A renewed interest in legal apprenticeships has seen in-house legal departments and law firms taking up Legal Services Apprenticeships (LSAs) which are overseen by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).  There are currently 360 LSAs working at 107 organisations in England and Wales.

These are structured programmes of learning, consisting of a mixture of vocational ‘on the job’ training and competence-based qualifications and academic learning, all of which can lead to a formal knowledge-based qualification.

Legal apprentices can continue their studies to qualify as lawyers, and many are ambitious to do so, with full support from their employers. This earn-as-you-learn model ensures hands-on experience in a real-world setting, which is arguably more valuable than turning out law graduates who haven’t been able to put their knowledge into practice.

CILEx-qualified David Edwards talks about his route into the legal profession, and practicing specialist law without a degree

`I left school at 18 and went straight to work for a firm of solicitors in London doing outdoor clerking and a little bit of litigation. I also did the CILEx exams, which were effectively specialist exams to complement the civil litigation work I was doing. Tort, contract, and criminal law were my specialist subjects.

My A-level grades weren’t quite good enough to go to university the first time around. I tend to see things in context and I need to see the relevance. This was the better way for me to learn, rather than studying subjects in an academic format.

While I was doing my A levels I knew that legal was the direction I wanted to go. The career route I have taken is (or at least was) the traditional route for quite a lot of chartered legal executives. You left school, you started work, you did your exams, and you worked your way up.

One advantage of a CILEx qualification is that you can soon specialise. I haven’t done all of the subjects you need to do to be a solicitor, but in my case, all of the fellowship subjects I studied I have actually used, so I haven’t had to study for things I didn’t need to know about.

When I started, chartered legal executives didn’t have the status they have now. Now they might become partners in their firm, and CILEx people can include judges, and those who run big departments for local governments. So it is possible for people working in-house to progress fairly highly. Perhaps senior legal managers in local authorities still choose solicitors rather than chartered legal executives but certainly there are CILEx Fellows who have progressed to considerable positions.

It’s all horses for courses really – it depends on the kind of person you are. Here, we have a number of different lawyers, with different degrees, and from different places of qualifying – the heads of legal and departments are solicitors who take on more of a management role, and the actual legal work tends to be done more by people like me. I think CILEx-qualified people are usually considered specialists who do a specific job, rather than somebody with overall control. In real terms, there aren’t many general legal practitioners out there – maybe there are still a few in the commercial world. For in-house counsel, I can see that a general overview of things might have some advantages, but once it becomes a specialist issue then you have to bring the specialists in.

A few years ago I was tempted to train as a solicitor, but I would have had to study lots of topics that I would never have used, and in the end I decided the amount of time and effort wasn’t worth it, as it wouldn’t advance my career. I have been lucky at St Albans, because I have found a niche for myself.

The planning diploma along with the CILEx qualification has stood me in good stead. CILEx is very big on inclusion and diversity. 75% of CILEx-qualified people are women, and often these exams have been taken between having children and work breaks – it is a much more flexible qualification.
Another benefit of the CILEx route is that it is also an affordable route where you are earning while you are learning, and in terms of fees it is much more cost effective. The way the legal profession is going, with fewer training contracts, it should be serious option for a lot of people.’

David Edwards is CILEx president and principal legal executive, St Albans City and District Council

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