Legal executives remain the underdogs of the profession despite a push by the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex) to make the role the third legal career path.
A study by Keele University senior lecturer Dr Andrew Francis found that individual experiences paint a more complicated picture than Ilex claims is the case.
Speaking at an Inner Temple seminar on the ’Future of Legal Education’, Francis referred to legal executives consistently reporting subordination and structural constraints.
“In the workplace [they] reported being looked down upon in encounters with other legal professionals, marginalised in the allocation of work and in terms of remuneration,” he said. “The picture still remains. There are solicitors, there are barristers and some way after, when people remember, there are legal executives.”
Francis, who is responsible for the first major academic analysis of this branch of the profession, also mentioned the problems of identity and role confusion for female legal executives, revealing that they saw themselves as being perceived as legal secretaries.
Ilex CEO Diane Burleigh denied the findings.
“While there is snobbery in the legal profession, this merely reflects poorly on the solicitors and barristers guilty of it, rather than on legal executives,” she said. “Some [solicitor advocates] will no doubt also have experienced it from barristers.
“In the future businesses will reward talent where they see it, regardless of professional label. With the advent of [alternative business structures] there will be a greater appreciation and awareness of legal executives’ skills.
“Our members already hold key roles in top firms and are well-poised to help drive companies forward. We expect them to flourish.”