CILEx from a barrister’s perspective

By Jennifer Robinson, Barrister, Cathedral Chambers, Cardiff

CILEx is the national professional association for Chartered Legal Executives, paralegals and other legal practitioners. Chartered Legal Executives are qualified lawyers who are able to conduct litigation and undertake their own advocacy. They are the third largest branch of the legal profession and they are making their presence known.

 Since 2007, Chartered Legal Executives have been eligible for judicial office and partnership status within their firms. It will also not be long before they are able to run their own law firms independently of solicitors.

 CILEx offers an alternative to the training contract/pupillage rat race on a much more affordable basis although it is certainly not an easy route into legal practice. From the exams, to the portfolios that must be prepared whilst working, future Chartered Legal Executives are expected to meet high standards of competency throughout their training in every aspect of legal practice.

 CILEx students sit exams that are designed to mirror the issues faced by real clients. They are given a ‘brief’ several weeks before the exam and are encouraged to research and revise based on this document. Far from making the exams easier, the questions are tightly focused and complex.

 There are different membership levels for CILEx students, and they progress through them as they gain experience and pass exams. This structure provides for constant career development which focuses on the realities of practice rather than academic qualifications. The length of time that it takes to qualify can be flexible and adapted to suit the individual.

It was only by chance that I came to be teaching the practice of family law course to CILEx students this year; I responded to a plea on social media for tutors and I haven’t looked back. My students are a highly intelligent group; they all work full time in law firms in the day and study by night. Several are also raising young families. Despite the many demands on their time, they are all enthusiastic and full of intelligent questions during every seminar.

There is a particular Chartered Legal Executive who deserves to be highlighted. I won’t name her, but I’m sure her firm will recognise her. She joined a prominent Welsh firm as a legal apprentice and has worked predominantly in family law ever since.  Although this individual left school after achieving her (excellent) GCSEs, I have no doubt that she will become one of the best family lawyers in Wales. Despite her potential, her success may not have been possible without the opportunities CILEx can offer.

 The legal world has historically focused on tradition and exclusivity and it is unsurprising that law schools focus on whether students should become a barrister or a solicitor. For some students, those two strands of the profession will still be the most appropriate career path; however, CILEx will increasingly be the best option for many school leavers and graduates.

 South Wales is already alive to the benefits of supporting CILEx. South Wales’ own Watkins and Gunn were the first firm in Wales to fund legal apprenticeships. Many other firms encourage their paralegals to become Chartered Legal Executives and support them throughout their studies. Those firms have already seen the returns of investing in their employees through the skills and knowledge that are gained by every CILEx student.

 We are lucky in South Wales to have such a strong CILEx presence and the newly elected President of CILEx is Frances Edwards, a Welsh family lawyer with a clear vision for the future of her organisation. Frances is supported in South Wales by a strong team including Lynne Squires (regional development officer for CILEx) and Sally Fitzherbert (chair of CILEx’s South Wales Branch).

 There is no excuse for barristers not to enthusiastically support CILEx and recognise the skills of our Chartered Legal Executive colleagues. The legal profession is under continuous threat, particularly in family and criminal law and we cannot expect the brightest students to want to pay thousands of pounds to try and join a profession that may never be able to reward them.

 CILEx is offering those students a way forward that is realistic and sustainable. By supporting CILEx, we are welcoming talented lawyers who are going to help carry the legal profession forward.

Jennifer Robinson is a barrister at Cathedral Chambers in Cardiff. She was called to the bar in 2011 and is a member of Gray’s Inn and the Family Law Bar Association. Jennifer teaches students preparing for their Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) exams.

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