Is a training contract the only way?

I’m doing a law degree, but the CILEx route is pulling me in

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In the latest instalment in our Career Conundrums series, one law student wonders whether she should keep hold of her Legal Practice Course (LPC) fees and take a more vocational route instead.

career

I’m in my first year at a non-Russell Group uni studying law. My A-levels are not so good (BCD) and I have no mitigating circumstances, but I am expected to achieve a 2:1 or a first. I volunteer at Citizens Advice as a gateway assessor once a week and participate in a mooting society. I have little legal work experience but I am applying to many small firms to gain some and am trying to go to open/insight days.

I have done some research and am considering going down the CILEx route. I don’t want to take the risk of doing the expensive LPC and not getting a TC. Although you become a Chartered Legal Executive, is this really any different to being a solicitor? It’s cheaper, practical, provides more experience and there is hardly any difference in their roles. I hear stories about TCs but not many about the CILEx route, and I’m questioning whether this could be the better option for me.

Alternatively, I will be applying for vacation schemes in my first and second year as I believe I may have a better chance of getting a TC this way rather than applying directly to firms. Have there been may people who have succeeded with a background similar to me and how much of a chance do I realistically have?

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95 Comments

Anonymous

I dont know the practical differences between a TC and CILEx but broaden your options by exploring both routes. Contact CILEx lawyers directly and find out why they decided that route and how they are finding it. Also find legal schemes like Aspiring Solicitors and the likes to get exposure to traditional law firms. You’re only in first year and therefore have time to research and explore. Use the time you have wisely so you know what to expect and look forward to once you graduate. Research and networking is key for you right now!

(8)(2)
Anna

I did an LLM QLD (2 yrs) and tbh I had never even heard of a Legal Exec until about 3 years after leaving. The career guidance was: “90ish% go on to do and LPC and become solicitors, a small percentage may go on to be barristers instead.” People either went and found out stuff for themselves or there was nothing. When I went back for graduation the people who had jobs in law lined up were all the better off ones who could work for free during the course, not the brightest ones by any shot. The bright but poorer ones had all continued in their non-law jobs while they figured out how to pay for LPCs. I wish we had been told more about the options then.

If you’re in your first year and already thinking about this probably more than most have then I’m fairly sure you will have it figured out by then. And if you’re not sure, don’t spend the money on any next step until you are. I know too well it’s an expensive to make if you just go for something before you’re sure (hence doing law as an LLM instead of undergrad because I was pushed to go to uni as soon as I left school). There’s no harm in waiting until you’re sure to decide.

I would spend less time actively worrying about this (just research casually cos you have years to decide!), and more time working on your current grades to make sure they are the best they can be, to make up for your A-levels. Even with AAAAB I found it hard to get any job at all after uni (after BA and after LLM). I was waitressing full time throughout the LLM and for 3 years afterwards.

(6)(0)
Anna

Meant to say 2 years after leaving, but you get the point! Good luck with whatever you choose.

(2)(0)
Clifford Chance 3PQE

Don’t feel disheartened. I know a guy at my firm with similar grades and he’s doing very well. Our pool has never been cleaner.

(33)(57)
Clifford Chance 3PQE

Nope. Dumping work on the trainees while I surf the net does.

(26)(26)
Anonymous

Ahh… the 3PQC MC associate – the driving force of any deal

(9)(6)
Anonymous

Times must be hard at Clifford Chance if they’ve recruited a narcissist like you. The only talent you seem to have is providing people with your unwanted tasteless jokes.

(11)(4)
Anonymous

But whoever this is obviously is not a Clifford Chance associate?

(3)(5)
Clifford Chance 3PQE

I cook a mean steak too. (Well, technically, I don’t cook it – it’s prepared by an award-winning chef before it arrives at my desk.)

