Chartered legal executives are qualified lawyers who do very similar work to that of a solicitor. They will usually be employed by a law firm, in a barristers’ chambers, by government or work in the legal department of a private or public company. It is usual for legal executives to specialise in an area of law such as family law, probate or conveyancing.
The main difference between legal executives and solicitors is that the training a legal executive completes to become qualified covers fewer subjects. Therefore the work they do focuses on lower-value and less complex cases. With experience, however, progression to more high profile and complex work is possible. There are now more possibilities for career progression as legal executives have recently been able to represent clients in court, establish their own law firms and even become a judge.
There is even a route to becoming a fully-qualified solicitor as a chartered legal executive. You are able to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC) and will usually be exempt from the two-year training contract solicitors need to complete.
If you have a strong interest in the law, good research skills and an analytical mind, a career as a chartered legal executive might be a good option for you.
According to Allaboutlaw.co.uk, in 2017 there were over 100 legal executive partners across the country, rising weekly.
The day-to-day role of a legal executive is similar to that of a solicitor, working alongside one another in private practice, local government and industry. Legal executive advocates have the same rights of audience in court as solicitors in their chosen discipline.
Day-to-day responsibilities might include:
- Explaining legal matters to clients and providing advice;
- Writing legal documents including writing wills, property conveyancing, custody cases or divorce settlements;
- Agreeing to a course of legal action with a client;
- Interviewing clients and witnesses;
- Researching and presenting legal information;
- Drafting contracts and legal documents;
- High Court or County Court work;
- Drawing up wills and explaining the terms to beneficiaries;
- Calculating figures such as inheritance tax;
- Assisting barristers and solicitors with the presentation of cases in court;
- Representing clients in lower courts.
Legal executives can become commissioners for oaths, work as autonomous practitioners, and thanks to Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007, can apply for judicial positions in the same way as their solicitor colleagues.
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 where applicable.
Although similar to a solicitor role, the training route to become a legal executive is narrower than for a solicitor.
Solicitors complete the legal practice course, in which the study of many legal practice subjects is compulsory. Chartered legal executives specialise early and study one legal practice subject to an advanced level.
Legal executives, like solicitors, need to stay updated with changes and developments in the law, and are required to complete training throughout their careers. They are eligible for judicial posts and, under the 2007 Legal Services Act, can become partners or managers in certain practices.
There are two main routes you could follow to become a chartered legal executive. The first is to complete two diplomas from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). To apply for the CILEx courses you will need at least four GCSEs at grades A* to C (9-4), including English.
The CILEx Level 3 Diploma in Law and Practice should take you around two years to complete and are of equivalent status to A-levels.
The CILEx Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice is the next stage and is the equivalent of an honours degree. This should take you another two years to complete.
Following the CILEx qualifications, you will need to complete a minimum of three years of qualifying employment. During this period you will carry out legal work under the supervision of a senior chartered legal executive or other qualified lawyers. Only after this period of employment will you become fully qualified and you can then apply to become a Fellow of CILEx.
The other route you could take to become a chartered legal executive is with a university degree. With a law degree or another degree and a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), you are able to take the CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma. You should be able to complete this in under a year and then go on to complete the period of qualifying employment.
The diagram below shows the usual qualification routes to become a chartered legal executive.
Research skills: You will need to have excellent legal research skills in order to prepare your cases and form strong arguments based on evidence.
Communication skills: Essential for explaining complex legal matters to clients. You will also need to be able to speak confidently when conducting advocacy in court.
Written communication skills: You will need to be able to write clearly and concisely when drafting legal documentation.
Ability to work under pressure: You will often have to deal with a heavy workload as well as dealing with the pressure of performing in court.
Respect for confidential information: You will need to be able to work with discretion on behalf of your clients.
Problem solving skills: You will need the ability to analyse complex legal situations and present solutions for your clients.
Numeracy skills: You will often be working with numbers and you will need a good level of numeracy for tasks such as calculating inheritance tax.
Computer literacy: An increasing number of legal tasks are now being completed electronically, such as research and case management.
Starter: £15,000 to £28,000 (While studying for CILEx qualifications)
Fully qualified junior: £35,000 to £55,000
Senior chartered legal executive: £55,000+
Salaries are intended as a guide and will vary depending on firm and location. Those working in large cities, such as London, can expect to be in the higher end of the spectrum.
What are the advantages of qualifying as a legal executive?
First and foremost, one of the biggest advantages to qualifying as a legal executive is that you do not need a training contract, unlike the route towards becoming a solicitor. But you will proceed with five years of legal ‘qualifying employment’, for example a fee earner, legal assistant or even administrative work, just as long as your work is supervised by a solicitor or legal executive.
The second advantage in choosing the legal executive path, is cost. The CILEx route to professional practice is a much cheaper alternative to costly training towards becoming a solicitor.
The third advantage, is the current buoyancy of employment opportunities for legal executives.
Employers are increasingly favouring the CILEx route. Without the constraint of offering costly training contracts, they know that trainee legal executives will bring versatility.
The final advantage, is the advent of the Legal Service Act 2007, which removed the last two divisions between the professions.
Note: If you do 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.
There are several routes to career progression as a chartered legal executive. You could rise to managerial positions, qualify as a chartered legal executive advocate, become a partner or even a solicitor.
After qualifying and achieving Fellowship of CILEx, you will start to take on more complex cases and build up a wealth of experience. As you progress and gain specialist knowledge, opportunities to supervise trainees and junior solicitors may arise. This experience will put you in a good position to rise to managerial positions and run your own departments. There are also opportunities to become a partner in some firms.
With further study, you can earn the opportunity to represent clients in certain courts as a chartered legal executive advocate.
As a chartered legal executive, you may also complete the Legal Practice Scheme (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC) and become a solicitor. As a Fellow of CILEx, you will usually be exempt from the two-year training contract that trainee solicitors are usually required to complete.
What are the key skills for becoming a legal executive?
Key skills for legal executives might include:
- The ability to work independently;
- Excellent organisation skills;
- Communication skills;
- Investigative skills;
- Negotiating skills;
- The ability to work under pressure.
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