I was asked to write a blog for the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives on the thorny issue of qualification prejudice following some feedback from members. Comments from some suggest it is a really sore subject that is overlooked or hidden when discussing the qualification. So here are my thoughts, a kind of SWOT analysis but without the actual diagram. Oh, and there are shoes…
30 January 2012 was an exceptional day. It was the day that the Institute of Legal Executives received their Royal Charter.
I am very pleased and proud to add the word Chartered to my title and to continue to promote and applaud the work that the Institute does on behalf of its members.
As a Legal Executive, over the last 5 years there has been much to celebrate. The Legal Services Act 2007 has brought enhanced rights, partnership, judicial appointments and subsequent membership of the Civil Justice Council… the list goes on. Times they certainly are a-changing and the road ahead looks much different to the one I faced when I started out oh, so long ago (reference point: when I started in the law I was sending telex messages).
The future is rosy and the opportunities are there for the taking but I would also like to take a moment to exercise a note of caution because, like Dorothy heading down the yellow brick road all is glorious Technicolor but the music sometimes cues the arrival of the Wicked Witch of the West. In my tale the Witch is not some haggard, bitter individual seeking revenge for the loss of her beloved sister and demanding the return of ruby slippers. Instead, the villain of my piece is the presence of some negative perception and prejudice towards my qualification and, whilst I can’t say whether the holder is either green or haggard I do wonder how much the fact that I dare to wear ruby slippers is at the heart of the problem.
The thing about the law is that it stands and fights for justice, the rights of the public, righting wrongs and ensuring the law is applied fearlessly ensuring equality before the law. BUT some of those that are in training, do the job, apply the rules and stand in judgment struggle to apply the same principles to others working within the law. I would caution you not to feel maligned or marginalized if you encounter these behaviors. It’s not just about the Chartered Legal Executive status, if you look around you can see division and conflict everywhere: Magic circle v Every Other Commercial Firm Ever, Barristers v Solicitors-Advocates, Solicitor Judges v Barrister Judges, high street v new entrants, Oxbridge v Red Brick, Law Degree v Conversion, I could continue…
Some of the comments I’ve seen are that the CILEx qualification is “less academic” and that its vocational elements fail to prepare individuals for the rigor of high-class law. That, the qualification will fail to deliver financial reward and “we” will never be more than “glorified paralegals” being fit only for sausage making in some personal injury factory away from the cut-and-thrust of real law. Frankly, these comments are rot and I can comfortably challenge each and every one of them. The comments are no more than an attempt to put every single Chartered Legal Executive into the same box labeled “competition” and hardly demonstrate academic, high-class reasoning or argument.
If you are new to the idea of CILEx qualifications then please do not be alarmed! The overwhelming majority of people I meet express positive views about my qualifications and my chosen route to the law. In my own experience, the positive attributes of the educational route and fact of being a CILEx far outweigh the negative ones. For the few people you meet (or read) who don’t rate you or your qualifications and consider you to be an inferior ‘product’ you will meet a whole host of others who respect and value the work that you do; who find the division and prejudice distasteful and who will treat you as an individual based on who and what you stand for. You will also meet a whole host of people who simply don’t care about which box you tick on your CV; what matters to these people is your competence and ability to fearlessly represent their interests, to do the job and do it well.
You’ll need to work out for yourself how you propose to respond to those people you meet along the way because sadly these type of individuals aren’t going to disappear from the landscape (I’m not sure the bucket full of water trick actually works in real life). Do you challenge every negative view or stereotype or do you take a more pragmatic view and see these people for what they are? For my part, there are plenty of people who I am happy to dismiss because their narrow-minded bigoted views don’t actually impact on my life or my well-being. I find their views distasteful and unrepresentative of what the law stands for and simply hope that their views manifest in other displays of ignorance that prevent them from going on to be in a position to influence power over others. When I consider it appropriate and relevant I will put my views across and I am happy to debate as long as individuals remain professional.
If you are looking at the CILEx qualification route put my comments into a melting pot along with everything else you undoubtedly will be considering. I won’t tell you the CILEx route is the best way to become a lawyer but it’s one way and what you’ll be doing is considering your personal circumstances and deciding whether this route, the vocational route, is the right one for you. It’s not an easy choice; juggling work and possibly family with studying takes skill (and a far underrated one as it is a TOTALLY life relevant post qualification) and is not a quick fix nor will it guarantee that you are catapulted to the position and lifestyle that you desire but then, what learning style does nowadays? Looking at your plans for qualification with a healthy dose of realism is the best advice that I can give and, if you think or are lead to believe that the CILEx exams are easier, or the pass marks are lower, then please think again.
CILEx has been a big part of achieving my ambitions, my lifestyle, my income and my opportunities but more than CILEx it has been about me: my aspirations, my drive, my ambitions, my desire for knowledge and my intention never to settle for second-best in my achievements. Along the way I have bumped into people and situations that have made achieving things challenging but that’s life. So, to return to my yellow-brick road; it’s not level and it’s got some way to go but it’s heading in the right direction and I’m not giving up my ruby slippers as I really rather like them.