(16)(4)
Anonymous

Translation: Mummy cooks me chicken nuggets while I sit in my room and cry over my failed attempt to get a TC

(14)(6)
Dose of reality

Always amusing to come across arrogant CC lawyers who conveniently ignore the fact that they’re at the least prestigious/selective MC firm

(7)(3)
I have a CILEX solicitor frd

What I understand to be one of the differences between qualifying through the TC route and qualifying through the CILEX route is that there is a cap in how much you can earn if you go the CILEX route. So the average salary of a CILEX solicitor can be much lower (and capped) than that of the ones that go with the traditional TC route.

(5)(2)
No cap

Hey, sorry but this is definitely not true. There’s no cap to what a chartered legal exec can earn.

(13)(2)
Mira

I don’t think he meant there is a formal cap, rather that firms will cap what they are prepared to pay you compared to a solicitor. Unfortunately, there is some reality in that statement even though it shouldn’t be the case.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Yeah I think you’re right unfortunately because it’s a shame. I’ve have the same conundrum as this guy has a year after graduating and have spoke to countless people for advice, some say go for traditional LPC as lots of firms are snobby about legal executives and some say go for the legal exec route because it’s cheaper and best if you have a SPECIFIC area of law you want to practice, like for me it’s family law. I’ve been advised Cilex is not for those who want to go into commercial or international law, whether that’s true or not I don’t know. But I probably will do Cilex it’s only around £2000 as opposed to £15,000 for the lpc at the University of Law in Moorgate or Bloomsfield. It’s really difficult this is!

(3)(0)
Anonymous

With BDC I’d worry about getting any job at all – let alone in law.

(19)(37)
Anonymous

How about ‘realist’? Because BCD at A Level truly is as bad as it gets.

(5)(7)
Anonymous

Erm how exactly do a levels correlate getting a job if you have a good degree?

(3)(4)
Anonymous

Yeahhh if you want a high street firm your grades at uni and work experience will probably push your through but they don’t hire as many trainees and you’ll be scrapping with others for very few places. At my firm I didn’t apply in my first and second year of uni (4 year Mlaw LPC encompassing degree) as my grades were so poor due to stress from losing a family business. I only applied after I became a paralegal here, (my alevel grades are AAB and I got good GCSE grades btw) and discussed my grades with them. I got a 1st Class Honours overall and I think that helped sandwich my bad grades together. Some firms don’t look at module grades, but be aware some do to cut the wheat from the chaff! (I must say, I sobbed in shock for over an hour when I found out I got my TC! It’s a top north east firm and I thought my first and second year grades had shot my chances!)

(1)(1)
Anonymous

Your writing is complete dogshit I’m surprised you got a TC at all

(11)(0)
Anonymous

What’s this mysterious ‘top North East firm’ you speak of?

(0)(0)
Anonymous

You’re at Ward Hadaway and you went to Northumbria.

(6)(0)
Sniftersaurus Rex

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)
Anon

I received those A Levels and a 2: 1 in a non Russell Group university. I was a Paralegal in a North American law firm , who was treated as a lawyer and now I work in HR at a Magic Circle firm. The grades mean nothing if you work hard- trust me as I also used to work in Legal Recruitment. Get a great first job on your cv and your grades at A Level won’t matter. My advice would be do not go for the top tier law firms if your A levels are those, but go for the smaller ones.

(5)(0)
Anonymous

Oooooooooooooh HR.

Cheers for the advice, bro. Super useful.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

You’re going to do well – you have to believe that. Trust me, if you put in the effort, you’ll get to where you want to, and if you don’t, then just know that you were meant for a different path. If you’re aiming for a top international commercial law firm, then strong A-Levels may well be a requirement. You have to check, as things vary from firm to firm. If you’re aiming for smaller firms, or a different area of law, the requirements may be different. I’m not sure about the CILEx route. Research, networking and experience will help you to figure things out. Concentrate more on getting good grades in first year, second year is usually where firms will offer vacation schemes anyway. You might benefit from visiting your university’s careers service.

