'Third branch' of legal profession.
The legal profession has always carried certain preconceptions: elitism, expensive training and years of full-time study at university. However, the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) is breaking down these barriers and is a key figure in making a career in law available and accessible to everyone.
Legal executives are qualified lawyers who specialise in a particular area of law. They have their own recognised status and work alongside solicitors and barristers.
They describe their working environment as 'challenging and demanding but extremely rewarding'.
Ilex president George Owens said, 'The legal industry is becoming more multicultural, and gender issues are no longer a major concern. Ilex has therefore become the natural career route for the modern-day lawyer.'
Trainee legal executives adopt the 'earn while they learn' approach to their career. This gives flexibility in terms of study options and time management when joining Ilex. So members have a chance to actually work in a legal environment building their client base and being involved with practical hands-on experience.
This is done at the same time as undertaking part-time study, over an average of four years. Ilex training courses can be completed at local colleges or by distance learning with the Ilex Tutorial College. Costs are considerably lower than a full-time university course.
The cost of qualifying is around pounds 3,000 over four years, and the majority of employers pay tuition and examination fees.
Kevin McCarthy, a legal executive with Hugh James Solicitors, in Cardiff said, 'The combination of working in practice and studying is a big advantage in the workplace.
'It gives the legal executive the broad base of skills to deal with the day-to-day business in addition to gaining the academic qualifications to become a well-rounded and confident lawyer.'
So what is a typical day for a trainee legal executive? It may consist of handling the legal aspects of a property transfer, assisting in the formation of a company, being involved in actions in the High Court or county courts, drafting wills, and many other matters that affect people in their domestic and business affairs.
New trainee legal executives will work towards the Ilex professional qualification in law. This qualification is spilt into two areas, the Ilex level three professional diploma in law, and the Ilex level four professional higher diploma in law. Ilex gives students the opportunity to choose their preferred method of study. They can either follow an examinations programme or opt for a mixed assessment route which is more coursework based.
The minimum entry requirements are four GCSE grades A to C, including English. However students often join Ilex with A-levels and degrees. Mature students, over 21, see the Ilex scheme as a chance to advance their career, or to change direction completely.
Professional responsibilities increase with experience and on completing the Ilex course and becoming a fellow you are likely to become one of the main points of contact for clients seeking professional advice on legal matters.
With 22,000 members, Ilex has demonstrated that they are truly the third branch of the legal profession alongside solicitors and barristers.
For further information on the Ilex career route visit www.ilex.org.uk or telephone 01234 841000 for an introductory pack.: Case study:Caroline greathead, right, a former legal secretary, was recently awarded the title of national legal executive of the year. Caroline's specialist area is working with elderly clients. She also covers wills and probate, community care and chronic sickness advice.
Caroline travels around the South Wales Valleys seeing housebound clients and conducts regular case conferences with medical associates and social workers to ensure that her clients are properly cared for. She is employed at Anthony & Jarvie in Bridgend. Caroline's work is often praised by her peers - Luisa Bridgman of Age Concern said, 'Caroline is special because she is there to help and support ordinary people who have illness or disabilities. Caroline is their champion.'