2016 has seen the biggest shake-up within the legal industry, and not just because of merger talks between Nabarro, CMS Cameron McKenna and Olswang. This year has seen Brexit and its effects on the mechanics of law firms and we have also seen that the many different ways in which lawyers are qualifying is bringing huge change to the legal industry. September saw the introduction of the first Trailblazer apprenticeships, providing first-hand legal experience through learning on the job, a similar concept to that of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
Personally, I decided that going to university full-time was not the right the decision for me, so after I finished my school studies, I was sent to secretarial college where I learnt my first few aspects of law. I had always had an interest in law due to the fact that my uncle is a lawyer. However, these law modules encouraged me to not only work in the legal industry, but also to find a way to qualify as a lawyer whilst working. After much research, I discovered Trailblazers and CILEx.
At present, I am a Legal Administrator in a mid-sized law firm in Central London, whilst also studying as a Legal Executive (CILEx) student at the University of Westminster. Earning and learning is hard and challenging, which does mean that I do spend most of my time in the library after work. However, I find that my job really assists with my studies and vice versa. CILEx offers a wide range of modules which you can choose and shape to mould you into the area in which you want to practice, which is what appealed to me the most.
Many LLB students and qualified solicitors seem to be bemused by these new method(s) (inclusive of trailblazers as many consist of CILEx qualifications) of qualification. 2016 has seen an increased popularity of and push for earning and learning. These new ways of getting into the industry, studying law and qualifying as a lawyer will become increasingly popular, whilst also making the legal industry ever more accessible.
What exactly is CILEx? The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives is the body that represents CILEx legal practitioners and it is also recognised by the Law Society and Bar Council. Legal Executive Lawyers’ roles are very similar to that of a solicitor and today clients will find it hard to distinguish between them.
What appealed to me about CILEx was that you can begin your legal studies at entry level (Level 3) and work your way up to Level 6, which is recognised as the same standard as a degree. However, during your study period – which, on average, takes 4 years from entry level to level 6 - you can train at the same time. This means that you skip the comparative stage of finding a training contract and undertaking the LPC, as the CILEx qualification is also practice-based.
CILEx is also open to those who have a law degree, they can undertake the Graduate Fast-Track Diploma which enables someone with a law degree to qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer and then undertake qualifying employment without the need for a training contract or LPC. The application process is very simple and flexible, there are options of distance learning either by the CILEx Law School or at other centres. You can find centres where the CILEx qualification is offered on the CILEx website, however the fees do vary from centre to centre.
To make CILEx a little clearer, it works on a membership grades basis and your level is reflected in your membership status, the membership grades are:
Student Member, a student member is those who wish to enter the legal profession, or who have no legal qualification or have worked in a legal environment or nature for less than three years.
Affiliate Member, the grade of membership for those who have a CILEx level 3 or 4 unit qualification, have completed a CILEx level 2 qualification or have experience of working in a legal environment.
Associate Member, those who have a CILEx level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice or are a graduate with a law degree. Associate members are also able to put ACILEx after their name.
Graduate Member, has completed the CILEx level 6 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice, level 6 Higher Diploma in Law and Practice, Graduate Fast Track Diploma, LPC or BPTC. Those who are graduate members are also able to put GCILEx after their name.
Fellow, a member who is a fellow is someone who has completed qualifying employment and will therefore able to be identified as a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer (FCILEx).
Everyone’s experience with CILEx is very different when it comes to training, as it is dependent on where you are working and your personal circumstances. For myself, my first year so far has been very flexible and I have been able to take modules, exams and the training process at my own pace. I am fortunate to be given a first-hand experience with dealing with clients and also amending legal documents on a daily basis, which is helpful for my studies. It also enables me to see how the practice modules that we cover are applied in practice. Unlike a training contract, training (known as qualifying employment) is 3 years long. However, one of the years has to be completed once you’ve finished the Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice, which enables you to become a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer.
To conclude, learning and training with CILEx alongside a full-time job is extremely rewarding. You can see how to take what you are learning in the class room and implement it into your daily work, whilst at the same time understanding how a law firm works - something I believe can be overlooked for students or those looking to get into the legal sector. Additionally, it cuts the cost of doing the traditional LLB, LPC or BPTC and skips the competitive task of winning a training contract. I feel that anyone looking into law, particularly those who are more practical, should consider this route and the similar Trailblazers that many companies and law firms are starting to offer. The legal industry is changing rapidly: grades will forever be key but experience is slowly creeping up behind.