(5)(1)
Anonymous

Yeah even “might” benefit is too far, university career services are generally shit, well at Reading University it was

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I am currently going down the cilex route. However as a cilex lawyer as you have the work experience, if you go on to complete the LPC you will not be required to undertake the LPC. But different companies do have different requirements for their employees and some may not approve of this route.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

if you go on to complete the LPC you will not be required to undertake the TC

(12)(0)
Anonymous

I’ve personally gone down the CILEX route. Finished my Law degree then undertook the CILEx Fast Track diploma which I completed in 9 months. In September I’ll be eligible to apply for Chartered Legal Executive status. Once I’m Chartered I can then complete the LPC and qualify as a solicitor without needing to complete a TC. Its a long route but means I’ve been able to stay in the same job with the same firm and by the time I qualify I’ll already have 5 years experience in my specialism.

Becoming a legal executive does limit your career progression but does not bar you from qualifying as a solicitor in the future.

(19)(0)
Anonymous

(genuine question) Do you really think it limits your career progression? I’m currently finishing up my CILEx studies and, from what I have seen, CILEx lawyers are able to become Partners, Barristers, Judges etc.

(2)(1)
RB

I went the cilex route. My specialist area is family law. I had no difficulties whatsoever getting a position, first as a paralegal when I had just started the cilex course then as a trainee fee earner when I passed my first set of exams. I completed the entire qualification in 4 years by way of home study whilst also working full time as a family law fee earner in a busy legal aid solicitors office and raising 4 children. By the time I became a Fellow I was head of department. 2 years later I was made Director. My firm pay solicitors and legal execs exactly the same salary and benefits and do not differentiate between the two in any way. I have also recently been asked by a local resident DJ and a well known Recorder if I would be interested in applying for a position in the judiciary. As far as I am concerned the only people who see a difference between traditionally trained solicitors and legal execs are a small number of solicitors with limited intelligence and very small minds who if you ask them what they think the difference is, or should I say why they think they are better, they are actually unable to answer. My view is that they are pathetically narrow minded, short sighted, jealous individuals who make sly comments about an issue they have no factual knowledge of. I would fully support anyone considering the cilex route.

(10)(0)
Komment Macht Frei

I’ll give you an honest yet unfair answer. Many solicitors see legal execs as second class lawyers, and solicitors that qualified through cilex are viewed less favourably than solicitors that qualified the usual way.

This isn’t a universal rule though. Many won’t care you qualified via cilex, but for others it will matter.

If you’re looking for a career in a high street firm then it probably won’t make a lot of difference to you though.

(21)(0)
Criminal NQ

I finished the LPC and joined my current firm as a paralegal and did 2 years. I signed up to Cilex as a Graduate member. I didn’t need to sit any exams as my degree, LPC and work experience exempted me from everything.

I paralegal’d as GCILEx for 2 years, filled out a form, paid a fee, and was admitted as a Fellow CILEx. My firm were very supported as agreed me to Cross Qualify me as a Solicitor.

No training contract and I escaped the “Paralegal Trap”.

Do it! But you need a supportive employer.

(8)(1)
Jones Day equity partner

“My A-levels are not so good (BCD) and I have no mitigating circumstances”

Are you hot tho? There might be an opening for you here somewhere…

(22)(4)
Anonymous

Haha I’m not the original person in the conundrum but I did a placement scheme but at the end where they interview you for a TC 😭😭

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I’ve taken the CILEx rouite into the industry instead of taking a full-time law degree, I am currently in my first year but began as a legal secretary after a year of secretarial college but I always knew I wanted to get into law.
I find it really beinificial to be able to earn and learn at the same time especially as it is more practical and the minimal costs definitely was a plus for me. CILEx is very flexibile, and you can qualify at your own pace. One thing I love about this route is being able to taylor your qualification to an area which you are interested along side your role, so your gaining experience in a practice area you want whilst learning in detail, which I feel a traditional LLB or even the LPC/TC cannot offer.
I don’t feel that CILEx and becoming a legal exec lawyer will effect my future career as a lawyer compared to the traditional route, as the industry is changing very fast and firms are becoming more accepting (or love) this way into the industry.
I will like to add it is hard work, but if it is something you want to do you will be able to see past that.

