By Jane Barlow

On the 11th August 1975 the UK was a somewhat different place than it is today, and I don’t simply mean in terms of a pandemic. Although for me, something rather seismic was about to occur. I started work in the local office of a firm of solicitors – and so started a journey through my working life that saw me go from being the office junior, through the ranks of medium and large size firms, to finally setting up and running my own legal services business.

Throughout this time, I have been a paid-up member of what we now know as the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). My membership of, and regulation by, that professional body has been a constant throughout my career. With that career now spanning nearly 45 years I have asked myself exactly what my membership of CILEx has actually done for me.

In the 1970s, the prospect of chartered status was a mere pipe dream; the organisation was simply The Institute of Legal Executives and had grown out of The Solicitors Managing Clerks Association. The history of CILEx

For those of us who undertook the academic qualifications, just like those who do so today, combining work with study and home life, we went through the stages of membership from Student (nobody really cared!) to Associate (still no real recognition) to finally being admitted as a Fellow. Back then no matter how talented, competent or, in my case, just plain lucky you might be, you had to wait until reaching the grand old age of 25 before you could apply to be admitted as a Fellow.

For me, my role has always been in private client work, in the dead centre of the office, so to speak and from the moment of my admission as a Fellow, the expectation was that I would work for firms of solicitors as a manager but certainly nothing more. Join a partnership? Not a chance! Have my own business? Not on your life!

My qualification as a Fellow meant that I could use my exam successes in core topics to apply for exemptions from exams for the Law Society. I did seriously consider that route in order to qualify as a solicitor. However, and here comes the confession – I’m not an academic and the idea of yet more years of study just didn’t fit the bill for me.

Instead I decided to make the most of my membership of CILEx, in having the kudos of their exam structure and professional standards and regulation behind me, by ensuring that I could choose to work anywhere I wanted within England and Wales and, to a certain extent, even abroad.

My membership of CILEx allowed me to work for many years for a number of different firms and, during this time, I worked with and for some fascinating and delightful people (in all honesty, I also came across some right miserable characters – but all part of the tapestry) who enabled me to gain invaluable experience in my chosen area of practice. I am sure that without the qualifications which I had gained, I would not have been granted the level of autonomy, control and responsibility that my employers gave to me.

However, like all things, times change, and I began to realise that instead of working for others, I could do the job as I wanted to do it and do it better for myself.

By this stage, CILEx had also undertaken a period of corporate ambition, in that it saw itself and its members as being something more than merely the third tier, junior division of legal services in this country. CILEx wanted to be a regulator in its own right and wanted its members (once suitably qualified) to be able to be partners alongside solicitors and others in professional practices (ABS) or indeed to be sole practitioners offering the highest quality legal services to their clients.

This enabled me to take the plunge in setting up my own Wills and Probate business and, as a CILEX Regulated Probate Practitioner (CRPP), to undertake the full range of work relating to Wills and succession, tax and estate planning etc. Best of all, I could charge a fee for it all as well. A long way from the princely sum of £14.18 which was my net take home pay in my first pay packet – received in cash, of course.

Becoming a CRPP also enabled me to attend the CILEx Graduation ceremony in 2017. There was no such thing in the 1980s of course. I even managed to get my “15 minutes of fame” in the video recording still showing on the CILEx website! (Actually, less than 15 seconds, but hey, I’m happy with that).

Being a member of CILEx at any level of membership is not something that is financially cheap. Annual subscriptions, CRPP renewal fees, examination fees, skills submission fees etc, all add up. However, the role of CILEx and its members is too important to boil down to the mere financial cost of being in CILEx. As an organisation, CILEx offers a way into the profession of law to many for whom the role would otherwise be simply unattainable. As the records show over the years, there are many people who are working as qualified members of CILEx who bring pride in their work, a passion for their job and who are a credit to the profession. Without CILEx, those skills would have been lost to the profession and the people who really need us – our clients.

If, like me, you:

Are from a working-class background;

Have little or no prospect of going to university;

Need to bring in an income, whilst trying to study; and

Have a desire to succeed in your chosen profession, whilst helping others then CILEx can offer you many opportunities to get to where you want to be.


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