The reality of taking the CILEx route: ‘I work just as hard as a solicitor for less money and less respect’

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An anonymous trainee legal exec thinks attitudes to the apprenticeship need to change

When you say to people that you’re training to be a lawyer, they usually assume you’re going to be a solicitor. Then they’ll say: “Well, the drinks are on you then!”

I’m currently studying to become a Chartered Legal Executive. I have three exams left to take (I’ve taken nine exams and done four ‘professional skills’ courses so far) and I’ve been working for my firm since I was 18 (I’m now in my mid-20s).

I did reasonably well at school; I left with three A-levels, a higher than average number of GCSEs, and absolutely no desire to get into a huge amount of debt. Also, I don’t think student life would be for me — packet noodles and excessive vodka shots are not my thing. I was accepted at multiple, fairly good universities to study. I wasn’t a ‘drop out’, I just made a personal choice not to go to university.

I fell into my firm accidentally. It was much smaller then, and I was taken on as an administrator. It wasn’t a great experience, and within a year I was a fee earner. In 2014, I decided I needed to think about a career, and I discovered the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).

At £8,000-odd for the whole course, it saved a lot of debt and worry, plus my kind employers agreed to fund 50% of the course. It seemed to be happy days all round!

That was, of course, until I changed roles. I began to work with Joe Public and other solicitors. The transition was good for my career, but not good for my confidence.

Am I going to be a solicitor? No, but by the time I finish my apprenticeship I will be a fully-qualified lawyer with five years’ extensive experience in all types of litigation. My ‘no’ answer is usually met with a look of disappointment (the ‘unexcited’), a patronising “ah well, you might become a solicitor one day” (the ‘patroniser’), or just disgust (the ‘I am better than you’, depending on who I’m speaking to.

I want to challenge every single person who falls into those three categories. I want to say I’m just as deserving of the title ‘lawyer’ as those who attended university, completed their Legal Practice Course (LPC) and obtained a training contract.

I want to tell them that while I’ve been studying I’ve played stepmother, ran a house, paid a mortgage, paid 50% of my tuition fees, battled my way through doubts over my experience or competence, and fought against the prejudice that comes with my studying. Oh, all while running a caseload of exactly the same cases as my solicitor colleagues.

And don’t ask me to get the drinks in; I simply don’t get paid enough. I do the same job as my solicitor colleagues, and get paid barely a percentage. If my solicitor had lots more experience than me, I think I could accept this. However, in my current position I’m working alongside a solicitor who has absolutely no experience in the field we’re working together in. This colleague has lost the basic principles of all things litigation, and gets treated far better. This colleague is also one of the ‘patronisers’ referred to above. It’s painful.

I accept that as an unqualified person I get paid peanuts. If I knew I was guaranteed payment in line with a solicitor later on, I would be optimistic. But I’m not. Statistics show that employers prefer solicitors and pay solicitors more. I’m not sure why.

I work as hard as anyone else. I go home and I neglect my family because I study so hard. I push myself so I can qualify as soon as possible. I battle with the people that have known me since I was 18 and still treat me as that 18-year-old. I lead my fellow colleagues in the right direction. It’s hard.

One thing I don’t do, however, is complain about the senior management of my firm. The partners and the directors are my only supporters — they value my commitment, my hard work and my knowledge. I am so, so grateful for that every day.

I only hope that other employers, colleagues and the general public soon learn to accept my hard work and knowledge. I hope they learn to accept that I can do this job, and I can succeed. Who knows what the future holds; hopefully the attitude towards Chartered Legal Executives will change. We need these people, these people with a breadth of life experience, work experience and legal knowledge, to be heading up our firms. We don’t need a battle.

When we contacted CILEx to give them the opportunity to issue a comment on the themes discussed in this piece, a spokesperson told us:

“A lack of parity was, historically, one of the more common issues our members faced, whether that be parity of esteem, recognition, pay, partnership or career development.

However times, and the sector, have changed for the better and will continue to move in the right direction. Our members are fee earning during their training, they are partners and directors and business owners at firms around England and Wales. We have witnessed a positive shift in attitude from the sector with an increasing appreciation of and demand for the skills and competence of our members.

