The New Breed of Lawyer: The Rise of the Legal Executive
The traditional routes to becoming a lawyer are fraught with financial risk and rejection can be found around every corner. Studying hard for up to five years without a firm offer of a training contract from a reputable law firm might seem overly risky for the majority of students struggling to afford their education. In times of uncertain economic growth and stability, can only the most privileged and affluent of students afford to become solicitors and barristers?
The answer is unclear, but there can be little doubt that the top law firms are highly selective when choosing new recruits. The question is whether students can afford to put themselves forward as candidates when tuition fees are so high and the economy so fragile. The legal profession in England and Wales needed something different, something distinct from the traditional careers of solicitors and barristers. But what it needed was already there.
In early 2012, the London College of Law placed an advert in the Evening Standard that read: “Amazingly Low Course Fees available!! No need to go to Uni”. The advertisement referred to a form of training provided by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
Legal executives are not exactly a new phenomenon, of course. In almost every major town from Newmarket to Nantwich, solicitors are working alongside legal executives in private law firms, but the progression of the legal executive as a career option has been bolstered in recent years.
Established in 1892, CILEx was known as the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) in 1963 before changing its name in January 2012 when it received a royal charter. According to CILEx, 81.5 per cent of its members have parents who studied at university. Only 2 per cent of members have a lawyer for a parent. Clearly, CILEx operates in different circles from the magic-circle law firms, which have attracted criticism in the past for using the old boys’ network of recruitment.
Members of CILEx have enjoyed more successful careers as legal executives in recent years following the coming into force of the Legal Services Act 2007, which allowed legal executives to be made partners in law firms. Though in practical terms this did little to bring legal executives on a par with solicitors, it did theoretically remove the glass ceiling on salaries. Indeed, CILEx advises that legal executives can enjoy starting salaries of between £15,000 and £28,000, rising to £55,000 or more with experience. Many solicitors in the UK would be content with these levels of income.
Combining their chartered status with relatively good earning potential, legal executives hold at least one advantage over solicitors and barristers: training is cheaper and quicker. CILEx is available to any person with GCSEs, A-Levels or a degree. Qualification costs approximately £7,000, which compares favourably to the £20,000-£40,000 on average that law students rack up en route to becoming a lawyer. Though high-earning solicitors are able to repay their undergraduate debts without much trouble, CILEx members are afforded greater financial security in the short term.
There is really little difference between solicitors and legal executives now that the restriction on becoming a partner has been lifted. However, legal executives may be disadvantaged in practice by not having qualified through the traditional channels in much the same way as solicitors from new universities are not usually given the same opportunities as those from the red-brick institutions. Nevertheless, the rise of the legal executive cannot be discounted – and perhaps in time the profession will become truly indistinguishable from that of a solicitor or barrister.
This guest post has been written by Denver on behalf of Hibberts, Nantwich solicitors who help people receive the claims they deserve – but they also understand the implications of any changes or issues which may have a universal impact on the future or continued interest of the legal profession. Keep updated for more developments from our professional employment law solicitors
As this article was written, the rise of Legal Executives has already continued. What with the award of their Royal Charter, ‘Fellows’ of The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives are now referred to as ‘Chartered Legal Executives’.