificate in Law and Practice (five units)

Course fees: £916.67 ex VAT

Course admin fees for booking revision sessions/workshops: £25 ex VAT

CILEx membership fees: £85

CILEx assessment fees: £262.

Total: £1,288.67 ex VAT*; £1,447 inc VAT

Year 2

CILEx Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice (remaining five units)

Course fees: £1125 ex VAT

Course admin fees: £25 ex VAT

CILEx membership fees: £110

CILEx assessment fees: £290

Total: £1,566.65 ex VAT; £1,800 inc VAT*

Year 3

CILEx Level 6 law unit

Course fees: £450 ex VAT

CILEx Level 6 practice unit

Course fees: £475 ex VAT

CILEx Level 6 Client Care Skills

Course fees: £312.50 ex VAT

Course admin fees: £25 ex VAT

CILEx membership fees: £155

CILEx assessment fees: £252

Total: £1,669.50 ex VAT; £1,922 inc VAT*

Year 4

CILEx Level 6 two law units

Course fees: £900 ex VAT

CILEx Level 6 Legal Research

Course fees: £312.50 ex VAT

Course admin fees: £25 ex VAT

CILEx membership: £155

CILEx assessment fees: £252

Total: £1,644.50 ex VAT; £1,892 inc VAT*

Grand total: £6,169.32 ex VAT; £7,061 inc VAT*

Training a law graduate paralegal as a Chartered Legal Executive:

Year 1

CILEx Graduate Fast-track Diploma (two CILEx Level 6 practice units)

Course fees: £950 ex VAT

CILEx Level 6 Client Care Skills

Course fees: £312.50 ex VAT

Course admin fees: £25 ex VAT

CILEx membership fees: £190 (including first registration fee)

CILEx assessment fees: £252

CILEx exemption fee: £200

Total: £1,929.50 ex VAT; £2,187 inc VAT*

*CILEx membership and assessment fees do not attract VAT