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Legal Executive

Legal executives specialise in one particular area of the law, doing work similar to that of solicitors. They specialise in areas such as:

  • conveyancing - the legal side of buying and selling property
  • family law - advising on divorces and matters affecting children
  • crime - defending and prosecuting people accused of crimes
  • company and business law
  • probate - dealing with wills, trusts and inheritance tax.

Legal executives usually work approximately 37 to 40 hours a week, from Monday to Friday. It is possible to work part time. The work is mainly office-based, but some travel to courts and police stations may be required.

Salaries range from £15,000 to over £60,000 a year.

A legal executive should:

  • be able to explain legal matters clearly to a wide range of people
  • pay attention to detail
  • have good analytical and problem-solving skills
  • be well organised.

Employers include law firms, local authorities, the civil service, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the legal departments of industrial and commercial firms.

There are around 24,000 people registered with the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX), of whom 7,500 are qualified legal executives. Numbers have remained stable despite recent job losses in the legal sector.

There are no minimum academic entry requirements, but at least four GCSEs (A*-C), including English, are recommended. Many entrants have higher qualifications, such as foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas/Certificates (HNDs/HNCs) or degrees.

To qualify, it is necessary to complete academic and practical training. Academic training leads to examinations set by the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX). Practical training consists of five years' legal employment, some of which can be carried out whilst studying part time for the ILEX exams by day release, evening classes or distance learning,

School leavers may be able to start straight from school by getting clerical work in a law firm and studying towards the first set of ILEX exams. It is also possible to enter relevant employment (for instance in a solicitor's office) through an Apprenticeship.

There are opportunities for qualified and experienced legal executives to run their own departments, to become partners in law firms and apply for judicial appointments. They can also qualify as solicitors.

What is the work like?

Legal executives specialise in one particular area of the law, doing work similar to that of solicitors.

They usually specialise in one of the following:

  • conveyancing - the legal side of buying and selling property
  • family law - advising on divorces and matters affecting children
  • crime - defending and prosecuting people accused of crimes
  • company and business law - advising clients on legislation that affects their businesses, such as tax, contracts and employment law
  • litigation - where a client is in dispute with someone else
  • probate - dealing with wills, trusts and inheritance tax
  • personal injury - handling accident claims
  • public law - for instance, welfare benefits or immigration.

The work of legal executives varies depending on their specialism, but may include:

  • explaining legal matters to clients
  • advising clients how the law applies to their case or transaction
  • analysing, researching and summarising legal documents
  • preparing documents for work such as the conveyancing of property, probate and litigation
  • drawing up wills
  • drafting contracts
  • representing clients in county and magistrates' courts in civil and criminal proceedings.

As well as dealing with clients, legal executives liaise with other professionals, such as solicitors, accountants and planners. In some cases they supervise the work of junior staff.

Hours and environment

Legal executives usually work 37 to 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. They may sometimes have to work evenings or weekends and, in certain instances, shifts. It is possible to work part time.

The work is mainly office based, but some travel to courts and police stations may be required. Smart dress is expected, particularly for court work.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Trainee legal executives may earn between £15,000 and £25,000 a year.
  • Fully qualified legal executives may earn between £25,000 and £45,000 a year.
  • The most senior legal executives in large cities may earn over £60,000 a year.

Actual rates of pay are heavily dependent on an executive's specialist area and locality.

Skills and personal qualities

A legal executive should:

  • be able to explain legal matters clearly to a wide range of people
  • pay attention to detail
  • have good analytical and problem-solving skills
  • be a good communicator in speech and writing
  • have good administrative skills
  • be well organised
  • be numerate
  • have computer skills
  • be discreet.

Interests

It is important to:

  • be interested in the law
  • enjoy research
  • like working with people.

Getting in

Legal executives are employed by law firms, local authorities, the civil service, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the legal departments of industrial and commercial firms. There are around 24,000 people registered with the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX), of whom 7,500 are fellows (qualified legal executives). Numbers have remained stable, despite recent job losses in the legal sector. The availability of vacancies, whilst low, is starting to improve.

There are opportunities throughout England, particularly in large cities such as London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds. Many legal executives start off by working in a support role, such as legal secretary or clerical worker, and then qualify through part-time study.

Vacancies for legal executives are advertised in national newspapers, The Legal Executive, The Law Society Gazette and The Lawyer, and on websites such as: www.legal-executive-recruitment.com, www.simplylawjobs.com, www.legalprospects.com and www.totallylegal.com

Entry routes

To qualify as a legal executive, it is necessary to complete academic and practical training. Academic training leads to examinations set by ILEX. Practical training consists of five years' legal employment, some of which can be carried out whilst studying for the ILEX exams.

There are no formal minimum academic requirements, but four GCSEs (A*-C) including English, or equivalent qualifications such as the City & Guilds (C&G)/ILEX Level 2 Award/Certificate/Diploma in legal studies, are recommended. Check with ILEX for full details. The Diploma in business, administration and finance may also be relevant. Many new entrants have more than the minimum recommended qualifications. Some have foundation degrees, Higher National Diplomas/Certificates (HNDs/HNCs) or degrees.

As a guide, minimum requirements for entry on to a foundation degree or HND course are normally one A level and four GCSEs (A*-C), or equivalent; for a degree course, the minimum requirements are normally two A levels and five GCSEs (A*-C), usually to include English and maths, or equivalent.

Exemptions from part of the ILEX examinations may be granted to candidates with an A level in law, a recognised law degree or other recognised legal qualification.

Young people may be able to enter relevant employment (for instance with a firm of solicitors) through an Apprenticeship in business, administration and law. Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Training

Trainee legal executives normally work under the supervision of a solicitor, employed barrister or senior legal executive. They usually study while they are working, through day release, evening classes or distance learning via the ILEX Tutorial College.

The ILEX examinations are in two parts:

  • Part one is the Professional Diploma in Law and Practice (Level 3) and provides a broad introduction to the main areas of law and legal practice. For the majority of students, it takes one year full time or two years part time to complete this stage of training.
  • Part two is the Professional Higher Diploma in Law and Practice (Level 6) and involves degree-level study, usually over two years, part time. Candidates are required to demonstrate a broad and detailed understanding of the law in three specific areas. For one of these areas, they must also demonstrate a sound practical understanding of the legal practice that arises from the law. They must also demonstrate underpinning professional legal skills by undertaking two professional skills units.

After qualifying, legal executives must undertake continuing professional development (CPD) in a range of legal topics.

Getting on

There are opportunities for legal executives to run their own departments, managing other executives, administrative staff and junior solicitors. They can become partners in law firms and apply for judicial appointments. Self-employment is also possible.

Qualified legal executives can also become solicitors, and the ILEX training route may be used as entry to the final stages of the qualification scheme for solicitors.

Further information

The Crown Prosecution Service, Rose Court, 2 Southwark Bridge, London, SE1 9HS. 020 3357 0000. Website: www.cps.gov.uk

The Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX), Kempston Manor, Kempston, Bedford MK42 7AB. 01234 841000. Websites: www.ilex.org.uk and www.ilex-tutorial.ac.uk

The Law Society, 113 Chancery Lane, London, WC2A 1PL. 020 7242 1222. Website: www.lawsociety.org.uk and www.lawcareers.net

Skills for Justice, Centre Court, Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ. 0114 261 1499. Website: www.skillsforjustice.com

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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