Unfortunately, we know that this attitude is not true across the entire sector, yet, and CILEx will continue to work to ensure that our members receive the respect, recognition and reward that they deserve. Our employer partners are creating opportunities, supporting and developing our members in ways that often go unreported. Often because, quite rightly, they are the same as those of other lawyers and are not considered ‘newsworthy’”.

Unnamed Exec is in her mid-20s and is currently studying to become a Chartered Legal Executive while working at a law firm.

Comments on this article are now closed.

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Neil from Finance

I’ll have a double Hendrick’s and tonic, cheers love.


Alan P

And a Sex on the Beach for me darling



I didn’t


Dr Bonham

Everyone seems to assume solicitors are worthy of the title ‘Lawyer’.


Sir Edward Coke SL PC

Hear, hear.



If the senior management value her so highly, why are they paying her ‘barely a percentage’?

I’d be interested to know whether this attitudes transmit to other areas of law. Anyone?



These attitudes*



Proof reading is your friend – numerous typos in this article.



Wow this person is so up her own arse it’s unreal, “hard work” this, hard work that. Law is an elitist conservative profession, if you wanted to be treated like a lawyer then qualify as a lawyer. Until then it don’t mean jack sh**, your not a Cilex practitioner either so as far as the people your working with are concerned someone who is competent at the job but a legal assistant. Legal assistants do not and should not get paid the same amounts as solicitors


Rupert; a US firm trainee.

Yah, the trouble is that “hard work” is not where it is at with law firms. It is much more about your soft skills, such as lying; blame-shifting; and backstabbing your colleagues. You also have to have the requisite emotional intelligence, so you understand other peoples’ emotions and can use it against them. Lastly, it is also about the way you speak. For instance, never say “I made a mistake” but “mistakes were made”.

Once you understand that, you will find it easier to progress upwards.






“Law is an elitist conservative profession” – yes, that’s her complaint. It’s not an adequate defence to say ‘yes, you’re right. But that’s just how it is.’



Having said that, she would do well not to disparage others’ decisions to go to university by painting stereotypical pictures or insinuating that the experience is not beneficial. Elitism goes both ways.



He/ she’s such a total loser….”Oh I didn’t go to uni because well I didn’t want to, but now I’m gonna complain it in the rest of my life because no one treats me as a lawyer”. You should’ve known it.



I think the sad thing is that you were told at 18 that becoming a CILEx lawyer would mean that you would do the same job as a graduate solicitor, get paid as well, be as well respected etc. Reading between the lines it also sounds like you might have not gone to uni because of caring responsibilities for a boyfriend’s children – also rather a sad situation imo, and not a fair one for your partner to have put you in. But I think as a CILEx you can qualify as a solicitor, might be your best bet.



It appears from the article that the author is not qualified yet (she’s still studying towards qualification), so OF COURSE she doesn’t get treated the same as a solicitor. The reasons for this are many and obvious e.g. her lower charge out rate, her inability to sign off documents such as pleadings, the fact she isn’t caught by the burden of SRA regulation. I’d have more sympathy if this lady was actually a qualified CILEX or FILEX but at the moment she isn’t a qualified anything and needs a reality check.



I’m not quite sure whether the author regrets her path or champions it – either way, I don’t consider the CILEX route as less worthy than the solicitor path. I know of two partners at city firms who are legal execs and have expressed no desire to seek to transfer.

There are some rights etc which are limited to solicitors but, as I understand it, these can be achieved by legal execs by further accreditation (advocacy and litigation, I think). Solicitors have these as a matter of right and while the author may perceive herself to be better equipped, practically, to be a litigator she’s not there yet. It seems like your firm has been supportive and I’d be optimistic that she’ll get to the end of her slog soon.

Beyond that, I’d advise her to think practically – while people may go into law for altruistic reasons (“oh, I’m really interested in human rights”) – it’s a business. If you time record and bill well you’ll have much more clout in salary negotiations. I don’t think firms particularly give a sh*t whether you’re a legal exec, solicitor or barrister provided that you’re making money.



