Caroline Jepson: 'We need you to take legal executives seriously'
29 July 2021
The new president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives is fighting 'snobbishness' to demand fair pay and equal recognition for her profession
Caroline Jepson is on a mission to finally create a level playing field for legal executives — a branch of the profession that has been overshadowed for years by solicitors and barristers.
Taking over this month as the 58th president of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEX), Jepson says that throughout her 15-year career as a qualified legal executive she has experienced “snobbishness” from members of the more established branches of the legal profession.
Jepson says that she feels she has been “looked down on because I went to state school and am CILEX. It affects your confidence. There’s only so much you can take being told, ‘You’re not as good as we are.’ ”
She wants to remove the barriers so that other legal professionals see CILEX members as being on the same level. Her message is clear: “We are as good as you and we need you to take us seriously.”
A big part of levelling the playing field, Jepson says, is to challenge the “significant pay disparity”, which involves CILEX members being paid “thousands of pounds less than solicitors for doing exactly the same job”.
Part of her task, she accepts, is the need to help law firms, who are generally run by solicitors, understand CILEX members better. “We want to work with them”, she says, adding: “It’s not about us and them — it’s 2021 and we shouldn’t be treating people differently in a way that’s discriminatory.”
Jepson is also determined to carry on the work of her predecessor, Craig Tickner, a criminal practitioner, to remove the “archaic” legal barriers that CILEX practitioners face, such as the restrictions on certifying copies of powers of attorney and on working as Crown prosecutors.
Born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire in 1976, Jepson is the daughter of a welder and retail supervisor. She left school at 17 having attained her best GSCE grades in clerical studies, where she learnt typing and shorthand.
On leaving school, she started working as an office junior at a three-partner law firm in Rotherham, earning £50 a week.
“That was my first ever taste of the law and I quickly thought it was an exciting environment to work in”, she says.
In the days when partners had first and second secretaries, Jepson found a job on the first rung of the ladder in the typing pool of the personal injury department at Irwin Mitchell and worked her way up.
She was “wide-eyed and mesmerised by the cases and the work lawyers did” — and jumped at the chance to study for the CILEX qualification while working full time. At the same time, she had progressed to being a paralegal and was handling catastrophic injury cases.
After 17 years, Jepson became a brain and spinal injury case manager before changing career to become a governance manager for a rehabilitation company.
While there she met a consultant and businessman who offered her the opportunity to become a shareholder and run his three gyms in Sheffield.
Jepson, who had always enjoyed fitness and also worked as a personal trainer, accepted the offer, partly because she had just given birth to a daughter at the age of 41 and she wanted more professional flexibility.
“The job combined the two passions in my life — law and fitness,” she says. She is now operations director for the chain of gyms while also working part-time as a consultant case manager, specialising in brain injury claims.
Jepson is passionate about the opportunities offered by the new CILEX professional qualification, which she says provides a flexible and affordable route into the law
that will open the profession to a more diverse pool of candidates — and go some way to remove the snobbery.
Speaking at the CILEX Annual General Meeting last week, Robert Buckland, the lord chancellor, extolled the CILEX route to becoming a lawyer as “incredibly effective in creating a diverse pool of practitioners with a range of backgrounds and experiences”.
He called on more of them to become judges, adding: “The justice system is far richer with you in it.”
The possibility of a judicial post intrigues Jepson. “There comes a point in your career when you consider it — and that is definitely something I’ve got in my sights. The judiciary is crying out for more diversity. CILEX is the answer — we are a truly diverse profession.”
Complaints about overwork and bullying among judges, she says, is “hardly encouraging” to her members, but Jepson hopes that the greater diversity brought about by having more CILEX judges will have the effect of “stamping out” the latter.
“Greater diversity will organically change people’s behaviour,” she hopes, dreaming aloud: “Imagine a judiciary more representative of the community it serves — that behaviour [bullying] wouldn’t be tolerated”.
Married to a police officer, Jepson still enjoys working out. “I run three gyms, but I don’t train in any of them. I train in my own mini-gym in the garage at home, once my daughter has gone to bed.”