Close up legs of businesswoman walking stepping up stair in modern city, business growth, go up, success, grow up business concept

I’m Lara Brand, a Chartered Legal Executive, at Womble Bond Dickinson (UK) LLP (a top 20 UK law firm, top 80 worldwide).  I’m based in WBD’s Bristol office in the commercial property team.  I advise a broad range of high profile clients, predominately on commercial landlord and tenant matters for property developers, retailers, transport infrastructure clients and government bodies. I have also worked on multi-landowner wind and solar projects.

Womble Bond Dickinson have been an incredibly supportive employer and are even supporting me in further study, which means a lot of my mornings, lunchtimes, evenings and weekends are still spent studying! However I do still get a little time to enjoy one of my passions, cycling. In 2017 I cycled in the Tour de Bristol, raising money for St Peter’s Hospice (Womble Bond Dickinson’s chosen charity for 2017-18), and in 2018 I completed two sprint distance triathlons and cycled in the BPAA Sportive.

Despite having good A- Level results in school and having university as an option available to me, I made a bold decision that university wasn’t for me. “Why?”, you may ask.

Well there were a number of factors involved with this decision, but most prominently, I couldn’t justify the cost of university without the guarantee of a job at the end.  Had I chosen to qualify through university, it knew that it would have cost me in the region of £30,000 for tuition fees alone and then living costs on top. Furthermore, almost all of my school peers were attending university. I was concerned about the number of graduates that would be looking for jobs at the same time and whether there would be enough jobs for those graduates.

One of the experiences that I feel encapsulated the boldness of my decision not to go to university was the enormous pressure my sixth form tutors were putting me under to attend. One tutor even told me that I was wasting both his and my time doing my A-Levels if university wasn’t on my agenda. Fortunately, I have very supportive parents who took an unbiased approach and helped me decide how to proceed.

I knew I wanted to qualify as a lawyer and after some research, I chose to study through CILEx.

Following my decision not to go to university, I chose the CILEx route because it was affordable, I could study anywhere in the country (because I studied distance learning with CILEx Law School) and I could gain invaluable experience by working whilst I studied.  This gave me an advantage over my school peers who had made the decision to go to university and had a mountain of debt behind them with little or no work experience.

Had I qualified as a solicitor through the university route, I would have likely qualified as a solicitor in 2018 but been burdened with enormous student debt.

Instead, in 2018 I qualified as a Chartered Legal Executive – debt free!

In 2021 my hope is to qualify further. Whilst this is three years later than it may have been had I gone to university, I’ve got no student debt and I’ve got a vast number of years’ experience behind me. I’m trusted to run my own files and to advise high profile clients on a wide range of commercial property matters.

When I got into my first role I found that it was a steep but very successful learning curve and built a great foundation for where I am now. Although it was challenging, I enjoyed it so much and it confirmed I’d made the right career choice.

In my career as a whole there’s a number of moments that spring to mind as career highs and moments that I’m proud of but the one I’d like to talk about most is the mentoring I do. I provide mentoring to both a CILEx student at WBD and a GCSE student from a local Bristol school.

For the GCSE student, I provide careers advice ranging from how to write a CV, assisting with job applications, teaching interview skills and helping with career planning.  The moment that really stood out to me was when the student was sincerely grateful for the help I’d provided and told me that they now had the knowledge and confidence needed to pursue their chosen career.

I help the CILEx student with their learning and career progression at WBD. It’s really rewarding seeing how well they have developed since they started their journey.

When I was studying the CILEx route I found that the exams were challenging but relevant to the workplace. Overall, it was satisfying and worthwhile and has clearly helped me reach the position I’m in today. I’d definitely recommend CILEx to anyone considering a career in law. It can be a long slog but stick with it – it’s worth it!


Father and son on a bicycle laneOur latest instalment of  the CILEx blog comes from Ian Hunt. Ian has been a Fellow of the institute since 1992 and is the managing partner at East Devon Law.

I am privileged to live and work in the beautiful county of Devon with my wife, family and 4 dogs. I am now the managing partner of East Devon Law, which I founded in June 2012 and am very fortunate to have our offices situated within the grounds of a private country estate in East Devon, in a converted Dairy. I love living in Devon as it has such a wonderful mix of coast and countryside and enjoy walking my dogs along the river or on the beach, as well as assisting in training youth groups to compete in the annual Ten Tors challenge on Dartmoor each year.

When it comes to my experience of law, my grandfather and father were both Legal Executives and when it came around to choosing my work experience placement my father found me a spot in a local firm of solicitors in Poole. I enjoyed my time with the firm and was invited back during the school holidays, which then led to a job offer when I left school for good.

My training covered all areas of law, starting in conveyancing then moving on to include family law, civil litigation and private client work. My grandfather was a private client lawyer, and my father a commercial conveyancer. Whilst my father was keen for me to follow in his footsteps, I found the private client work much more interesting and it satisfied my instinctive need to help and support people, something that had been instilled in me by my parents and at school. The challenge of the many and varied aspects of that discipline still drives me today and I have never regretted choosing that path.

