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CILEx: An Alternative Route to Legal Qualification

About The Author

Chris Bridges (Executive Editor)

Chris is an IT and Data Protection solicitor at a top 20 full service firm and the founder of Keep Calm Talk Law. He also contributes to Computers and Law and other sector specific publications.

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When posed the question ‘how do you qualify as a lawyer?’ most aspiring lawyers will cite the processes required to qualify as a barrister or a solicitor as such:

You need a degree, a GDL (which you are exempt from with a qualifying law degree), the appropriate professional course (the BPTC for barristers, or the LPC for solicitors) and a period of qualifying supervised employment (a one-year pupillage for barristers, or a two-year training contract for solicitors).

This explanation however neglects a feasible and cheaper alternative: becoming a Chartered Legal Executive. Many people will have either not heard of Chartered Legal Executives, know little about them, or be misinformed about what they do. Therefore here, we set the story straight and walk you through the advantages of qualifying as a Chartered Legal Executive, how to do so, and the progression thereon.

What is a Chartered Legal Executive?

First, we must clear a misconception. A Chartered Legal Executive is not a legal secretary or a paralegal.

Chartered Legal Executives are qualified lawyers, trained to the same level as a solicitor, but in a narrower range of fields. Ultimately, this makes little difference, as many lawyers will eventually specialise in a specific area of law. Chartered Legal Executives only study one area to an advanced level. In practice, Chartered Legal Executives do work which is not dissimilar from that of solicitors.

Furthermore, Chartered Legal Executives can now be appointed as both partners of a law firm, and as judges.

See the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) Law School webpage ‘What is a Chartered Legal Executive?’ for more information.

How do you qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive?

If you are a Law graduate with a qualifying law degree obtained in the preceding seven years or non-law graduate with a valid GDL, you only need to complete the Graduate Fast-Track Diploma. This will be the final academic stage for law degree graduates before becoming a graduate member of CILEx. Typically taking between nine months and a year on a part time basis. This costs around £2,400, vastly less than the LPC or BPTC. If you have already completed the LPC or BPTC, you do not need to take this additional qualification.

After three years of qualifying employment, you will then become a Fellow of CILEx: a qualified lawyer. Up to two years of your qualifying employment can be gained whilst studying. The final year must be gained as a graduate member. Qualifying employment is often much easier to obtain than a training contract or pupillage.

See more on the law graduate route on the CILEx website.

Non-law graduates and others will need to undertake four years of part time study costing around £7,650 over the four years. While this does take four years, you can work towards the required qualifying employment whilst studying.

Entrants via this route must also complete three years of qualifying employment to qualify as a Fellow of CILEx (becoming a qualified lawyer) as above.

See more on the non-law graduate route on the CILEx website.

Then What?

As a fully qualified Chartered Legal Executive, you will be doing much the same work as a solicitor. However if you later decided you would like to become a solicitor, this is still possible and is often much easier than as a graduate fresh out of university. If your law degree is still less than seven years old, you can complete the LPC. If you are a Fellow of CILEx before completing your LPC, you may be eligible for an exemption from a two-year training contract. (See here for further details)

I hope this article has been informative, and has reignited hope in qualifying as a lawyer for the many of you that may be struggling to find a training contract or pupillage, or for those that have come out of university unable to afford the costly LPC or BPTC.

If you are still not convinced, or are interested in how prosperous this alternative career path could be, then please read on and learn about Stuart Henry’s journey to becoming a Consumer and Commercial Senior Litigator at DAS Law.

A Case Study: Stuart Henry, Consumer and Commercial Senior Litigator at DAS Law

I graduated with a law degree from the University of Gloucestershire and I had hoped to continue onto the LPC but I simply could not afford the fees.

I had to work and study simultaneously whilst at university and had only myself to rely on to qualify, which lead to additional personal debt on credit cards during university. This caused a problem getting credit for LPC course fees and I had to keep a steady income to cover my bills.

After graduating I started working in property law and then changed to consumer contract litigation. My employer agreed to fund the CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma and after completing my qualifying employment I qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive lawyer.

I went on to supervise a busy Contract Litigation team, dealing with consumer and commercial disputes including domestic building projects, holiday claims and dodgy car deals. In 2013 I was able to make the move to a senior role at DAS Law, where I have the opportunity to help business development as well as my Commercial and Consumer disputes.

The practical approach and content of CILEx learning has really benefitted me in developing a practical and technical expertise in the area.

My younger sister is completing her A Levels now and is considering law. After my great experience with CILEx she is looking to take the CILEx route to avoid the costs of university.

Outside of my job, I also guest lecture at the University of Gloucestershire in contract law and give general talks to the law students about their next steps and career progression, where I really recommend graduates consider the benefits of CILEx qualification.

What advice would you give to someone graduating from a law degree in the near future?

I would advise anyone to seriously consider the CILEx route and take a practical look at your options. The ratio of training contracts to applicants is ridiculous, and non-qualified staff are often undervalued and underpaid, so you won’t want to stay at that level for long. CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma and qualifying experience route gives you a more certain route to becoming qualified, and will often result in faster qualification than the years you spend getting knock-backs from training contract applications before success.

It also helps to know that the Graduate Fast Track Diploma is a fraction of the LPC cost!

How does your day-to-day work compare to that of a solicitor?

My day-to-day work is exactly the same as any solicitor. I’m valued as an equal at my firm and many of the large commercial firms have the same attitude. My qualifying experience for CILEx qualification was taken into account by a lot of firms that I interviewed for, which gave me an advantage over any newly qualified solicitors that they were considering and meant that I was open to legitimately applying for roles requiring up to 5 years PQE and not just NQ roles.

Where do you see yourself progressing to in the next 5 years or so?

CILEx have made such great progress in the last few years that it’s difficult to know! I’m not adverse to the idea of setting up independently if we get the rights granted, or working steadily toward a partnership at a firm. Advocacy rights and the judiciary are all open to CILEx fellows now so there’s also that possibility to consider.

At the moment, I’m happy at DAS Law. We’re one of the leading ABS firms, and that brings great opportunities to shape the future of the legal market, so I’m very excited about how we are planning to make an impact and set the trend for the legal profession in coming years.

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Tagged: Legal Careers

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