(4)(5)
Anonymous

I was literally about to say the same thing re above comment!

(3)(0)
Anonymous

LC dog-whistle bingo:
– non-Russell Group? Yup
– poor A levels? Yup
– can I make it in biglaw? Yup

(16)(1)
Future City Trainee

I achieved similarly poor results at A level (BCC), so I can speak a little from experience: as long as you can show academic achievement elsewhere (and put to bed any perceived fears about your academic ability) then a lot of law firms, although I would exclude the majority of the City-based shops, will still give your application some thought. Fill out the mitigating circumstances box in your applications – explain why your results aren’t an accurate representation of your ability – everyone is human. Work hard to achieve a first, get top of the class for your dissertation – all these things will distract from your A levels.

Absolutely do NOT waste £15k on the LPC. Gain some real-world experience. If a training contract is your focus, then perhaps working as a paralegal at a firm you would like to train at after you finish your degree would be a sensible option. Keep at those vacation scheme applications.

(7)(0)
Anonymous

(Genuine) I have the same grades as you and looking for a VS/TC right now. How did you become a future city trainee? Which firm looked beyond your A-Levels? Thanks

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I’m not the author of the post you are referring to, but I would suggest you make a real effort to get yourself in front of law firm recruitment team. Go to law fairs, go to events the sponsor and speak to them. Make sure they know your name and will be able to look out for your CV.

If you have poor grades and you just apply in the normal manner then a lot of firms will just weed your application out.

I’m not in HR, but I’m a City solicitor who has been to some events on a firm’s behalf.

(3)(0)
Jamie G

Hey I’ve heard stuff like that before from lecturers (I’m a graduate now) like oh make sure you speak to the representatives of the law firms at the law fair and give your name and show your passion ect, but I really honestly want to ask you as you say you’re a City Lawyer who has gone to these events yourself… do you actually give a f**k about remembering someone’s name or looking out for them when you’re looking though hundreds/thousands of applications? It’s something I’ve always wondered! I just want your honest opinion aha

(1)(0)
Anonymous

Apologies for my slow reply.

Personally when I went – as a trainee – I didn’t really care about remembering the people I spoke with, but the HR manager I went with (now the HR manager of one of the giant international firms) was definitely keeping track of who she had spoken to. On the train back to London she said she would look out for certain people should they ever apply to the firm.

Obviously, it’s not just enough to go with a sob story about why your grades might be poorer than what you could have obtained. You need to go knowing about the firm, with a couple of good questions in your pocket and points which you can raise to convince people that your application is worth a look. You’d be amazed at how little it takes to be impressive at these events – being keen (within reason), being interested, being friendly and being well-presented go a very long way.

You should also, of course, follow-up on the meeting – send a (brief) email, etc.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

(Anon @Mon 2.38 & Tues 9.12) Thank you for this! i’ve recently done all that you have said so hoping it pays off with the firms I’ve been attentive to.

(1)(0)
Jamie G

Thanks, apologies for my late reply too.

I’m not the author of the conundrum so my A Level grades are really good, it’s just my degree I missed out on a first- class honours (68% overall!!) so one year on I’m finding it difficult to secure any law job whether that be legal secretary, paralegal nevermind a training contact! I have no sob story, I’ve worked hard in all aspects of my life, my studies, my non-law related work and my massive amount of voluntary work. It’s just that voluntary work keeps happening to be in these tiny family law high street firms that can’t afford to hire anyone else, apart from pay me for ad-hoc court clerking.

Anyway, thanks for your honest answer, and I just hope not achieving a first class degree won’t hamper my entire career.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Thank you for your advice. I’ve been doing this more in the last 8 months so hopefully I’m successful this cycle!

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I am 18 months off finishing my CILEx qualifications. I didn’t go to university and worked in customer service for many years before I worked out what I wanted to do so it allowed me to easily get into law.

