Choosing a lawyer can be a daunting task as the legal industry is brimming with choice and there are a huge range of specialities and different types of lawyer.
When thinking of instructing a firm you automatically assume that you need a solicitor however in today’s workplace a law firm is filled with solicitors, legal executives, paralegals and unqualified case workers.
So what is the difference?
A “lawyer” is a very broad term that encompasses all of the titles mentioned above. Its simplified definition is someone who is legally able to charge for their time in providing legal advice/expertise and they must be regulated by an authority. For example, solicitors are regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority where as a Legal Executive will be looked after by the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives.
The most common types of lawyer you will come across are Solicitors, Barristers and Legal Executives and what a student ultimately becomes largely depends on their route to qualification.
A solicitor will typically study Law(LLB) at University or obtain a degree in another area and then pass a “conversion course” which is a General Diploma in Law.
An LLB provides education in the “core law modules” (Legal Research, Foundations of the Legal System, Criminal Law, Public Law, Obligations A Part I: Contract and Tort Law, Land Law, Law of the European Union and Obligations B -Part II Contract and Tort Law) but also offers the chance to study optional modules such as Media Law and Sports Law. The primary objective of the degree is to focus on the core modules.
Some people study Law with another subject such as Criminal Justice or Business. This does not prevent them from becoming a solicitor however they must complete additional courses if they did not study all core law modules are part of their degree.
Once a student has completed their LLB, they must then go on to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) which is typically a further year of full-time study . This aims to bridge the gap between academic study and working in a law firm.
Following completion of the LPC, a student must then apply to law firms for a training contract. This is where they are employed at a Law firm as a Trainee Solicitor for two years and have a direct supervisor who assists in their training and development towards becoming a fully qualified solicitor.
The route to becoming a barrister tends to start off in a similar fashion to that of becoming a solicitor with an LLB. Following the academic stage, a prospective barrister must then complete the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC), and attended the mandatory twelve qualifying sessions at your Inn. The Inns of Court will provide the means by which a person becomes a barrister which is known as the “Call to the Bar” or “Call”. However, a Call to the Bar does not entitle a person to practice as a barrister. In order to practise, you must have completed a pupillage at either the self-employed or employed bar and hold a practicing certificate.
The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX) was established to help address the increase in the number of people who wanted to become lawyers who may not have embarked upon one of the routes mentioned above.
So many people study a certain area or embark upon a career early in life without knowing whether t is the right choice for them and ILEX allowed people to do just that by offering an alternative route to qualification.
It is not only non-law students who opt for the CILEX route however as it actually offers a route to become qualified that is preferable to many people due to the fact that a person does not need to complete the LPC or obtain a training contract in order to become qualified. This is appealing as training contracts can be difficult to obtain.
CILEX allows a person to jump into their course at different stages depending on their previous qualifications and experience and it is split into Level 3 and Level 6. If you have no previous legal education at all then CILEX would recommend completing access courses prior to beginning Level 3 which teaches the equivalent to an LLB and covers all core law modules.
Once Level 3 is completed, a student of CILEX moves on to Level 6 which allows them to pick two modules to specialise in. It is following completion of Level 6 that they become a fully qualified Legal Executive. If you have already completed a degree in law then you can skip level 3 and move on to Level 6.
The differences between Solicitors and Legal Executives are now minimal and both professions do almost the exact same work, possess the same legal knowledge and shoulder the same level of responsibility. The only immediately noticeable difference between them is the letters that come after their name. Legal Executives can become partners in law firms and even act as Judges.
CILEX also offer an additional course that allows a student to become a Legal Executive Advocate (similar to a barrister) and can also offer the chance to obtain higher rights of audience which allows them to represent people in the Crown Court as well as Magistrates’ Courts across England and Wales.
In light of the flexibility CILEX offers it would not be a surprise to see their number continue to increase dramatically over the coming years.
For more information on different types of lawyers, please feel free to check out this wiki