Chartered legal executives are qualified lawyers, specialising in particular areas of law. They have their own client files and, as fee-earners in private practice, their work is charged directly to the client. This is an important difference between chartered legal executives and other legal support staff.

The most common specialist areas are:

  • civil and criminal litigation;
  • conveyancing;
  • corporate law;
  • family law;
  • public law.

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) runs the academic training programme for those who want to enter the career. Only those who have completed this training can use the title of chartered legal executive.

There are opportunities throughout England and Wales but not Scotland or Northern Ireland, where the role does not exist.

Responsibilities

Duties vary considerably according to the specialist area and managerial responsibilities. However, tasks are likely to involve:

  • attending client meetings and corresponding with, and on behalf of them;
  • interviewing and advising clients and witnesses;
  • explaining complex legal matters to clients and negotiating on their behalf;
  • analysing, researching and summarising legal information;
  • collecting information for the preparation of legal documents;
  • preparing documentation for the conveyancing of property, matrimonial, probate and/or litigation work;
  • drawing up wills and drafting contracts;
  • issuing writs and tasking summonses;
  • advising and preparing documentation on the legal aspects of setting up a new business;
  • calculating inheritance tax, working out the sums and explaining the terms of wills to beneficiaries;
  • liaising with fellow professionals from courts, legal practices, banks and accountancy firms;
  • conducting advocacy in County and Magistrates' Courts;
  • acting as commissioners for oaths for the swearing of legal documents;
  • attending court to assist barristers and solicitors with the presentation of cases;
  • preparing accounts on behalf of a legal practice;
  • keeping up to date with changing legislation;
  • filing and indexing paperwork;
  • assigning and supervising the work of junior staff.

Salary

  • CILEx students earn between £15,000 and £28,000 a year while they are qualifying.
  • After completing the CILEx qualifications and the required three years of relevant work experience, salaries of £35,000 to £55,000 can be reached.
  • Salaries vary greatly depending on employer, location and type of work. Many senior chartered legal executives earn more than £50,000, especially those working in large cities or who are partners of a firm.

Income data from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Figures are inteneded as a guide only.

Working hours

You may need to work extra hours on a regular basis with occasional evening, weekend or shift work. Part-time work and career break opportunities are available and are becoming more common.

What to expect

  • The work is office based, but you may need to visit clients in courts and police stations.
  • Working on a self-employed or freelance basis, e.g. working as a licensed conveyancer, is sometimes possible after you have gained considerable experience.
  • CILEx is committed to equality and diversity in relation to the members it represents and its own staff. Many other legal professional bodies, such as the Law Society and Bar Council also have committed equality and diversity policies.
  • Around 74% of CILEx members are women and more than a third of new members are black or of an ethnic minority.
  • Dress is normally conservative, particularly for court work.
  • The job carries the responsibilities associated with the legal field and may be stressful.
  • The need to travel in connection with work is becoming more common and may include overnight stays and overseas travel.

Qualifications

You do not need a degree to enter this career. CILEx recommends that applicants for the CILEx course have at least four GCSEs at grade C or above, (including English language or literature) or equivalent.

The academic course is split into two sections:

  • CILEx Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice: this is the first stage of training and is of an equivalent status to A-levels. It is built up of different modules and should take around two years to complete, although you can study at your own pace.
  • CILEx Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice: this is set at an honours degree level and is the final stage of academic training. This stage should also take around two years. Successful completion allows you to become a Graduate member of CILEx.

Once you have finished the Level 6 course, you need to complete a period of qualifying employment. This has to be for a minimum of three years and must involve carrying out legal work under the supervision of a solicitor, senior chartered legal executive, barrister or licensed conveyancer. You may be employed in a legal practice, legal department of a private company or within local or national government.

Work carried out before or during your studies can count towards the qualifying employment, but the final year of the three-year period must be completed after you have finished the Level 6 qualification. You can then apply to become a Fellow of CILEx.

If you already have a qualifying law degree or Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), you can take the CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma (Level 6 Diploma in Legal Practice) instead of the above routes.

More information on all routes can be found at CILEx: Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer Qualifications.

