Law firms a “hostile environment” for CILEX lawyers

Bones: Growing crisis of confidence

CILEX lawyers face discrimination and unfair treatment by fellow professionals and particularly their employers, a major survey has revealed.

CILEX (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) said the fact its members – many of whom come from non-traditional backgrounds – faced discrimination and a lack of respect despite their qualifications and experience “denies them the equality of opportunity that is at the heart of the government’s ‘Levelling up’ agenda”.

At the same time, CILEX said that the poll of 2,041 of its members of – nearly 10% of the total membership – highlighted their determination to succeed and deliver access to justice for those they represent.

It is now calling on the other legal representative and regulatory bodies to join a summit to discuss how to tackle the “crisis of culture” in the profession, in the wake of other research published last week by LawCare and the Bar Council showing widespread problems with mental health, discrimination, bullying and harassment.

According to leading diversity consultancy The Pipeline, which conducted the survey for CILEX, “that ‘CILEX lawyers are considered to be lesser lawyers than solicitors’ is a sentiment that was expressed repeatedly in various ways in the comments. We cannot express this point strongly enough.

“These views were widespread. It seems akin to them working daily in a ‘hostile environment’. The barriers that all CILEX members face are compounded further if you are female, ethnic minority, or went to a non-selective state school.”

Three-quarters of CILEX members are women and 17% from an ethnic minority background, while 70% of those who responded to the survey went to a non-selective state school.

Nearly nine in 10 respondents agreed that “the legal profession is ignorant about what a CILEX lawyer can do” and 81% believed the rest of the profession looked down on them.

There was a lack of support from employers for career development and leadership training. The research quoted one respondent saying: “In my personal experience, CILEX lawyers are treated with less respect, and are paid substantially lower salaries, than trainee solicitors and counterparts, despite having far more working experience and knowledge.”

Respondents believed it was easier for a CILEX lawyer to become a judge than a partner in a law firm even though they believed strongly in the quality of their education and qualification.

Nine in 10 said they were proud to be a part of CILEX – most say they would not have had a career in the law without it – and saw the organisation as “a breath of fresh air that the legal profession needs”.

This was particularly the case as a similar number “viewed the law as an ‘old boys’ club’ with too many restrictive practices and barriers to entrance and progression”. Good CILEX lawyers made access to justice affordable to more people, respondents said.

CILEX members also had high expectations of themselves – 82% agree with the statement “I am an ambitious person and I want to go far in my career” and even more felt they have the capabilities and qualifications to do their next role.

Professor Chris Bones, chair of CILEX, says the findings underlined a growing issue relating to work, jobs and management across the legal sector.

“This study is deeply worrying, not just in terms of the treatment of lawyers who don’t fit the traditional mould, but also that it mirrors in many ways the research from the Bar Council and LawCare in flagging serious concerns about working environments both internally and in public settings such as courtrooms.

“It is clear from the experiences of CILEX members and those of solicitors and barristers that there is a growing crisis of confidence in the capability of management right across the profession to establish systems and processes that are blind to the background of candidates for entry and promotion and entirely focused on capability and merit.

“Faced with this evidence, it is now time to stop talking and start encouraging action across employers of all types to re-set targets and aspirations for the legal sector and to engage actively in a sustained programme of ‘levelling up’.”

Specifically on what CILEX plans to do, Professor Bones said it has a “clear strategy” for initiatives that encourage and celebrate work environments that are qualification-route blind and appoint, promote and reward on talent.

“CILEX lawyers are clear that they want to succeed and achieve their career goals, with the recognition they deserve for the non-traditional route through which they have qualified. It is a challenge we are taking up with relish.”

    Readers Comments

  • MC James says:

    I feel that there are multiple forums on which the other regulators behave prejudicially towards CILEX lawyers I’m quite sure that CILEX PSC exams are being graded to a different criteria than those of trainee solicitors and the need to disclose such prior to the exam, is designed to instigate prejudicial standards.

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