It’s been a godsend in many ways as I have been able to work the whole time and gain experience but although some people at my employer have been incredibly supportive (they pay for my study costs), it’s been very hard to get any sort of recognition as a trainee fee earner anywhere outside of residential property (where CILEx is very common).

I’ve managed it though and am moving to a contentious area of law in a few weeks but it’s taken an awful lot of pushing. My firm don’t seem to recognise potential outside of the “trainee solicitor” bracket and I have a feeling that is the same for many firms.

(5)(2)
Anonymous

I can’t believe Lord Harley hasn’t been asked to comment on an area which seems right up his street.

(1)(1)
lazpartner

I’m afraid you won’t get into any commercial firm with those A levels.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Lolz, and then you woke out of your dream and realised you shat all over your bed.

(2)(0)
A&O Trainee

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)
Anonymous

I’m going down the CILEx route, after changing career and deciding I could not be arsed with vac scheme interviews and TC interviews (and a lot of rejection at the vac scheme stage).

The road to qualification is long, and hard. You will have to get used to turning down your friends because you need to study. You will have to get used to taking your books on holiday so that you can study. You will have to get used to taking an exam in the morning, and returning to work in the afternoon.

Whether or not you go down the CILEx route depends on what you want out of your career. You probably will not be able to obtain any position at a US-MC or city law firm. Then again, most law students or qualified solicitors will not be able to either.

If your career goals are aimed at a smaller national or regional or high street firm or particular practice areas (family, immigration, residential property, landlord and tenant, personal injury), then you will have more chance to find a job or obtain a senior position. It can be easier to get on and get noticed at these types of firms. The route to success in these firms can depend less on having a university degree and qualifying as a solicitor working as a form of triage for who will be given the experience they need to gain the skills they need to become a partner or senior lawyer in the firm.

The biggest hurdle you will face is that a lot of firms do not have the management procedures in place that fellows can follow, unlike for example the career structure an NQ can follow. When in private practice I was sidelined in favour of trainees and NQs because these were the people that were hired as a possible future partner. There was little point giving matters that would be good experience to me when it was more worthwhile to the firm to give it to someone who actually mattered. There was also little point in giving complex work to someone whose charge out rate is lower because the firm will not make as much money from it.

It can be easier to qualify as a fellow than as a solicitor because you don’t have the hurdle of obtaining a training contract to do so, however it will be a lot harder to progress your career.

I am in-house now in a fantastic role, but got this position by starting with lot of tedious admin, the business needing an admin who can handle needing to be a bit more independent and flexible than your usual admin assistant position, the business needing junior lawyer who knows their way around its governance procedures and industry and who can contribute to long term projects (which a secondee trainee or NQ will not), and the general counsel taking a punt on me.

(6)(1)
Anonymous

One final point, in order to get a really good idea of what the CILEx route entails and the opportunities available to you once you qualify, you need to speak to a lot of different fellows. Their routes into law and experiences will vary more than from solicitor to solicitor (you’ll note this from the responses here). I know fellows who studied at college and never went to university, I have a university degree and started my journey in private practice, others started as legal secretaries or admins, and I’ve met some who started in the commercial teams in businesses. A good way to find out more information is to contact your local CILEx branch by checking here: http://www.cilexbranches.org.uk/find_your_nearest/regional_branches

(4)(0)
Anonymous

There’s nothing stopping you qualifying as a solicitor after qualifying as a chartered legal executive. If you look on Cilex website it will tell you how this is possible.

(2)(0)
Anonymous

You have to do LPC to change to solicitor, so for someone doing LLB, why waste time and money? Just do the lpc

(1)(0)
Anonymous

I have done an LLB and LPC but looked into cilex before considering LPC and I’m glad I chose LPC. Not only does there seem to be more contact time with teachers compares to my friend who did cilex straight from college, but they don’t seem to know half as much about legal things in work than I do and they have more legal experience than me and are anyway away from qualifying as a legal executive. You have to be careful with cilex as well because not all firms will sign for your qualified employment and if you don’t get 3 years., 2 consecutive of qualifying employment then there’s no use in doing it. Best way is to try and get a TC that pays or get a loan to pay for LPC.

