My Path to Qualification - Breaking with Tradition

Our Senior Paralegal, Samuel Higgins, gives an insight into his experiences on his journey towards legal qualification.

Like a growing number of law graduates, I find myself still on the road to qualification despite graduating from university several years ago. If anyone reading this however believes I see this as a negative in that I have no training contract to speak of, I'm afraid you are mistaken.

All I heard throughout my 3 years of university was that I “must” complete the Legal Practice Course and that I “needed” a training contact. In other words, I had to do things the ‘traditional’ way if I ever wanted to practice law. Whether out of ignorance or a misunderstanding of the current legal market, those who had and perhaps still do have this mentality have clearly never heard of CILEX (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives).

I have been a member of CILEX since late 2017. For the uninitiated, CILEX is an alternative route to qualification in which I will eventually qualify as a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer. If you are still no clearer as to what I’m talking about, then feel free to click here for more information on CILEX.

Despite having the benefit of a law degree which does exempt me from several stages of the CILEX course, I have had to grapple with textbooks, statute books, coursework and exams, all whilst being employed on a full-time basis as a Paralegal. This may sound like a rough deal so far but let me assure you it isn't. The CILEX route to qualification gives me the freedom to plan and manage my studies in a way that the ‘traditional’ route into legal practice does not. I do not have lectures, seminars or anything that one might expect where I must in a certain place at a certain time. Working Monday to Friday like I have done as a Paralegal since 2015 means that CILEX allows me to study at times which suit me.

Furthermore, as a full-time Paralegal and a student of CILEX, I have been able to tailor my studies in a way that helps me in my area of work. I study what is relevant to my current role in addition to learning practically on the job. Contrast this with the example of the ‘traditional’ route to qualification. You obtain your training contract (no easy task itself these days), complete the LPC and then you complete your ‘seats’ in whichever law firm it may be. I want to make it clear that I take nothing away from those which follow this route. The current market has led to a sharp fall in law firms offering training contracts and we hear all the time about drop-out rates in both undergraduate and post-graduate legal study. I would like know though how much those who do follow this route use the majority of what they have learned along the way in their qualified working life.

I do not for one minute consider that everyone should do what I am doing or that any of the other routes to qualification in law are no good. In fact, one of the big issues surrounding students and graduates of CILEX at the minute is the perception that upon completing CILEX you are not a proper lawyer because you are not recognised as a ‘solicitor’ or a ‘barrister’. I cannot say I blame individuals who may have this way of thinking given that most people think of lawyers as being either solicitors or barristers. It’s true that I will not be a solicitor, nor will I be a barrister when all is said and done with CILEX. What I will be however is a Chartered Legal Executive Lawyer. The word ‘lawyer’ is defined as a person who practises or studies law, so by that definition I guess you could say I already am a lawyer.

There is the option for me to cross-qualify as a solicitor once I have completed CILEX. All one would have to do is complete the Legal Practice Course and if this turns out to be what I end up doing, the fact that I will have completed my CILEX qualifications will exempt me from obtaining the now feared and dreaded training contract. Whilst this is a conversation I will need to have with myself on another day; if anybody is reading this and losing all hope of becoming a lawyer due to not having a training contract then maybe I have given you some food for thought and an option you might not have thought of or ever even heard of.

What I hope to have demonstrated in the time you have read this is that in 2019 it is no longer accurate to say that a lawyer is either a solicitor or a barrister. I acknowledge that it may take some time for prospective clients, educational bodies and other members of the legal profession to recognise this and for it to be reflected in what we see and hear in the legal working world.

You may have reached the conclusion that anyone who follows the CILEX route does so as the result of something not going right along the way or because they “can’t hack it” the ‘traditional’ way. Whilst I cannot change your mind if that is what you think, I am confident in the next 5-10 years that CILEX as a method of legal qualification will be on the tip of the tongue for students, graduates and more importantly, prospective employers. I am proud to say that Robinson Ralph are a company which do acknowledge the value and importance of CILEX and have been a great help to me in my time here so far. I can only hope that more employers follow this example and show a willingness to invest in their employees whose ambitions of becoming a qualified legal practitioner have taken a blow because they have not done things the ‘traditional’ way.

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