HomepageCommercial LawPrivate LawPublic Law & Human RightsCriminal LawEU & International LawCareers

Accessibility

Have Irlen Syndrome, or need different contrast? Click the button below for options.

Background Colours

Subscribe

Enter you email address below to subscribe to free customisable article notifications.

Alternatively, click the button below for our various RSS Feeds (available journal wide, or per section).

The Paralegal Enquiry

About The Author

Jade Rigby (Writer)

Jade is a third year Law student at Newcastle University. She is currently completely an Erasmus year abroad at Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, Spain, and will return to Newcastle in 2015. Jade is predominantly interested in commercial law, but also writes on criminal and private law topics.

In the wake of the turbulence caused by legal aid cuts, rising legal costs across the country and the competitive path to qualification for aspiring solicitors and barristers, it is no wonder that questions are surfacing concerning the future of the legal workforce. These issues have led to an increasing focus on the work of paralegals.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has recently launched an enquiry, which is investigating whether paralegals can meet the market needs of the future. The “Paralegal Enquiry” is anticipated to deliver a holistic view of the future market context (regulated and unregulated) for legal services delivery from 2020. 

What is a Paralegal?

According to the National Careers Service, a paralegal specialises ‘in one area of the law, carrying out a range of legal work. They are not qualified solicitors, though they can do a lot of the work that a solicitor does. This can range from administrative and legal secretarial tasks to research and provision of legal information to clients’.

CILEx regulates the work of Chartered Legal Executive lawyers, other legal practitioners and paralegals. Chartered legal executives are highly qualified specialists, as fellowships from CILEx require candidates to complete three years of ‘law-related work’ as well as the time it takes to complete the qualifications. Hence, although not a solicitor or barrister, they may carry out many of the same activities with some conditions:

  • If the area of practice is regulated, then they must satisfy the requirements of the relevant regulator;
  • If the activity is 'reserved' under Legal Services Act 2007, then they should generally be supervised by an 'authorised person' (as defined under the Act, and is often a solicitor), or satisfy one of the other exemptions. However this condition is due to change; by the beginning of next year, once Parliament have approved the orders for independent practice rights for CILEx members, which is due to be passed this autumn, Chartered Legal Executives and other CILEx members will be able to set up businesses and practice independently from solicitors.

Paralegals in the Legal Market

The Paralegal Enquiry ‘will be scoped and defined through a series of focus groups and roundtable discussions, and importantly, will consider the characteristics of the legal workforce who will meet those needs, and employer attitudes towards the use of paralegals in future’.

During the launch event, held at DWF’s offices in London, Stephen Gowland, CILEx president, said:

The ambition of the Enquiry is to enable CILEx to deliver knowledge, skills and professionalism in a way that doesn’t date, a way that can meet the fast changing requirements of a sector increasingly technology-led, yet still knowledge and skills-led and people focussed, and in a way that will be appropriate for every type of legal business, that businesses and individuals will have trust in.

The Benefits of on-the-job training

In order to understand how paralegals may shape the framework of the legal market, we need to consider the benefits of being a paralegal as opposed to a solicitor, Chartered Legal Execuitve or barrister. If being a paralegal is more attractive than progressing to lawyer status, then the legal sector may be able to source new talent from a variety of academic, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds.

Paralegals arguably open up access to a career as a lawyer to all. The traditional path to becoming a solicitor or barrister is notoriously difficult because of the elusive nature of training contracts and pupillages. There is an emphasis on getting the top grades at university; many law firms ask specifically for 2:1 grades or higher, in addition to requiring grades AAB at A-Level. The reality is that many aspiring solicitors and barristers do not make it and will be paralegals themselves.

Qualifying as a chartered legal executive, however, is much more accessible. Qualifying as a Chartered legal executive through CILEx is open to those holding GCSEs, A levels or a degree. Additionally, no further full-time study is required. Students can complete their CILEx qualifications by part-time study or distance learning from one of approximately 70 CILEx accredited study centres across England and Wales. Students can also study via distance learning which enables those who cannot attend a class at a college the opportunity to learn virtually.

A further accessibility issue linked to the legal professions is the idea that obtaining a training contract or pupillage depends largely on “who you know, not what you know”. Although networking is a significant skill for aspiring lawyers, some students may feel that their background may disadvantage the amount of opportunities they have to network. CILEx accreditation, however, is more accessible for aspiring lawyers. For example, 81.5% of CILEx members do not have parents who attended university, and only 2% of CILEx members have a parent who is a lawyer.

Additionally, one cannot ignore the financial benefits of taking the CILEx route; University fees have been particularly controversial in recent years, and many students face paying up to £9000 per year in tuition fees alone. Graduates must also complete post graduate courses on the path to qualification, such as the Graduate Diploma in Law, or the Legal Practice Course or the Bar Professional Training Course. Becoming a Chartered legal executive through CILEx, however, costs around £7,650. Hence, it would appear that becoming a CILEx lawyer rather than a solicitor has a strong financial incentive for many applicants. An added benefit is that through part-time study or distance learning, CILEx students can pay-as-they-go to fund their course because they can hold down a full time job at the same time.

Moreover, as chartered legal executives and training CILEx members receive an abundance of on-the-job training, they can offer employers a wealth of experience that most university students can only dream of. In an increasingly competitive market, the opportunity to network, learn and earn is extremely valuable.