(0)(3)
Anon

Little bit of background:

Good GCSE’s, A-levels: CDD, Degree: 2:2.

I started my law firm career in the post room of a once national, now international law firm. Couldn’t get a Para job so I started my cilex exams and after numerous internal interviews, I got a para job in a multi-track insurance (Non-personal injury) team. I am halfway through my CILEX studies and intend to qualify at the firm that are sponsoring me.

My best advice would be make as many contacts as possible in law firms and use them to secure your position, and also try and get the firm to sponsor you, to pay for your exams. If you can get a firm to sponsor you, you are doing well.

The downside with the CILEX route is that it is extremely hard work and it takes a long time. You will have to sacrifice the majority of your free time to study. I am not exaggerating – I have studied whilst on holiday, I have not seen friends for months on end and the past 2 or three Christmases have not been as relaxing as they should be, because of my utter determination to qualify and pass my CILEX exams. However, I will qualify debt free (Excluding my original student loan for my Bsc). Some are right by saying that you would be limiting yourself by qualifying via CILEX, as you would qualify into only ONE area of law, rather than having a general knowledge of you TC seats, as trainee solicitors would do. However if you are ok with being very specialised in one area of law, like I am (I have always known that I wanted to work in multi-track insurance cases, for example), then in some instances you are going to be more experienced in your chosen field than some solicitors (Other solicitors have also said this to me!).

However, there are some limitations on how far you can progress. This is purely dependant on mainly your determination on how far you would like to go, and also your firm’s attitude to CILEX lawyers. You may need to move to a firm that does not distinguish between LPC/CILEX qualified lawyers. I am aware of a couple large international firms that do not discriminate between the two.

The sky is the limit, after all.

(2)(0)
Anon

Clyde and Co, for example. Solicitors and Cilex Lawyers are only known as “Associates”

(1)(0)
AnonNQ

Honestly, it is a personal preference. I don’t know much about the CILEx route but can genuinely tell you that the LPC is not worthless. I learnt a lot doing my LPC in terms of practical knowledge which the LLB simply does not prepare you for. After I graduated I temp’d for a little while (doc review) before I got a paralegal / admin job in a small firm (not high street as we do more commercial work, but certainly that size) and three and a half year later I am still working here as a NQ. I got AAC in my A-levels and a 2:2 in my degree – so I certainly wasn’t a stellar academic (exams are not my friend) and that just shows that anything is possible. Yes, the LPC is unnecessarily expensive, but the knowledge gained from it is invaluable.

Bottom line – do not be disheartened if you don’t have the best grades, work hard in your degree and continue on. Yes, keep applying to those Vac Schemes, look for any work experience you can get, and network network network. You can do this, you just need to be realistic and not expect to be handed a MC TC like it’s nothing (not saying it’s not possible, simply that it is difficult). Manage your own expectations! If you feel that CILEx is the way for you, then don’t let others deter you.

(2)(0)
Lord Jon

My usual advice… believe in your own abilities because if you can’t convince yourself then how will you convince the other side; a judge or the jury?

(0)(0)
Lord Jon

Also why are we getting in a flap over troll/snob comments?

Who cares about them!? They’ve too much bloody time on their hands!

(0)(0)
Rp

I have completed the cilex route and am now a solicitor at a top London law firm. I know my area better than those of a similar pqe. Yet because of the unconventional route I have taken it has presented challenges and whilst it hasn’t limited my career progression, I’ve had to fight harder for recognition. The issue is not the qualification, it’s the lack of understanding a lot of lawyers have of the process and the benefits of the cilex route. For those who have made somewhat unnecessary comments, training contracts were not the traditional method of qualifying – apprenticeships were – and the cilex route is far more akin to the traditional method

(3)(0)

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