Competition is fierce. Bear in mind that you will be competing against experienced, non-graduate candidates as well as graduates.

Skills

You need to show evidence of the following:

  • analytical and problem-solving skills;
  • excellent communication skills, both oral and written;
  • a high level of administrative skills;
  • numeracy;
  • the ability to work with discretion;
  • a systematic working method;
  • computer literacy;
  • attention to detail;
  • good research skills;
  • ability to work under pressure.

Work experience

Many of those who start the CILEx qualification route are already in employment in the legal sector and get financial support from their employer. If you are new to the sector, try to get some work experience either before or during your studies, as it will greatly enhance your chances of securing permanent employment once you are qualified.

Employers

Work can be found in a range of legal environments. The main employers of chartered legal executives are medium to large-sized firms of solicitors, including:

  • high street practices, dealing with legal matters in the local community;
  • medium-sized firms, combining private client and commercial work;
  • large commercial firms catering for business clients.

Within all these firms, chartered legal executives have their own specialised function.

Local authority, in-house legal departments also employ chartered legal executives, where work might involve litigation and advocacy in relation to any aspect of the council's work. This type of work is particularly community focused, which requires strong social skills.

There are also jobs in the Civil Service and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), dealing with issues of public legal concern.

Work can be found within the legal departments of large industrial and commercial organisations, such as private utilities and financial institutions, dealing with commercial issues, such as finance, employment and property. It is also possible to work on legal issues for charities.

Look for job vacancies at:

You should apply speculatively to solicitors and specialist recruitment agencies such as BCL Legal Recruitment. Send speculative applications to local firms nd national government departments. You can approach The Law Society of England and Wales in your area for further assistance.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Once you have obtained the Level 3 and 6 CILEx qualifications, or you have completed the CILEx Graduate Fast-Track Diploma, you need to complete the period of qualifying employment.

This is a minimum of three years, but two years may have been completed before you finish the Level 6 qualification. You need to make sure that your work, which can be carried out in a legal practice, a private company's legal department or within local or national government, meets the CILEx learning outcomes, which include:

  • practical application of the law and legal practice;
  • communication skills;
  • client relations;
  • management of workload;
  • business awareness;
  • professional conduct;
  • self-awareness and development;
  • working with others.

Once you have completed this you can apply to become a Fellow of CILEx and will need to show your competence by providing a work-based learning logbook and portfolio of evidence. For more information see CILEx: Qualifying Employment.

In addition to the CILEx qualifications, you will need to undertake continuing professional development (CPD), which is provided by employers, either in-house or through providers such as the University of Law.

Fellows of CILEx are required to undertake CPD activities that lead to a minimum of nine CPD entries. At least one of these needs to be in professionalism, which means it needs to develop your professional knowledge or skills.

Specialist courses, covering areas such as mortgage repossession, personal injury litigation and debt recovery and insolvency are offered by CILEx Law School.

Career prospects

You will develop high-level specialist legal knowledge throughout the minimum three-year qualifying period required to achieve Fellowship of CILEx. With increasing experience and expertise, you may progress to more complex cases and build a comprehensive client base.

Opportunities exist to run your own departments, supervising other chartered legal executives, student legal executives, administrative staff and junior solicitors. In smaller practices, opportunities to become practice managers may arise.

You may choose to train and qualify as a chartered legal executive advocate, which means you can represent clients in several courts as you will have extended rights of audience in civil, criminal and family proceedings. You will also manage cases from start to finish.

It is possible to pursue further ambitions through CILEx, such as becoming a partner in a firm. There are more than 250 chartered legal executive partners in law firms, according to CILEx.

You are able to apply for a range of judicial appointments up to, and including, District Judge in civil and criminal courts and for Tribunal Chairman, provided you have the relevant experience and have completed the required qualifying time.

As a chartered legal executive, you may also become a solicitor. The CILEx training route may be used for entry to the final stages of the solicitors' qualification scheme - the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and the Professional Skills Course (PSC). An advantage is that CILEx Fellows are usually exempt from the two-year training contract, which may be difficult to obtain.

For further information about the route to becoming a solicitor, contact The Law Society of England and Wales.