The Lord Chancellor yesterday described CILEX lawyers as some of the most impressive lawyers he has seen and said the country needed more judges from their ranks.
Speaking at the CILEX AGM, Robert Buckland said: “The CILEX route to becoming a lawyer is incredibly effective in creating a diverse pool of practitioners with a range of backgrounds and experiences.
“The practical skills that you have learned on the road to qualification make you some of the most impressive lawyers that I have seen on the circuit. The justice system is far richer with you in it.”
As a former part-time judge, he recognised the growing ambition of CILEX members to join the judiciary and said: “I want to see more judges from a CILEX background, bringing a range of professional backgrounds which will be invaluable in boosting our world-renowned judiciary… This country needs judges like you.”
Only last week, in the wake of the latest statistics on judicial diversity, CILEX chair Professor Chris Bones highlighted the need to allow CILEX lawyers to apply for more judicial roles – 73% of CILEX members are female.
In the last year CILEX lawyers were only eligible to apply for four out of the 24 judicial selection exercises, although last month Elizabeth Johnson became the first full-time CILEX judge, at the district tribunal level.
Mr Buckland also committed to working with CILEX on other legal barriers its practitioners faced, such as the restrictions on certifying copies of powers of attorney and from working as Crown Prosecutors.
In his address to the AGM, Professor Bones said he would be meeting with Mr Buckland to follow up on these barriers: “We are now working in some detail on ways to get these addressed. And where legislation is required, how space can be found in what is a challenging legislative environment thanks to the pandemic.”
Mr Buckland reiterated his support the new CILEX Professional Qualification, which received regulatory approval earlier this month.
The new qualification gave “an improved route of entry into the legal profession”, he said. “This means a broader representation in the sector – supporting our aims to increase social mobility by providing a flexible pathway to becoming a lawyer.”
Professor Bones told members: “From the moment of his appointment, it was clear to us that Robert Buckland understood both the role that specialist lawyers now play in legal services and that in CILEX he has a legal talent pool far more diverse and far closer to the general population than that of the other two professional bodies.
“Whilst the two other professional bodies continue to train and qualify generalist lawyers who then have to learn a specialism – often to the cost of their clients who pay fees that reflect the cost of their continued education as well as their time – CILEX stands out as qualifying specialist lawyers.
“The new CPQ cements this, along with building wider skills such as communications and digital technology seen as essential by today’s employers.
“We are producing lawyers better fit for today and the future, yet they continue to face barriers to being able to practice to the full benefit of their clients.”
Meanwhile, personal injury specialist Caroline Jepson took over as president of CILEX, its 58th, from criminal defence lawyer Craig Tickner.
She will chair the board of CILEX Professional, which is primarily focused on advancing the profession’s interests, and sit on CILEX’s main board.
“I consider myself to be a good example of what CILEX does well which is allowing people from diverse backgrounds who wouldn’t otherwise be able to become lawyers to have access to the legal profession. I went to a state school and didn’t go to university; neither did my parents.”
She said one of her priorities was to gain a greater understanding of the barriers faced by members to ensure they have the opportunity to progress in the profession on a par with solicitors and to instil “the ambition and confidence” in them to do so.
Her legal career began when she joined Irwin Mitchell as a typist in the personal injury department. She soon began studying with CILEX and eventually qualified as a CILEX Fellow, specialising in catastrophic injury claims.
After 17 years of practice, she became a brain and spinal injury case manager before becoming a governance manager for a rehabilitation company.
She is now operations director for a chain of gyms whilst also working part-time as a consultant case manager, specialising in brain injury claims.