“I did reasonably well at school; I left with three A-levels, a higher than average number of GCSEs” – Suspicious that grades are not mentioned. These days to get a training contract at most firms you need mainly A or A*s. It seems likely that the author’s grades are not up to scratch.

“absolutely no desire to get into a huge amount of debt” – Many Solicitors will have racked up (and may well still be paying off) huge amounts of debt. It seems like the author didn’t want to take on that risk and wants to be treated equally having done it on the cheap whilst earning a living along the way.

“Also, I don’t think student life would be for me — packet noodles and excessive vodka shots are not my thing” – Again, author is highlighting the fact that she didn’t go through that phase in life where the only thing affordable is packet food. Author also paints a stereotype picture of university life, something she hasn’t even experienced.

Author doesn’t have the required grades to have had a chance at getting offered a TC and comes across as unlikeable by bragging about how much money she has not spent or risked. This seems like a cry for sympathy, but she deserves none. Sugar, you should re-do those GCSEs, take on some debt and get a degree, use your knowledge of the industry to get yourself a training contract, and eventually qualify as a solicitor – the steps that the rest of us have taken.



You sound like such an arrogant tosser. Most firms need As and A*s to get a TC? Don’t make me laugh, you and I both know that is not the case.



I assure you that this is the case. Minimum of 2 A’s for any firm worth a look.



Any firm worth a look aka MC/SC/US

Not all of us aspire to work at firms like that mr legal rec



I am indeed an arrogant tosser (good guess, although maybe the way I write my words paints that picture), but what I say is also correct. Most firms see a B or below and it is an easy way to filter CVs early on.



I’d love to hear a follow-up 6 months after she qualifies.



WAH WAH An accountant has to do accounting work. A legal exec and has to do legal exec work. Like a jumped up intern “[WHY OH WHY AM I NOT A CHIEF EXEC I AM LYK SOOOOO TOTES CLEVA. I DON’ NEDE NO QUALIFICASIONS]”


Not Amused

We have as a country a problem with praising – or sometimes even acknowledging – intellectual success and ability.

I am not addressing this author in particular. I think the problem is endemic to our society.

All human beings are of equal value. I am as equal value as Andy Murray. But no matter how much I might train like him. No matter how much I may work just as hard as him. I am not as good as him. I do not see that our society has a problem with that – I certainly don’t.

Why then is the same not true of intellectual ability?



This article suggests that the opposite of what you are saying is true. This person is saying that she gets paid less and treated worse than her colleagues who have done degrees and qualified as a solicitor, for no other reason than that she did not do a degree and qualified as a CILEx. Society here clearly does value the more intellectual route and the more intellectual individuals more.








Anonymous LOL




Like the author, I didn’t go to Uni beyond the first year. I got bad grades at ‘A’ level and couldn’t do much at Uni but was “expected” to go. I ended up doing a degree I wasn’t interested in, but a component was Law and it’s then that I got hooked.

As my grades just weren’t high enough, I couldn’t change and go into a Law degree.
However, I was determined to qualify as a Lawyer so I went down the ILEX (as it was then) route. It was my fault I didn’t get good grades at school, so I had to find an alternative. Before joining ILEX, I’d never heard of ILEX and I had no idea what a Legal Exec was!

I managed to get a job with a local authority and thankfully, they agreed to fund all my studies even though they had no knowledge of ILEX or Legal Execs either. Their support was unfailing throughout. I did start in private practice but it wasn’t a good experience for me at all.

I qualified in 2002 and was admitted as a Fellow in 2005. Whilst in the midst of my exams and working as a trainee, I ran my own home, got married and had my daughter, so studying was a hard slog, but I did it. Pay-wise, I worked according to the work that was available to me and was paid as a junior member of staff. I was absolutely determined to qualify so I put the effort in. When I qualified, I was well rewarded with respect and an acknowledgement that I did actually know what I was talking about.

I now run my own Department, still working for a local authority defending liability claims made against them. It’s taken over 20 years to get to this point. I work closely with external Law Firms and barristers and I am respected both as a Fellow and also as a lawyer.

