Diversity in the legal market

Giving Chartered Legal Executives equality of opportunity is vital to ensuring a diverse, competitive and dynamic legal market

Feb 19, 2020 5:39:42 PM

By Matthew Foster, President of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives

I was brought up on a council estate in Stockport and left school at 16 with little idea of what to do next. Without the education and support I
have had from the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), I would never have been able to become a lawyer.
My story is not unusual. CILEx offers an alternative route into the legal profession that proves attractive to those from a range of different backgrounds, allowing them to study whilst working, accommodating career gaps, different educational backgrounds and offering a more financially viable path into the law.
CILEx opens up access to the profession to those who might otherwise have felt a career in law was not an option for them and this explains why the membership is so diverse – 75% are women, 14% are from a BAME background, 82% of members do not have parents who went to university and just 6% attended a private school.
Chartered Legal Executives have a vital part to play in ensuring we have a diverse, competitive and dynamic legal market that serves both the public and business.
In my year as President I am working to see CILEx lobby even more vociferously to change out-of-date legislative anomalies that needlessly prevent our members being able to act in the same way as other lawyers, effectively denying equality of opportunity within the legal profession. Competition requires a level playing field, and so we are committed to working in the public interest to remove any outdated restrictions that unjustly prevent Chartered Legal Executives from offering a full range of services to consumers.
For many years CILEx has been chipping away at rules that unjustifiably discriminate against our members. There has been a great deal of success – we achieved chartered status in 2012 and our members include business owners, partners in law firms, heads of department and supervisors of teams of lawyers. They can be advocates in open court and may be appointed coroners and judges. There are now four Chartered Legal Executives sitting as judges, as well as a number of solicitors who initially qualified as Chartered Legal Executives.
Amongst some in the legal profession, the perception of Chartered Legal Executives remains out of step with the reality but there are many progressive firms out there who no longer differentiate between solicitors and Chartered Legal Executives and value the different experiences, perspectives and specialisms our members bring.
There are four areas in which we can work together across the profession to achieve a level playing field that will benefit consumers and society as a whole:

1. Clearing out technical anomalies

Chartered Legal Executives can do anything solicitors can do when employed by solicitors’ firms or local authorities, but still cannot as  individual professionals. Sorting these out doesn’t change current practice in any way but either fixes a technicality or resolves an anomaly to confirm and confer authority as of right rather than through supplication.

2. Change the law
We want to see a change to laws that preclude Chartered Legal Executives from the provision of certain services. As an example, members who have been Associate Prosecutors for a long time are barred from progression in their careers to Crown Prosecutors, and all because of a
complete lack of clarity and an inconsistent approach to recognising their qualifications in legislation that has remained unchanged for  decades. The Ministry of Justice acknowledges that this needs to be rectified but has so far failed to act.
3. International recognition
Unlike other lawyers, Chartered Legal Executives are unrecognised in the EU Lawyer Recognition Directive. This unreasonably restricts their ability to offer services to other EU countries.
4. Opening up the judiciary
Currently, Chartered Legal Executives are prevented from applying for judicial roles above district judge level (circuit judge or higher). Outdated views and professional snobbery are preventing the government from making a quick and easy change to the eligibility criteria for lawyers who can submit applications – all at a time when including our members would address oft-expressed concerns about diversity in the judiciary.
CILEx lawyers operate on a par with solicitors in their specialist areas, doing the same jobs day in day out. We are not the same as solicitors. We are proud to be different. Our learning begins in the workplace from day one, we generally specialise early on in our careers and undertake qualifications that focus on what we need to know to support our clients, rather than on knowledge that we may never use. These
differences are a positive in a diverse and competitive legal market and should not hold Chartered Legal Executives back from being able to
provide legal services across the board.
This article is featured in the winter 2020 edition of the quarterly news digest, Entitlement. Download your free copy of Entitlement for more informative articles and interesting case studies.
Winter 2020 Entitlement

Topics: Entitlement