However, the traditional paths to becoming a solicitor or barrister are not entirely academic. The Legal Practice Course is vocational in nature, and a training contract ensures that all solicitors have at least two years’ on-the-job experience before they qualify. Similarly, aspiring barristers have to undergo a yearlong pupillage in their route to qualification. As the legal market has become increasingly competitive, previous work experience, such as vacation schemes or mini-pupillages, have also become commonplace on successful candidates’ applications. Clearly, academic qualifications are only one factor in qualifying as a solicitor or barrister.

The Disadvantages of on-the-job training

So if it is cheaper, more accessible, and offers on-the-job experience alongside a salary and qualification, why are more people not committing to following the CILEx route?

At the heart of the issue, it seems, there is concern about “academic snobbery”. Indeed, when Kennedys launched legal apprenticeships for school leavers in 2012, one commentator was particularly concerned with the status attached to a paralegal title, and how this may affect career progression for those students in the future:

I hope a generation of bright young minds don’t fall for this ruse. Kennedys are just capitalising on the tuition fee fear amongst the young (and remember, we are talking about impressionable 17-18 year olds here) to get students who have the grades to be a ‘proper lawyer’ to settle to a lifetime of mediocrity, and a salary ceiling of about £30k. Ideas like this one are breeding a future of discontent.

Any young people reading this, if you have the grades to get onto this scheme, and you want to be a lawyer, take the hit on the student loan and fulfil your potential. Be a lawyer, not a scared wannabe.

However, in an article with Lawyer 2B, Nick Hanning, the first chartered legal executive lawyer to be made a partner under the changes brought about by the Legal Services Act, said:

I’ve always considered the distinction between solicitors and chartered legal executives to be artificial and out of touch with the realities of the legal world.

It is perhaps widely unknown, but legal apprentices and other paralegals taking CILEx qualifications, can actually continue their studies and become qualified lawyers with a great salary and no student loan to repay. Some apprentices start on a salary of £18,000 per year, which is very good considering all of their training is funded either by their employer or the Government.

Additionally, there is concern that the idea that a chartered legal executive is ‘less qualified’ than a solicitor or barrister might create a harmful mind-set amongst chartered legal executives.

For Debbie Matthews, the proper place for chartered legal executives in the legal services market must be discussed in order to tackle prejudice against and self-doubt amongst chartered legal executives:

As an associate member of CILEx who has practised law for ten years I am realistic about the status of chartered legal executive lawyers. Sometimes, we are seen as equals to solicitors. Occasionally, we’re even regarded as possessing a higher degree of knowledge because of the large amount of vocational training we have undergone... But there are many times when chartered legal executives, unfairly, still aren’t quite viewed as having the same status as other lawyers.

The Road Ahead

So, are paralegals set to takeover the legal market from the more traditional legal professions? Or, at least, will the advantages of becoming a paralegal open up new avenues for clients searching for legal services?

As of yet, it remains unclear how paralegals and chartered legal executives will affect and shape changes in the legal market. Following CILEx’s Paralegal Enquiry, however, it is hoped that any stigma, real or imagined, to be attached to the title of ‘chartered legal executive’ or ‘paralegal’ will ultimately dwindle away. Indeed, the real concern is that such stigma may impede a paralegal’s career progression, thus encouraging more people to plunge themselves in debt because of university fees and postgraduate courses.

However, it is unlikely that the results of the enquiry will sound the death knell for solicitors or barristers. University is much more than a degree; student life has its own appeal, aside from gaining qualifications. Significantly, however, it is hoped that the enquiry will not only encourage a diverse range of people to enter the legal market, but that it will also pave the way and demonstrate that paralegals are equals to the traditional legal positions.

For the latest articles straight to your inbox, you can subscribe for free. Alternatively, follow @KeepCalmTalkLaw on Twitter or Like us on Facebook.

Tagged: Legal Careers

Comment / Show Comments (0)

You May Also Be Interested In...

Commercial Awareness: The Fortnightly Round-Up (w/b 24th April)

30th Apr 2017 by Jack Turner

Commercial Awareness: The Fortnightly Round-Up (w/b 27th February)

5th Mar 2017 by Jack Turner

Commercial Awareness: The Fortnightly Round-Up (w/b 13th February)

19th Feb 2017 by Jack Turner

Commercial Awareness: Thinking like an Investor

3rd Feb 2017 by Krishna Bholah (Guest Author)

The Biggest Challenges Facing the Legal Profession in 2016

17th Feb 2016 by Chris Bridges

CILEx: An Alternative Route to Legal Qualification

28th Nov 2013 by Chris Bridges

Section Pick January

The Biggest Challenges Facing the Legal Profession in 2020

Editors' Pick Image

View More

KCTL News

Keep Calm Talk Law: Moving Forward

3rd Sep 2019

Changing of the Guard: Moving Keep Calm Talk Law Forward

12th Aug 2018

An Anniversary or Two: Four Years of Keep Calm Talk Law

11th Nov 2017

Rising from the Ashes: The Return of Keep Calm Talk Law

18th Nov 2016

Two Years On, Keep Calm Talk Law’s Legacy is Expanding

11th Nov 2015

Twitter

Javascript must be enabled for the Twitter plugin to function. Click below to visit us on Twitter.

Free Email Subscription

Subscribe to Keep Calm Talk Law for email updates, and/or weekly roundups. You can tailor your subscription on activation. Both fields are required.

Your occupation / Career stage is used to tailor your subscription and for readership monitoring.

Uncheck this box if you do not want to receive our monthly newsletter.

By clicking the Subscribe button, you agree to our privacy policy and terms of service. Please ensure you read these in full.

Free Subscription