Legal Executives’ ‘Psychology’ Is Holding Them Back

As ILEX is presented with a royal charter, it’s time for a change in mindset among legal executive lawyers, argues Debbie Matthews

Last week the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX) officially received its long awaited royal charter. It will now be known as the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Recognition of this new status was presented to them by the Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly, who praised legal executives’ contribution to the legal industry, adding that their “commitment to providing the British public with legal services should be recognised”.

However, in my experience this recognition is all too often not forthcoming. I fear that it is the psychology of legal executives themselves which prevents this from happening.

As an associate member of CILEx who has practised law for ten years I am realistic about the status of legal executive lawyers. Sometimes, we are seen as equals to solicitors. Occasionally, we’re even regarded as possessing a higher degree of knowledge because of the large amount of vocational training we have undergone. Barristers, in particular, tend to see little difference between ILEX-qualified lawyers and solicitors.

But there are many times when legal executives, unfairly, still aren’t quite viewed as having the same status as other lawyers – a point I made in a Guardian article last year. The response was disappointing, with one CILEx member tweeting: “Shame on Deborah”.

This is the sort of defensiveness that characterises the psychology of some legal executives. One of its effects is to stifle debate as to what our proper position within the legal hierarchy should be. Without that debate, the unspoken prejudice held against CILEx lawyers by some will continue unchallenged.

In that Guardian article, I also stated that I found the law degree I am completing at Hull University easier than the CILEx qualification I previously obtained, and I explained how that had given me confidence. If CILEx lawyers are to continue to grow in status, the Institute needs to consider ways in which their confidence can be raised without going to university.

Times are changing. Legal executives can now, quite rightly, go on to become judges and partners in law firms. Yet many still find themselves being talked down to by trainee solicitors fresh off the Legal Practice Course (LPC). Now that the government has abolished Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for sixth formers and hiked university tuition fees, it will be interesting to see whether more people go down the CILEx route. As national Apprenticeship Week gets underway today, I can only hope that the defensiveness often associated with CILEx becomes a thing of the past.

36 Responses to “Legal Executives’ ‘Psychology’ Is Holding Them Back”

  1. kris

    The “chartered” status was a stroke of genuis – particularly these days, when anyone can call themselves a “lawyer”.

    It’s the difference between a “surveyor” (which anyone can call themselves) and being a Chartered surveyor.

    I’ve worked with and learned a great deal from legal execs in my day – and they were quite senior in these organisations.

    At one firm, however, I noticed the solicitors would lazily refer to the paralegals (of which I was one) as “the legal execs”. Unsurprisingly, the real legal execs did not enjoy the same status as the solicitors.

    I have the feeling the Chartered status will change that and look forward to seeing their new RICS inspired logo and marketing – which will no doubt change the mentality.

    • deborah matthews

      i agree with you that the chartered status will change things a lot and i hope also that it will be mirrored in wage scales. also agree with you that legal execs are usually very high up in the law firm as was my experience.
      thanks for your positive responses.

  2. P Doody

    Well done Deborah!

    Any organisation is only as strong as its members and while I have met some incredibly, passionate, professional and head strong Chartered Legal Executives, there are still some that do not believe in their own ability.

    As I was once told at a young age “treat yourself as you want to be treated.” So if you do want colleagues and clients to hold you in high regard, then you must believe in your own abilities and challenge anyone who questions them.

    • deborah matthews

      thanks for your response and for understanding the point i was trying to make re the psychology of the legal exec. bit more self-belief is needed i think and hopefully the charter will do this, but i also think that the fact cilex can become partners in law firms and more specially Judges is a huge advancement.
      thanks again

  3. Nikki

    You are absolutely right, we hear a lot about being the same as solicitors and yet we are not allowed to run our own firms, not even to certify powers of attorney, come on Ilex, sorry Cilex, battle for the equality we deserve or too many will just use Ilex as a route to becoming a solicitor instead of being proud to be a Legal Executive.

  4. Sue

    Nikki, I’m not sure you are right about certifiying powers of attorney. Unless things have changed in the last 18 months I used to regularly certifiy LPAs. If in doubt give the Office of the Public Guardian a ring.
    As for the rest of the article I agree that a bit more self-belief is needed by Legal Execs but it is not always easy when clients and sometimes even colleagues don’t know what a Legal Exec actually is or how much hard work is needed to become qualified.

