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Legal Executives’ ‘Psychology’ Is Holding Them Back

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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.