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CILEx applies for ABS regulation and pushes against judiciary’s glass ceiling

Independence from solicitors widens choice for consumers and greater judicial diversity ‘critically important’

11 September 2017

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The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has applied to become a licensor of alternative business structures (ABS), allowing its members to form their own businesses with non-lawyer ownership and investment in competition with solicitors firms.

“We believe that greater diversity of opportunity within the legal market can assist in developing consumer choice and finding better ways to deliver better services,” says CILEx Regulation in its application to the Legal Services Board.

“CILEx members would also have the benefit of operating within an outcomes focused, risk based, proportionate, and flexible regulatory regime. Our conduct rules demand high standards of those we regulate but without being overly prescriptive or disproportionate,” adds the regulator.

“We believe that investors and lawyers will have significant freedom to structure businesses in a manner which best suits them and their client base without having to work around inflexible limitations.”

Research among CILEx members carried out in late 2015 showed one-third were “positive” about operating independently, rather than being employed by solicitors. Of those, 48 per cent were “positive” about operating as an ABS.

There was particular interest in bringing non-lawyer specialists – such as a finance or marketing expert – into the ownership of the business, and unregulated businesses doing unreserved work into regulation, so that they could conduct reserved legal work.

The LSB has 12 months to decide on whether to grant the application. If it does, this then proceeds to the Lord Chancellor for final approval.

CILEx has also called for the removal of the “glass ceiling” on legal executives seeking judicial appointment, following publication of David Lammy’s review into the experience of BAME people in the criminal justice system.

The organisation’s first black president, Millicent Grant (pictured), said: “The profession I lead is committed to finding systemic solutions to the problems our justice system faces. We are eager to engage with the government, and our fellow professional associations the Law Society and Bar Council, to address how the legal profession can support BAME people in the criminal justice system.

“This includes how CILEx can best support our chartered legal executive lawyers working on criminal cases, including those on the duty rota for police stations.”

Grant added that recommendations to improve judicial diversity are “critically important”, and that legal executives are an essential part of the solution.

“CILEx members are the most diverse group of lawyers in the UK (three-quarters are women, and one-third of students are BAME), yet are the least represented group among the judiciary. This is in part because of outdated assumptions about chartered legal executives, but also because there is a glass ceiling that prevents lawyers like me applying for senior judicial roles.

“The government needs to scrap this unjustified barrier, and take other practical steps, if it is to have any hope of achieving a judiciary that is more reflective of the society it serves.”

Legal executive lawyers are only eligible to apply for judicial roles up to the level of district judge at present, placing them at a disadvantage to their solicitor and barrister counterparts who are eligible to apply for more senior roles from the outset.

CILEx recently launched its judicial development programme, which aims to provide aspiring legal executives with one-to-one mentoring from judges, and tailored support prior to applying for judicial roles.

John van der Luit-Drummond, deputy editor

john.vanderluit@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @JvdLD

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Chartered Institute of Legal Executives CILEX alternative business structures ABS Glass ceiling BAME Judicial appointments