To the author – hang in there. Study hard and qualify, do your qualifying employment and get admitted as a Fellow, then you can say you deserve a salary which is comparative to a junior Solicitor. But remember Solicitors start as junior fee earners too. Work your way up like they do. You can monitor the pay levels between you and them, and if you have the same experience as them, and are as qualified, then you have good grounds to ask for more money!

Legal Execs have a much higher profile than they did when I started down this route. We are recognised as highly experienced and highly qualified lawyers. We have audiences at most Courts now. We can become partners. We can become judges.

CILEX supports it’s members and you will get the recognition you deserve, but qualify first, get some years under your belt as a Fellow then look again at where you stand in the firm.

And if you don’t like the way they treat you there, look for something else. Legal Execs work in all areas – there are plenty of opportunities out there for you.

And no, I’ve never had any desire to become a Solicitor – I’m proud to say I’m a Legal Exec, even I do have to explain what it means sometimes!

Best of luck with your exams! You’ll get there!



I am a Barrister and I look down on all of you…



You look down on us. I hope you do you see me flipping you off then.



If the author’s barometer for success at school is the number of GCSEs and A levels she got, somehow I doubt she did ‘reasonably well’…



As a man who started on the Cilex route, I soon realised it was a ‘second class citizen’ status. I abruptly abandoned it and, took the plunge to do a degree…
Just saying…



Why, but of course, for you are a superior man. Spare a thought for those lesser, penis-less, mortals who are simply not able to recognise themselves as ‘second-class citizens’ as a result of their qualification as a Legal Executive Lawyer through Cilex. /s



You said penis.



I share the same position in terms of CILEx grade as the author, and I too am in my mid 20s and very close to qualifying as a FILEx. We differ in that I took the Graduate fast track program following university, and work in a criminal-only firm.

My choice to take the CILEx route go qualification was twofold. I didn’t want go take on additional LPC debt, and I didn’t believe that my 2:1 would be good enough in the very sparse TC climate which followed the global financial crash – or so I read online.

I’m a fee-earner: I have the same number of Magistrates’ Court matters and Crown Court matters as my solicitor colleagues, and what I am unable do do in terms of representation at the Mags I make up for in the volume of police-station attendances and prison advocacy I do, which is before a DJ.

In terms of how I feel my colleagues perceive me, I don’t feel marginalised the way the author describes. I feel as I am regarded as any trainee solicitor would be regarded – and while there’s no trainee sol presently with the firm, I am seen as an analogue, and this has been explicitly mentioned. I am paid the same as a trainee sol also.

What I do find is that I was ‘the new guy’ long after I had stopped being new. It was only when another junior FE joined the firm that this lessened, but since this has been my first firm I feel I will always be perceived by those before me as in one sense or another as ‘new’, despite the pace at which I’ve assumed responsibility or learned – but I don’t think this phenomenon is limited go just solicitors’ firms. to describe it another way, your mum will always remember you as a child.

The only issue I find that I have is occasionally I to have to explain my particular profession to clients, unfamiliar with CILEx (so basically everyone who asks). This for me is the only attraction of becoming a solicitor, and to be honest, I rather keep the money than shave 3 minutes off of every fifth or-so client first-meeting!



Forgive the typos please, new phone…



I qualify as a Legal Executive this year. I work with many Solicitors and Legal Excutives the who have associate roles and above. I also have opponents who are also Legal Executives in prestigious firms.

I don’t have any desire to be a Solicitor and never have. However many of my Solicitor opponents are terrible, some struggle to understand basic legal and CPR concepts. I’ve been against Counsels in hearings and there have been a few which have been of such poor standard that it’s reminds me that I should assume counsel will be good simply because they are qualified.

I think the Solicitor route certainly provides a higher standard of training, but my experience is that doesn’t mean anything.

Some firms treat and pay Legal Executives and Solicitors the same, some do not. Will firms become more accepting and diverse? Who knows. I think you accept if you are taking the Cilex route some firms may not treat you as the same as a Solicitor of equal experience


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