I really enjoy my role with East Devon Law, I love the challenge of finding the most practical and cost-effective solution to a client’s problem. Running and managing my own firm means that I have to be able to adapt to any situation and the have great intuition as you never quite know what will be asked of you. Having the luxury of no targets or time restraints being imposed on me also allows creativity and an opportunity to dispel a lot of preconceptions that lawyers are only out to make money and don’t care about their clients.

Although I have enjoyed my roles, for a time in my career I was involved in a lot of Coroners work, it was a very difficult and challenging time particularly when have to emotionally support bereaved families at a tragic time in their lives. Whilst at times it was very difficult to be strong and supportive to those families, I felt a real sense of achievement helping them reach closure on such a desperate period in their lives. It also leads me to still harbour the desire to consider becoming a coroner in the future, should the opportunity arise.

One very specialist part of my work is helping families that have children with learning difficulties or brain injuries, to set up a disabled person’s trust to protect their future and enable that person to have a certain degree of independence. Having personally suffered a stroke at age 28 which resulted in a 5 year recovery period, I had experienced a great deal of support and encouragement from my friends, family and colleagues. As such, I am driven by the desire to assist others in a similar situation to help protect and empower them in a caring and supportive way so they feel valued and able to live as normal a life as possible.

Studying through the CILEx route allowed me the ability to balance gathering the practical skills that I needed to do my day to day work, with having the technical knowledge that is essential to the legal sector. It also gave me a chance to develop important personal skills whilst learning the theory that enables you to give the correct advice to your clients. There is also the major advantage of being paid for your day job whilst studying in your free time and not having large educational debts, particularly as I was privileged enough for my firm paid for all of my training, tuition and exam fees. On a personal level, it also gave me the confidence to apply the law theory and other skills that we were taught, allowing me to grow and develop as a professional.

My personal goal for the next few years is to continue to campaign for the recognition that Chartered Legal Executives are equal to other qualified lawyers and should be treated and regarded in the same light. For example, I was the first non-solicitor to be accepted as a member of the Equity Release Council, but this took some considerable time to gain both the council’s recognition of Legal Executives as an equal to Solicitors and to accept their first CILEx professional as a member to the council. I hope to be working with CILEx HQ to encourage more Fellows to consider setting up their own to go to gain entity regulation.

Advice that I would give to any CILEx trainees would be to not overlook private client work just because it seems rather unglamorous compared to the cut and thrust of other legal areas such as conveyancing or advocacy work. However, due to an ever-ageing population, more people are developing age-related illnesses such as dementia, the need for good advice on providing for your future and protecting your families interest, has never been greater. As the work is widely varied and hugely rewarding it should not be overlooked by anyone who has a caring and empathetic outlook on life.

In years gone by, self-employment or setting up your own firm may have been a pipe dream. However, with the ever changing legal services market and the increased demand from clients looking for a more personalised approach – not to mention the great range of support and help services now available through CILEx Regulation to support you – there has ever been a better time to consider taking the plunge and putting your destiny on your own hands. This will enable you to use your hard-earned skills and knowledge to provide excellent professional advice whilst retaining traditional values which today’s clients so badly need.

Workdesk with decoration and copy space

The next blog in our series comes from Karen Whyte who was recently recognised at the CILEx National Award Ceremony for Achieving the highest overall grade in the Level 6 Law and Practice exams. Now let’s hand it over to Karen to give you her view…

Hi! I’m Karen Whyte from Larkfield in Kent. I currently work as a Lawyer in Property and Regeneration for Mid Kent Legal Services, which is the shared legal service between Swale, Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells Borough Councils. Along with being a Lawyer I am also the proud mum of Sinead (12) . When I’m not working or at home I enjoy going to the gym, yoga, going for coffee and days out with friends and family.

The reason that I was first drawn to law as a profession was that I wanted to do something that would make me a role model for my daughter. I had always been interested in legal work particularly with finding out how laws were agreed and made.

I decided to get into it a little later on and coming into law as a mature student with a family, I needed the option to be able to study flexibly, earn a living whist studying and also have the ability to study at a speed that would be suited to me. Flexibility was the main want for me when searching. I knew that realistically a university degree course followed by professional studies would not have met the criteria that I was looking for. After searching and looking through the various options I found that CILEx was perfect for what I was looking for… Flexibility!

The CILEx route allowed me to earn the money I needed to support my daughter as a single mother, whilst progressing my career through further study. This felt to me like the best of both worlds.

Leading up to my first exam I remember feeling very nervous, this may even be an understatement. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am not the most confident person and as such I was always nervous before exams – but I certainly found that feeling this way helped motivate me to study hard. Being given the award for highest overall grade in the level 6 Law and Practice exam was an incredible achievement in light of all the nerves that I felt going into each exam.

