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Chartered legal executive Ruth Hendry points out that ‘barrister’ and ‘solicitor’ aren’t the only options if you’re after a career in law.
Name: Ruth Hendry
Firm: Hugh Anton-Stephens Notary Public
Position: Fee Earner (Conveyancing and Probate)
Education: MA in Maths at Queens’ College, Cambridge; PhD in Ecology at University of Warwick; CILEx level 3 Diploma in Law and Practice and level 6 Higher Diploma in Law and Practice with CILEx Law School
Who or what inspired you to be a lawyer?
I did not for a minute ever consider becoming a lawyer, with two degrees in maths and science: law seemed an alien concept to me. And then in my mid thirties I met a man, who is a lawyer… and now he is both my (life) partner and my boss.
How did you get into the legal profession?
My partner is a part-time tribunal judge, but also runs a sole practice law firm from home. As I was an accounting technician, I started by doing his accounts. Then, when I was on maternity after our daughter (now nearly five years old) was born, I began to help out with a bit of secretarial work, and gradually moved into paralegal work.
I was intending to go back to my old job, but was made redundant before my maternity leave was even finished. As we live in Wales, the Job Centre immediately pointed me towards a £2,500 Welsh Assembly post-redundancy training grant. My partner and I thought it would be an ideal chance to retrain in law, and we could perhaps expand the legal practice. It was clear that the CILEx level 3 Diploma (which is set at A-level standard) was the perfect way into law, and the grant paid for the fees, and covered childcare costs for 6 months… and I have not looked back.
Rather to my surprise, I found law interesting and found I had an aptitude for it, in spite of my being a scientist! Once I finished my CILEx level 3 qualification I was keen to study the subjects I use in my work in more detail. So I went straight on to the CILEx Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice, which is set at the equivalent of honours degree level. I was lucky in that this was also (partly) grant funded.
What attracted you to CILEx?
CILEx was ideal for me as a career changer, in my case both after maternity leave and after redundancy. It was very important to me that I could study by distance learning, as I live in a rural area, we have four children, and because I like learning at my own speed in my own way.
How did your career develop following your qualification as a chartered legal executive?
At the moment I am still officially a trainee lawyer, although have been a Graduate of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives since my final exam last summer. I should be able to submit my portfolio of work-based experience and become a chartered legal executive lawyer during the autumn, which will affect my job title, but not my day-to-day work. However, hopefully chartered legal executives will get soon conveyancing and probate practice rights, so I will be able to work in my own right in both areas.
I have continued to work for my partner, and my job has grown with me. As I have gradually gained qualifications and experience, we have had more and more work come in, and the business has tripled in the past three years. This has given me a seamless transition from legal secretary through paralegal to being a fee earner. I now have a large conveyancing and probate case load, and mostly work independently, except where forms require a signature from a conveyancer or probate practitioner.
How do you compare your work as a chartered legal executive lawyer to that of a solicitor?
I think my job is basically the same as a solicitor. In my conveyancing work I almost always deal with solicitors on the other side of the transaction, and we carry out the same tasks. My probate work has to be done in my partner’s name, as he is the practitioner, but I carry out the tasks.
The key difference with being a chartered legal executive is that I am a specialist. I have basic level 3 training in a range of legal disciplines, but in-depth legal and practice knowledge at level 6 on two areas – residential conveyancing and probate. I think I am every bit as capable in my job as a solicitor, and I think I have much more relevant training and experience than most junior solicitors have just a year after their last exams.
What’s the biggest misconception about a career as a chartered legal executive?
I think that too many solicitors still see chartered legal executives as inferior, rather than in fact often far more experienced than they are! I hope, when I have the experience to justify it, that I will be able to become a partner, and our business will become a partnership rather than a sole practice.
Would you recommend a career as a chartered legal executive?
Definitely – it is a quicker and cost effective route into the law, and allows you to become a fee earner and, if you make the grade, eventually a partner. And there is none of the worry of trying to find a solicitor’s training contract, which seem to be as rare as gold dust at the moment.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
In April of this year I was awarded the CILEx Student of the Year Award, for coming top nationally in my CILEx exams. It was a real honour, and a great reward for the hard work that I had to put in to get my exam results, which were distinctions in all my subjects. I also received a very generous travel voucher from sponsor Title Research as part of my award, so I am looking forward to my first holiday in several years!
What advice would you give to someone who wants to pursue a career in law?
Look at all the options, and seriously consider the CILEx route, especially if you would like to learn while you are working, or if you are raising a family as well. In this way you can get experience in one or more areas of law, and still study your chosen subjects to degree level.