How to become a chartered legal executive
The different routes for qualifying as a chartered legal executive in the UK, and how to become a barrister or solicitor afterwards.
In England and Wales, chartered legal executives are trained to the same level as solicitors but specialise in one area of law. As a general rule, they undertake the same work as solicitors, with certain conditions. They can also qualify to represent clients in court or become judges.
What does a chartered legal executive do?
Chartered legal executives take instruction from clients and provide legal advice. They negotiate, or contact other professionals, on behalf of their clients. They analyse and summarise complex legal information, draw up wills and draft legal contracts.
The work normally specialises in one of these areas:
- Family law – legal matters concerning families, including divorce and children
- Civil litigation – resolution of legal disputes between people (may be about contracts, personal injury, debt recovery or housing)
- Conveyancing – legal work relating to the purchase and sale of property
- Probate – validation of wills and trusts
- Commercial or employment law – covering tax, contracts, employment, mergers and acquisitions
- Criminal litigation – advising clients accused of serious or petty crime
- Public law – working within councils or government (may include areas such as welfare benefits or immigration)
- Legal practice – such as practice management or legal costs and accounts work
Chartered legal executives can also qualify as chartered legal executive advocates. This means they can represent clients in court on civil, criminal and family proceedings. They can even become judges in certain courts or take the vocational qualification to become a solicitor.
What’s it like to work as a chartered legal executive?
Chartered legal executives may be associates or run a specialist department within a law firm. They can become a partner within a law firm and instruct barristers. They can also be self-employed, providing legal services to solicitors.
The work is generally office-based. A 37-hour working week is normal, but with overtime when deadlines approach. Legal executives are required to attend meetings with clients, and overnight stays can occasionally be necessary.
How much do chartered legal executives earn?
The salary for trainees can be from £14,000–£25,000 a year, depending on location and stage of training.
Those with over five years’ experience can earn up to £55,000 a year – or more, if they become a partner at a law firm.
In the UK, 'lawyer' is a general term for anyone licensed to practise law. In England and Wales, this includes chartered legal executives. They undertake similar work to solicitors and can qualify to represent clients in court as a chartered legal executive advocate or become judges. Legal executives are recognised in Northern Ireland, but there's no direct equivalent in Scotland.
The main difference in training to become a chartered legal executive is that you choose one area of legal practice in which to specialise, rather than the broader training of a solicitor. The sector is regulated by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Qualifications are also awarded by CILEx.
There are several ways to qualify as a chartered legal executive:
- In-work CILEx training for those employed in the sector
- Level 6 Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeship
- CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma (for those with a Law degree or Law conversion course)
As with solicitors and barristers, a period of work-based qualifying employment is required. This can be gained during the training or afterwards.
In-work CILEx training if you’re employed in the sector
You can study for your CILEx qualifications at the same time as working – in some cases, your employer may fund the training. Qualifications include the Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice, which is set at A Level standard, and the Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice, assessed at honours degree level.
The Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice has ten units in total, with four core units in contract law, criminal law, land law and law of tort, and two in professional skills. You can also take units in other areas that interest you. Normally it's completed in two years.
The Level 6 Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice comprises one legal practice unit along with the linked law unit, plus a choice of two other law units and two professional skills units. One of the law units must be in the area of law where you are in practice. Normally it's completed in two years. You then need three years’ qualifying employment to become a chartered legal executive. To see the options available, please refer to the CILEx website.
Level 6 Chartered Legal Executive Apprenticeship
Another option is a Chartered Legal Executive apprenticeship. Aimed at those with no legal experience, this five-year degree-level apprenticeship is offered by employers working in partnership with training organisations. As an apprentice, you complete Level 3 and Level 6 Diplomas in Law and Practice. The cost of your training is paid by the employer. You finish with a final assessment by CILEx, completing an extended case study. The apprenticeship includes the required qualifying employment.
CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma
If you’re a graduate with a qualifying Law degree (QLD) or have completed a Law conversion course (GDL/CPE), you can take the CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma to study the practical application of law. There's no time limit after a qualifying Law degree or Law conversion course for taking the CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma.
The course is run at CILEx accredited centres or via supported distance learning through a number of providers.
The Graduate Fast Track Diploma usually takes nine months to one year, though it can be as short as six months. Most courses start in September, but distance learning courses can be started at any time of year. Modules must be completed within a set period of time, which varies by provider. Distance learning is possible if you’re an overseas candidate, but you must organise and pay for your own external examinations.
What the Graduate Fast Track Diploma covers
During the course, you complete two Level 6 practice units from a choice of options, plus the compulsory Level 6 Client Care Skills unit. Options available depend on the course provider.
Practice units focus on how law is applied in real-life situations, to advise the client and consider the related practical issues. You must take one practice unit relating to a legal subject studied on your Law degree or Law conversion course. For example, conveyancing relates to land law studied at degree level. Practice units include company and partnership law, employment law, family law, probate practice, civil and criminal litigation.
The compulsory unit on client care skills focuses on negotiation, legal writing, complaints management and professional ethics.
Assessment for the compulsory unit is through coursework, with exams for the practice units. There are two exam sessions per year, taken at CILEx accredited exam centres. Each exam is three hours and based on a case scenario that's given to you before the exam. CILEx sets the exams and awards qualifications on completion of all three units. It's formally awarded as the CILEx Level 6 Diploma in Legal Practice.
Entry requirements and applications
Entry requires a qualifying Law degree or Law conversion course. After enrolling on the Graduate Fast Track Diploma, you must register with CILEx as an Associate Member (ACILEx), paying exemption and membership fees. This must be done by the required deadline.
Fees and funding
In 2019–2020, fees were around £3,000 depending on the provider. This includes course fees (paid to the course provider) plus exam or assessment fees and membership fees (paid to CILEx).
Fees can be paid by instalments to spread the cost. Sometimes employers support a students’ studies.
Three years of qualifying employment are required to qualify as a practising chartered legal executive, during which you build a portfolio of evidence. Legal duties must be carried out for a minimum of 20 hours per week, e.g. as a paralegal. The work must be supervised by an authorised person such as a solicitor, legal executive or barrister.
You can begin qualifying employment during your studies, but the final year must take place following the completion of Level 6 academic qualifications, after you become a graduate member of CILEx. The final two years of qualifying employment must run consecutively.
If you've completed a Legal Practice Course (LPC) for solicitors, or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) for barristers, you only need to complete three years' qualifying employment to become a chartered legal executive.
On completion of the qualifying employment, if you’re a graduate member of CILEx, you can apply to become a Fellow and practise as a chartered legal executive. You're then a qualified lawyer, where you’re awarded an annual practising certificate and must undertake CPD each year. With further training, you can also apply to become a solicitor or barrister.
Chartered legal executives can apply to become a solicitor, or if they're a chartered legal executive advocate, a barrister.
Applying to become a solicitor
Chartered legal executives can take the Legal Practice Course, or from 2021, take the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE). For entry as a solicitor, you must provide a Certificate of Good Standing from CILEx dated within three months of the application, and a certified copy of your LPC and relevant Professional Skills qualifications.
You don’t need to complete the period of recognised training as a solicitor and may be exempted from the Professional Skills course.
Applying to become a barrister
Chartered legal executives can take further qualifications with CILEx to become a chartered legal executive advocate. Fellows can exercise their ‘rights of audience’ to appear in the higher courts – County, Crown or High Court – on civil, criminal or family matters.
Chartered legal executives granted the rights of audience can also apply to transfer to the Bar of England and Wales. If the application is accepted, you may need to complete further training if required, or a period of pupillage (in-work training as a barrister).