My route to becoming a legal executive
You don’t have to become a solicitor or a barrister to qualify as a lawyer – you could also become a chartered legal executive. To become a chartered legal executive you need to complete professional qualifications either at a college/study centre or through the CILEx Law School.
Saxan explains her route to qualification.
I started working at Shoosmiths in 2010 as an admin/office assistant in the personal injury department. At that stage I didn’t really know what career path I wanted to take, I hadn’t gone to university and I didn’t have any background in law – I hadn’t even worked in an office before!
Discovering the CILEx route
However, after I had been working as an admin/office assistant for about a year, the partner who headed up my team encouraged me to look into studying to become a chartered legal executive (CILEx). I was really enjoying working in a law firm and knew that I wanted to go further, so I did some research and spoke with some colleagues who had taken this route.
Benefits and downsides of the CILEx route
A benefit of the CILEx route is that you can qualify as a lawyer without needing to go to university or secure a competitive training contract. The CILEx route is also more affordable than going to university and you can study at your own pace while still working. If you want to, you can cross-qualify and go on to become a solicitor after qualifying as a chartered legal executive.
- We compare the different roles that you could have in the legal profession (including solicitor, barrister and CILEx) here.
I would say that the CILEx route is a great way of getting into law and the route that best suited me. Despite having no background in law and not having gone to university, I was able to qualify as a lawyer and gain a career for life.
My path to qualification
I would recommend that anyone interested in the CILEx route first looks into what is required to complete the course as it can be a complex process to understand. It requires a lot of dedication and self-motivation so be prepared for this.
I already had a college education, so this meant that I could start with the CILEx level 3 (equivalent to A levels) professional diploma in law and practice, which I studied at Bracknell and Wokingham College. I then went on to study the CILEx level 6 (equivalent to a bachelors degree) professional higher diploma in law and practice at Guildford College and through CILEx Law School. These courses comprised of units that covered law subjects, and practical legal and professional skills. I was also able to successfully complete these courses in two years each.
Once I completed the level 6 course, I needed to complete a period of three years in work, called ‘qualifying employment’, and evidence this with a portfolio of my work-based learning. Fortunately, during my studies I had been working as a paralegal and this counted towards my qualifying employment. The final year of qualifying employment had to be done after the level 6 course and so, a year after completing level 6, I submitted my portfolio to CILEx and subsequently qualified as a chartered legal executive.
A typical day…
I currently work as a chartered legal executive in the personal injury department, with my own case load of clients who are pursuing personal injury claims. A ‘typical day’ (if there is such a thing) mainly involves speaking with my clients, having discussions with the opponent’s representatives, instructing medical experts, preparing court documents and, ultimately, working to achieve a successful outcome for my clients.
Balancing work and studying
I would say that the biggest benefits to taking the CILEx route are that you can study the course at your own pace and continue to work while studying. This means you can not only gain valuable practical experience while working, but also be earning a salary. About a year after starting the CILEx course I started working as a paralegal in the personal injury department, assisting other members of the team with their cases and, over time, taking on my cases.
My firm was very supportive of me throughout the whole qualification process and I felt that everyone I worked with genuinely wanted me to succeed. Throughout my studies I found out what type of work I would need to undertake in order to meet the criteria for qualifying employment and my firm ensured that I was able to meet these by giving me extra duties or tasks I could take care of.
Crucial skills for legal executives
Organisation really is key. I need to be able to prioritise and keep on top of things so as not to miss important deadlines. Client communication skills are also very important. There is not a day that goes by when I am not speaking to/emailing or writing to my clients. Clients don’t want to speak to a lawyer who uses lots of legal jargon; they want to speak to someone who can give them clear advice and someone who makes them feel at ease during what is often a difficult time for them.
Saxan Lisle-Fenwick is a chartered legal executive working in the personal injury department of Shoosmiths. She began studying in 2012 and qualified as a Fellow of CILEx in 2017.