  5. Linda MacDonald

    Thank you for putting this issue out there, another possible reason could be that a Superving Solicitor is still required even when qualified as a fellow. I have always found that I’ve had to prove myself, not with my employer but with other solicitors in the firm.

  6. Catherine Walker

    Thank you for your comments – As a qualified CILEX of 12+ years I have experienced many forms of “put downs” – even in the firm where I currently work Solicitors get 5 days more holiday leave a year than other fee earners! It’s changing now but very slowly! I think as a body we need more power for example as a private client lawyer I still do not have the right to apply for a grant is representation through the probate registry it has to be done through the Solucitors firm – I know CILEX are working on this but it’s ring successful in areas such as this which will truly shake up & wake up Solicitors and the market.

  7. Caroline

    Be careful of quoting responses to your last article out of context. What the person actually said was
    ” “Legal executives still aren’t quite viewed as having the same status as lawyers” shame on you Deborah – as a former Legal Executive you ought to know that a Legal Executive IS a lawyer!

    He/she was pulling you up on refering to Legal Executives not as a lawyer. S/he was not commenting on the full thrust of your article or your arguments therein.

    I think it is a little disingenious to part quote a comment to support your current article.
    I am very proud to be a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Legal Executives as, I believe was the person who made the “shame on you” comment on your last article.

    • deborah matthews

      hmmmm ive never been pulled up on misquoting my own quotes before, and disingenious? also a new one on me.

      Thanks for reading it anyway

      • deborah matthews

        i must also add that i too am a very proud member of Ilex hence why I have taken the time out numerous times and have written and been involved in articles regarding my involvement with the Institute.

    • P Doody

      Caroline, I think you need to read the quote (and article) again….. nowhere does Deborah say Legal Executives are not lawyers. What she does do though is point out that someone else said that… which also seems to have been misunderstood by the original person quoting! (phew)

      Calling her disingenious (sic) is quite harsh too – as a link to the original article is available for everyone to see.

      But the fact remains this isn’t the point – the point is if you are a Legal Exec, ignore what others say and stand up for yourself!

      • deborah matthews

        thanks for clarifying p doody and yes being called disingenuous is rather much. agree with you on “standing up for yourself” re legal execs..bit of self belief goes a long way.

        thanks again,

    • caroline

      Well said. I was going to make that very same point. I thought we were lawyers?!

      Further, Deborah feels the need to obtain a law degree for “confidence” but tells other Legal Executives they have the wrong mindset and it is that mindset that causes prejudice and inequality. Why the degree then Deborah? Surely, that serves only to perpetuate, and in fact to enforce, the myth?

      • deborah matthews

        you seem to have a dislike for what i am trying to put across as a positive for legal executives…completely missing the point. yes, i am immersing myself in legal academia for the confidence to make commentary on the law but also because of my love of law and I wish a law degree to aid me in my further career choices, eg to take the bar exams or to provide more legal commentary for newspapers, law journals etc. Again, I am justifying my legal existence. Exactly the point in my article. Thank you for perpetuating the myth Caroline.

  8. Paul Murden

    I agree with much of what has been said here and as I have said in other forums, we are the only Chartered organisation whose members may not practice in the areas that they have qualified without a supervising solicitor!

    With the intense competition for legal jobs and legal business, the status of CILEX members will diminish rather than increase as in reality we are fighting solicitors for the same roles and unless we can hold our heads up a bit higher and stand on our own two feet without support, we will lose out to solicitors whose status is long established and better understood.

    It all hinges on publicity, promotion and rights.

  9. Alan Kershaw

    I am writing not as a lawyer but as (lay) Chair of ILEX Professional Standards Ltd – the regulatory arm of CILEx. I agree with all of you! Chartered status is a huge leap forward and will greatly improve both the standing of CILEx members in the community and, I believe, the self image of any legal executives who may still feel they have more to do to prove themselves. Quite simply, chartered legal executives are specialty lawyers and we would expect any of them to be as competent in their field as a solicitor doing the same work. Let me reassure you that we are now moving on – indeed running full tilt – towards securing rights for chartered legal executives to practise independently in their own right, setting up and running their own firms if they wish. Working in close partnership with CILEx itself, we are preparing the detailed applications we have to make to the Legal Services Board for chartered legal executives to be granted rights of independent practice in probate, conveyancing and civil and criminal litigation. We have made this our top priority for the year ahead. As far as I am concerned, our case is overwhelming but the new rights are not in the bag. As with the Charter, there will be opposition from interested parties who think we are treading on their territory – as well as from those whose view of what legal executives are could be described, kindly, as antique. So we need every legal executive – chartered or on the path to chartered status – to make the most of every encounter they have with judges, solicitors, barristers, politicians or whoever. Help us to convince a potentially sceptical world that chartered legal executives are fully up to the challenge of independent practice, to the public benefit. Every contact counts!

