CILEx Council Newbie

A blog written for the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives after my first formal Council Meeting:

Council meetings for The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) can be busy. There’s plenty to discuss, agree on and get started. Last week however there was also a new addition to the council, so we asked Barbara Hamilton-Bruce, a new co-opted Council member, to write about her first meeting with other council members.

Over the last year or so I’ve become more actively involved in providing support of CILEx although it’s been in a very informal way; generally banging the drum in support of the route into law and the value of the qualification. I’d compare it to the role that Angelina Jolie plays for the UN…turn up or speak out, pose, pout and then back to the day job, looking after the kids and loading the dishwasher every night. I put myself forward as a co-opted member (somebody without a constituency representing an interest group) and was voted onto the Council this summer.

Formal notice of the meeting for 21 September was received together with a weighty agenda and supporting documents about four weeks ago. After the relative quiet of the summer it was a sharp reminder that there would actually be some hard work involved in this role. Work started as soon as I began reading the paperwork because there is no gentle roll in for a newbie; it’s straight in to the tough stuff; budgets, reports, consultation documents, papers for consideration, policies for approval, committee terms of reference. The list goes on.

The day before the Council meeting I attended my induction at Kempston Manor where I met Helen Whiteman the Chief Operating Officer. There was a file of information that we needed to work through. Helen was charming but the business of the CILEx group is complex. It was dawning on me just how; a membership group that serves the interests of students through to fellows, an examining body, a law school, a regulator, overseas interests and a benevolent fund.

The meeting was held in Council Chambers, housed within a building off to the side of the Manor House which includes a very large meeting room with all the usual gubbins you’d expect. Some of the Council members I’d met on previous occasions, some only the night before and some were rushing in through the door minutes in advance of the start time. Members had come from all corners of the country; Wales, the South Coast, Liverpool, Durham. I could go on. Some were attending with the grace of their employers and some were attending using part of their annual holiday entitlement. One member was attending 10 weeks into maternity leave.

The Council Meeting is led by the President with the support of Vice and Deputy Presidents and members of the CILEx divisions. Questions can be tabled in advance to allow any necessary research or figures to be collated and questions are tabled on the day. The aim is to push through the agenda swiftly but not so prescriptive as to stifle debate. The meeting was attended by representatives from Ilex Tutorial College (ITC) and ILEX Professional Standards (IPS) along with appearances from the Head of IT, the Director of Finance all under the watchful eye of the Chief Operating Officer. For much of the time I was bewildered but I think that was expected and I will be eternally grateful to Janine Wagstaff who was helping me with background information as we went through the agenda.

I don’t really know what I was expecting from the meeting but if you’re tempted to think along the lines of the Vicar of Dibley’s village meetings, then think again. Council members are directors of the company but do not run the business day-to-day so council meetings are effectively 2 months’ worth of business meetings rolled up into one; there is a huge amount of ground to cover in the allotted time. In a role that can be best described as ‘critical friend’ council members spent a lot of time challenging assumptions and asking forensic questions on the information that we had received. Whether the decisions represented the best interests of the membership was a common theme.

We broke for lunch behind on the agenda and I was already starting to flag and there were some big subjects on the agenda such as the Legal Education and Training Review and independent practice rights. Before we started the day I knew that the finish time of 3.00pm had been optimistic and we eventually finished an hour and a half later. Without wanting to sound indelicate I was knackered and I drove back home to Suffolk with the radio turned off relishing the quiet and the chance to put my thoughts in order. In the space of two days I have met 30 or so people and learnt so much that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. As learning curves go this one is a 1:4. I’m told it gets easier and, looking from the optimistic side, I survived the first meeting (and they survived me).

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