When it comes to revision for exams I have my own mad method that works for me. I’m not sure that I would encourage anyone else to try it but it may work for some people who think like me. Initially I always make sure that I am very organised with a study timetable, I make sure that I create a study plan for at least 2 months before the exam. On this timetable I would include time to explain something that I have learned to someone (even if they don’t understand it), discuss topics with other students from the course, studying past papers, reviewing tutor feedback and also planning in time to rest from studying to let all that you have learned sink in. Managing my time, including rest breaks, is what has worked well for me with revision.

Since studying with CILEx I have been able to progress in a career that I love whilst developing my knowledge, skills and confidence. I could not recommend CILEx highly enough.

My advice to anyone who is about to take their exams, whether it’s for the first time or the tenth time would be this – DON’T PANIC! It is much easier to give this advice than to take it but just make sure that you are not worrying too much about what others around you are doing and just focus on you.



University students sitting in a libraryHi! I’m Abi Exelby. Let me begin by telling you a little bit about myself, I am a Chartered Legal Executive Apprentice at North Yorkshire County Council, currently working in the Education, Employment & Litigation Team. I recently finished my Paralegal Apprenticeship in Summer 2018 and am now working towards completing the Level 3 Diploma before moving on to Level 6, hoping to qualify in the next few years. Outside of work I like to be away adventuring with my partner, Callum, and our dog, Alfie, in our little van which we are converting into a camper – very slowly might I add.

I can remember the time that I first decided that working in law was something exciting that I’d like to pursue. It was when during my secondary school work experience where I attended a local firm of solicitors and from that point onward knew that I would find a career in law interesting. Working in law also seemed to suit my interests and skill set, I think it was the problem solving aspect of legal work that really interested me. The other areas of study that I had been interested in were psychology, criminology and mental health nursing, but ultimately I felt that law was the best fit for me.

After finishing my A Levels I hadn’t been sure that I definitely wanted to go to university, so took a job as a Legal Secretary with a local firm. One of the partners was a Legal Executive so, when I began to look at how I could further my progression, I was already very aware of the CILEx route. CILEx seemed to give me an opportunity to pursue a career in law without first going off to university.

Just before I started my CILEx journey I had a bit of a career wobble as I was struggling to find an opportunity with progression and disastrously very nearly ended up studying accountancy, no offence intended to any accountants. I couldn’t be more glad that the opportunity at NYCC came up when it did, as I would have absolutely hated a job involving so much maths!

When I got over this little career bump, I applied to begin my CILEx Journey. The application process was all part of my apprenticeship enrolment so it was very straightforward and I only needed to fill in a couple of forms and provide evidence of qualifications – everything else was handled by my employer and CILEx Law School.

Since getting involved in law I have loved working within each of the different legal teams; Property, Business & Environmental Services, Child Care, Adults, Contracts & Procurement, Education, Employment & Litigation.  I really feel that having experience in such a range of departments has given me a good grounding to begin to discover which area of law I am best suited to. Switching between the teams has also been really helpful in supporting my studies as it helps to be able to apply the knowledge to real-life situations. This has also provided me with opportunities to obtain advice and assistance from colleagues with lots of expertise in the areas of law I have been studying.

Studying alongside working in a new job definitely brings challenges and I have learned that you need to be focused to ensure that you don’t let your work or studies slip. It’s a balancing act. In this process I have found that there are lots of resources and support available. Personally I felt very lucky that I was able to obtain assistance from my employer, my colleagues, my training provider and from CILEx directly. Ultimately, I think that it is really helpful to study alongside a new role as you will learn about the law that goes hand in hand with day-to-day tasks that you carry out in your job. As an apprentice, you get a certain amount of protected learning (off the job) time each week which helps you fit your studies in.

If I was to say that there is one thing that has surprised me about working in law it would be the sheer variety of work. Law quite literally underpins everything we do and whilst most people will have some concept of that, I think it takes working in a legal environment to fully open your eyes to the constant need to be aware of, understand and ultimately interpret the law. Particularly before starting at NYCC, I wondered how much legal work a local council does and it is safe to say I severely underestimated how much they actually do! There is a legal process behind so many things – things most people wouldn’t even consider! It can be anything from closing a road due to a pipe bursting, right through to more obvious things like protection of vulnerable adults and children.

When I first began my apprenticeship, it was quite daunting to think of the long journey ahead and I did find that I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. In time I found that it really helped me to break things down into manageable chunks and realise that CILEx is very flexible in that regard, as you can take your studies at your own pace. My training provider gave me a clear training plan for the duration of my apprenticeship, which made it seem much more achievable.

My only regret in this whole process is that I did not begin this sooner. So my advice to anyone looking to get into law through CILEx would be to get started, look to secure an apprenticeship or, if possible, speak to an employer to discuss whether it would be possible to undertake an apprenticeship with them. I recently found out that apprenticeships are now funded by the government levy, employers may be in a better position to help, even in spite of the current economical climate.

If you have a similar journey to Abi we would love to hear from you! Please comment below with any questions queries or comments and we would live to help. Equally if you would just like to share a bit of your experience please let us know and we may ask you too to be a contributor for the CILEx Blog.