  10. Roger G Ralph

    I was somewhat suprised when I read the assertion this article makes that at legal executives ‘psychology’ is holding them back. ‘Talked down to by trainee solicitors fresh off the Legal Practice course?’ Where does this come from? You don’t really stand for this nonsense, do you? This is a question of morale. Let no one doubt your ability. Take P Doody’s advice (above) ‘believe in your own abilities and challenge those who question them’. The CILEx route to becoming a lawyer is not an easy one; it requires dedication, commitment and hard work, but the rewards of Fellowship for those who stay the course are immense. As you rightly point out, Fellows, are eligible to become partners in firms, advocates [I am a criminal law advocate and member of council] and first tier judges. The Institute continues to work hard on your behalf to secure practice rights. Believe in yourself, you chartered legal executives. The world is your oyster!

    • deborah matthews

      wonderfully put!

  11. Kerry France

    Hi All,

    I am both a qualified CIlex and a Solicitor (Just waiting to be admitted to the roll) but when I can officially call myself a Solicitor, I will still proudly retain the title of Chartered Legal Executive.

    I do feel that the only major difference now between the two is that Solicitors still look down on Legal Executives!

    This was evidenced in on my LPC when one of the I-Tutorials studied referenced negligent advice that was given by someone who was “ONLY” a Legal Executive. Therefore I do feel that the LPC does not give the right impression to trainee solicitors even before they get into the world of work that Legal Executives are somewhat inferior!!!

  12. Chris

    Apologies if I’m being stupid here (it happens!), but surely if you’ve already got a CILEx qualification then you have a headstart on your law degree…? So wouldn’t you naturally find it easier?

    • Jo Reilly

      Perhaps but not necessarily.

      On an LLB course you learn the law as well as the social and historical background to its development generally and additional research and drafting skills that CILEx expects but does not formally coach. It is only on the LPC/BVC and in undertaking a training contract that LLB students actually put the law they have learned into practice and start to develop their skills.

      CILEx exams, as vocational assessments, are designed so that when a student sucessfully completes the qualification and satisfies the qualifying employment requirements they can head straight into practice (subject to supervision). Basically once you complete your CILEx you can go straight into advising clients whereas there are still various assessments/evaluations to complete before someone with a Law Degree can do the same thing. Quite rightly, therefore, ILEX is tougher.

      I too have completed CILEx but am currently undertaking a law degree. In my experience CILEx assessments were much harder. I think this is justified, however, considering what is expected of Fellows once they qualify.

      • deborah matthews

        sorry, wrong click of the comments are for chris

    • deborah matthews

      no you misunderstand my point…the structure of the degree and the fact you can get such things as a compensatory pass makes it easier to pass, plus the varying grades eg 2.2, 2.1 etc….CILEx is a lot stricter and at some level the pass level is even higher, as was my experience a few years back. I have studied law before I even went onto the CILEx course and had an a level law in any event and still, I found it a lot more difficult. The indepth level of knowledge required to pass the CILEx was suprising to me and I am in the fortunate position of being able to compare the two.

    • deborah matthews

      no you misunderstand my point…the structure of the degree and the fact you can get such things as a compensatory pass makes it easier to pass, plus the varying grades eg 2.2, 2.1 etc….CILEx is a lot stricter and at some level the pass level is even higher, as was my experience a few years back. I have studied law before I even went onto the CILEx course and had an a level law in any event and still, I found it a lot more difficult. The indepth level of knowledge required to pass the CILEx was suprising to me and I am in the fortunate position of being able to compare the two.

  13. Paul

    Ok, I have noted the article and the comments it attracts and agree with it to a degree in that some CILEX are not promoting enough of themselves.

    However, I also feel that there is still prejudice out there and in my own personal experience this prejudice belongs to the older gereration of Lawyers. Try as we may, some people or just not for changing!

  14. Pat Boardman

    I was interested to read Nikki’s comments about certifying powers of attorney. As a Fellow, I regularly certify documents. On one occasion I certified a registered EPA for my client to send to a leading insurance company. It was rejected on the grounds that it must be certified by a lawyer “and not a legal executive”. I took great delight in putting them straight (this is the rebel in me!) and the document was eventually accepted. A litte step, I know, but if we each stand our corner and do our bit to educate those who consider that (a) legal executives are not lawyers and (b) are not equal to solicitors, we will get out message across.

