Judith Gordon-Nichols updates Bristol Law Society on the current position of Legal Executives following the recent grant of a Royal Charter
At the Bristol Law Society Awards Dinner on 14 October 2011 for the first time there was a “Legal Executive of the Year” award. I was thrilled to receive that award which recognised my work in promoting the legal executive qualification. And I was even more thrilled to receive it that day as the day before the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) was informed that the Queen in Council approved our application for Royal Charter so that it would henceforth be the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). This was a great achievement for the Institute and something that we had all worked hard to achieve.
So what difference does it make that we are now Chartered Legal Executives?
A Chartered Legal Executive is a qualified lawyer and is recognised as such by the Legal Services Act 2007. Only Fellows of CILEx are entitled to call themselves chartered legal executives and in order to be admitted as a Fellow one has to pass rigorous examinations in law and in legal practice. The first set of examinations are taught and examined at Level 3 (“A” level standard) following which it is necessary to pass three substantive law papers, one practice paper and examinations in client care and legal research, all of which are taught and examined at Level 6 (Honours Degree standard). It is also necessary to complete a period of qualifying employment which is currently five years working in an appropriate legal environment, to include two years post Level 6 qualification. It is not an easy route to qualification as a lawyer, although it is more accessible and affordable than a law degree, LPC and training contract.
More than this, those who have law degrees and/or LPC but have been unable to obtain a training contract may qualify as a lawyer with CILEx, receiving appropriate exemptions for the qualifications they have already achieved although needing to complete the period of qualifying employment, with two years of that qualifying employment taking place after all academic qualification is completed whether by way of a law degree and LPC or by way of a law degree with the legal practice papers being completed with CILEx.
I have already stated that we are qualified lawyers. We work in private practice, in-house and for local authorities. We undertake similar work to solicitors: certainly the work I do is no different from my solicitor colleagues. We can appear in Court – usually in Chambers, although a growing number of chartered legal executives obtain an additional advocacy qualification and have the right to appear in open court at certain levels in family, criminal and civil litigation. We can and do become partners in law firms – both equity partners and salaried partners and I understand there are in the region of 200 chartered legal executive partners now. And we are eligible for judicial appointment as Tribunal Chairs, Deputy District Judges and District Judges. We have just one chartered legal executive Deputy District Judge at present, but we are quietly confident that he is the first of many.
So, what difference does the Royal Charter make, apart from giving us a lovely document to hang on the wall? There are many benefits that the Royal Charter brings to the public as well as to members of CILEx. Not only can existing Fellows in active practice use the title Chartered Legal Executive but CILEx’ status as an Approved Regulator, Professional Body and Awarding Organisation is enhanced by the additional scrutiny and endorsement of our operations by the Privy Council. There is formal public recognition for CILEx’ high standards in qualification, regulation and representation; there will be raised consumer awareness and confidence when seeking legal advice from suitably qualified, regulated lawyers as well as professional recognition from our peers in the legal profession for our equal standing and expertise as Chartered Legal Executive Lawyers.
Throughout its evolution CILEx has long promoted and maintained high standards of ethical conduct, efficiency and training as well as encouraging equality and diversity in the legal profession. We will continue to do so as well as working to enhance and maintain public confidence in the work of Chartered Legal Executives and the commitment they have to the legal profession, the rule of law and, of course, to their clients. We will also continue to promote in the public interest co-operation and mutual assistance within the legal profession.
Judith Gordon-Nichols F Inst L Ex is a Chartered Legal Executive (admitted 13 June 2001). She is one of four constituency Council Members for the South and South West of England, and was President of ILEX 2009/2010.