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Legal Executives: Career Opportunities & Reform

February 7th, 2015 | Posted by admin in Legal reflections

When considering lawyers, and the legal profession, people often forget about the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), and legal executives per se.

Qualified Legal Executives, or (as designated by the Institute) Chartered Legal Executives (CLE), are getting more and more. From their origins as legal secretaries, they became lawyers in their own rights over the last 100 years. Further, 2014/15 has seen them getting practice rights- currently in immigration, probate, litigation and conveyancing, more practice rights are expected. Indeed, there are now two CLE judges- Ian Ashley Smith, and Simon Lindsey (as of 2013 the Deputy District Judge on the South Eastern circuit). Further, more and more CLE’s are achieving partner or even senior partner status, in firms ranging from niche to large and nationwide.

More recognition is coming to CILEx. CLE’s are becoming more established and emerging from the shadows of being the little brother of solicitors and barristers. CLE’s are being brought into line as the equals of other lawyers, in a slow but steady change.

The training for CILEx is different. It enables the individual to work and study simultaneously, over several years part time and distance learning. The final hurdle is two years working as a trainee legal executive. It is cheaper in addition, and trainee places are easier to find than pupillage and training contracts. As such, it is an avenue to achieving the status and recognition of ‘qualified lawyer’ that many law students should (and indeed increasingly are) considering.

It is great to see such a change. Much credit must be given to CILEx’s recently retired CEO, Diane Burleigh OBE, and former President Nick Hanning, who have seen such a lot of change for Legal Executives. Mrs Burleigh particularly has been the architect behind the great recent successes of CILEx, along with other reformers.

As is so often the way, it is a combination of people, times and places, and the collective that creates change. History has shown that again and again. Wars are won by generals such as Wellington, Marlborough, Eisenhower and MacArthur- and equally by their soldiers, tactics, and equipment available at the time. The student revolution in 1963 Paris was as significant in changing modern France as Charles de Gaulle’s personality and uncompromising style of leadership. It was amidst the backdrop of a shattered and war weary Germany and Eastern Europe that the USSR was able to effectively partition the whole of Europe by the Iron Curtain. The underground drinking under prohibition, and the birth of the jazz era had as much impact on 20th Century America as great leaders and reformers such as FDR, Rev Martin Luther King and Senator Harvey Milk. General Franco and Dr Salazar had as great a social, political and cultural impact on their native Spain and Portugal with their autocratic style of ruling their authoritarian regimes in the 20th Century as did domestic and international politics and economic and social changes.

Great leaders- the people- and times and places. All three work together in bringing change and reform, sometimes slowly (the EU), sometimes rapidly (9/11). Such change is either necessary and beneficial- or to the detriment of many. However, change is brought about.

The only area where that is not the case is law. The law can only be changed by passing Acts of Parliament, and the ruling of judges. Most judges try to avoid drastic change; there are exceptions, such as Lord Denning and Lord Diplock, who were bold in their judgements, and consciously introduced legal changes. Other such judicial reformers are Lady Hale and Sir James Munby; both of them are more liberal in their verdicts, and seek to be empathetic in their application of the law. Judges such as the latter two acknowledge that times and society has changed (for example, Lady Hale as regards cohabiting couples), and often endeavour to hand down verdicts reflecting that. Law is, essentially, judge made, due to the time worn custom of following prior decided case law and legal precedence.

There is another element to this. Judges have to hand down verdicts in line with the law. Judges have to apply and interpret law in line with Acts of Parliament. As all students of constitutional law know, law is made by Parliament, debated by lawyers, and applied by judges. As such, it very much the collective (MP’s, as returned to Parliament by the electorate) who creates law and implements changes. Indeed, those Acts of Parliament, and repeals or amendments, of Acts of Parliament, are a reflection of current, modern and relevant social, cultural, political and economic concerns.

As such, despite appearances to the contrary, law is also a reflection of leaders (judges), the collective (MP’s) and times.

Indeed, so are other legal changes aside from application of the law- such as CILEx. Diane Burleigh, et al, as well as Legal Executives and supporters, have all done amazing work in raising the recognition of CILEx. Further, modern times, and evolutions as regards legal jobs and job descriptions, has also greatly aided the rise and increased recognition of CILEx. Tougher times for law graduates has also made more consider CILEx.

Effective change often takes time. CILEx has seen great and dynamic changes in only a few decades. There is clearly a great future for CILEx and Legal Executives. As to the exact nature of these future developments- nobody can tell. Similarly, no one can tell what the changes to the constantly evolving legal sector will be over the next few decades.

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