  15. Jude from Cumbria

    I totally agree that others need educating on the status of CILEx fellows. I am getting tired of having to justify myself to both colleagues and clients alike. Whilst my employer seems to have every confidence in the quality of my work I feel undermined because they insist on my charge our rate being lower than that of a similarly qualified and experienced solicitor. In fact my charge out rate is tthe same as that of the probate clerk who has been in post for only 12 months and is less than can be charged on taxation. Why do they want to restrict my earning potential in this way? I just don’t get it.

    Over the years I have managed to get my name on the letterhead as a fee earner alongside other qualified fee earners which did help my standing with clients but this was undermined yet again when on our company website the classification of staff was ‘partners’, ‘associate solicitors’ and ‘support staff’! Yes, I was there grouped with other legal assistants with no qualifications.

    I feel I am banging my head against a brick wall until one of the partner’s relatives perhaps studies under the CILEx route and maybe, just maybe then, they may appreciate what my qualification means.

    Best of luck to everyone and lets hope we get the anomolies in status, supervision and other issues resolved soon.

  16. Nicola

    I am a Legal Executive and have to say that I actively enjoy putting people straight. Nearly all of the other executives that I know do not understimate themselves either, it is the old boy network that is the problem.

    In my experience the larger the firm the less the prejudice, maybe I have been lucky and had good employers but on the whole I have not noticed any discrimination until I moved to a small firm in a small town.

    Clients just want a good job and I have a large following based upon word of mouth recommendations. What I do find very funny, is our local Law Society group who hold extreme views against Legal Executives. At a time when we have corporate giants coming onto the scene with huge marketing budgets, they are all fannying around arguing over whether or not Legal Executives are good enough to become part of their ‘gang’. I think a lot of solicitors need to have a serious reality check here.

    One of my previous employers stated that he would hire a Legal Executive over a solicitor any day, particularly a newly qualified solicitor, as we are trained to hit the ground running. I have to agree

  17. martha

    i work for a very large financial services company. until last year i reported to the board of a subsidiary company. my advice was trusted and i was never asked if my work had been overseen or supervised by another lawyer. now i report into the larger legal team and the fact that i’m a legal executive and not a solicitor seems to be a major cause for concern. it is assumed that any work i do is overseen and supervised – a legal exec couldn’t possible come up with the same standard of work as a solicitor could she? i’m on the same salary scale as the paralegals and non qualified staff. there are other legal execs in the team – they’re all working towards their solicitors qualification. because they have (correctly?) perceived that there’s no other way to progress. legal execs just don’t get anywhere! the trouble with this is that if you don’t want to become a solicitor not only are you considered to be less qualified and less expert you are also less ambitious! it’s pretty disheartening to put it mildly

    of course i am also part time but this was never a problem when i reported to the business. could this really be an issue in the 21st century? i’ve come to the conclusion that lawyers are a reactionary lot and it’s up to us to change it. the thing is it’s so easy to come off as defensive or peevish when really all you want is to be rewarded and recognised equally for the same complexity of work.

  18. A Forster

    Shame a Chartered legal executive is now unable to certify ID for the Land Registry LRID1 form when they could up to a few months ago. One step forward and two steps back ….

  19. Penelop

    It is very refreshing to read this. I have been a Fellow for 14 years and have always found myself defending my status within the legal profession. I work in local government and so have Magistrates’ Court rights of audience so stand shoulder to shoulder with Solicitors and Barristers frequently. Recently though I have had cause to be concerned about how I am viewed in the legal sphere as my place of work is going through a restructure with a new solicitors post being created. Even though the post has the same salary as me and my colleague is us above us in the family tree so they look more senior although they are on the same grade and are not responsible for us. I have questioned this and was told that it is because Solicitors are classed as having a more formal qualification and therefore are senior to Legal Execs. I can assure you Deborah that I need no encouragement in standing my ground and I have sought to persuade the management that this is not the case. I await to hear whether I have done so successfully.

  20. [email protected]

    Ahhh..alwyas a thorny subject this one;but here’s what you’ll never find on the ILEX website.
    Unfortunately a lot of employers do not have a rose tinted view of the staus of legal executives.

    The average ILEX is rossly underpaid and the type of work is generally routine.
    The salaries on offer are applalling when compared to a”proper” lawyer.I only say “proper” because I can only assume that is that we are often treated like 2nd class citizens certainly when it comes to pay.
    Take London.Aspootty trianees who photocopies yesterday and qulaifies today can easily earn 70K.The trainee can barely use an oyster card but the ILEX will never see this money.
    UI don’t balme the employer looking for cheap labour and

  21. Mike Oliver

    Why do we constantly feed into – and thereby give credence to – the redundant argument about our status/professional standing as compared to that of solicitors? I was a long way from being the first Fellow to to set up their own business when I did so in 2003. Others before me had found niche areas where regulatory requirements could be so navigated as to allow a practice to develop. I appreciate there are still hurdles to overcome, but to mix metaphors, the glass is way more than half full now. The real truth is that solicitors practices have always needed legal executives – and before that managing clerks – to survive. They now have (as to be fair some always did) to acknowledge at least those with Chartered and Fellowship status as professional equals. Even if they don’t, we need the confidence to stop the continual drive to justify our own existence and accept we have arrived – other die hards will have to accept us in the end! If not, the reason is more likely to be fear of competition than the artificial arguments about education, training or experience.

  22. Shahjahan Miah

    I have read some of those comments. In my experience all those are about the professional status of solicitors and those of CILEX. What makes the solicitors status superior is that they have independent pracice rights together with some reserve legal acivities for them and solicitors are called the officers of the Supreme Court of the England and Wales. Fellows of CILEX have no independent right of practice as a lawyer, and despite the fact that a fellow of CILEX is a Commissioner for Oahs, as per as I know, a fellow can not exercise that power independently. Fellows of CILEX are lawyers only to function under the authority of a Solicitors in Solicitora firm. This in itself, makes CILEX inferior to solicitrs. In fact without some independent practice rights, CILEX will never be seen equal to solicitors. It not solely about the CILEX’S training and qualification but their ability to operate independently as solicitors do. Even with the new charter status, and some advocacy rights e.g. in civil and family litigation, criminal litigation) CILEX need some independent practice rights (e.g. the proposed conveyancing and probate practice and so on) to strengthen their professional status. Only this will help reduces among other lawyers. Not MINDSET of the members of CILEX. The CIlex originated from an organisation of solicitors clerks. This remains in the mindset of many lawyers?

    S MIAH LL.B (Hons) London, Pg. Dip (Paralegal Practice) A. Inst. L. Ex

  23. Ratio Decidendi

    Here’s the thing.A fully qualified lawyer I know rang an agency recently advertising a job for a commercialproperty lawyer and when he told them he was FiInst Lex the agent said sorry my clients are looking for someone who is legally qualified.Talk about slander ! There lies the knub of the problem.Public Percepton.I do wish Debbie all the luck in the world with her LLB from Hull but there is still massive snobbery in the profession concerning the university studied.Guardian readers and their ilk maintain the myth that we are more of an open Society but believe you me you still go to the front of the queue if you went to Oxbridge or London.If you study at any “less established” uni check out where their grads ended up eg how many decent fims gave them training contracts.Good luck if some have been offered decent contracts at major firms. I enrolled at London Uni and honestly can say the questions standard is high,much harder than some of the Fellow papers IMHO.An interesting point is the admissions office at London did not at that time recognise the fellowship papers as being equivalent to A levels so if you only had FinstLex and some o levels this would not be good enough to gain admisssion.I also heard the admisssions officer refusing certain colleges from the USA who who were applying.Nigerian students on my course at the then Holborn Law Tutors automatically attained major status in Nigeria if they obtained the Londoon LLB. If you “only”get a 2;2 (some refer to this grade as a “Desmond”) City firms will not interview you and therefore you will have to apply elsewhere.Bear that in mind if you work whilst studying for your degree.
    Back to the staus of ILEX.The main bug bear is the lack of pay and quality of work since we are discriminated by the partners (remember we mostly work to partners).The work for most is dull and routine and for that reason is given to us as opposed to the “real lawyers” since our hourly rates are generally lower to that our “superiors”.It’s up to ILEX to promote us to the public and media/schools.Of course we have to prove ouselves and luckily some will give us a chance but it’s hard to swallow when a former trainee becomes a partner and effectively your boss.Most City firms to my knowkedge have not made up any legal executives as partners and only 5% of legal executives bill £300,000 a year because of the nature of their work. If you don’t bill a lot it’s hard to be promoted.