Legal profession failing society by ignoring students without degrees

Legal profession “failing society” by ignoring students without degrees

11 February 2021

The legal profession is failing society in ignoring the potential of people without degrees, CILEX (the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives) says today.

Changes being introduced this year to the way solicitors qualify pay lip service to social mobility and diversity, but continue to require that students have a higher education qualification or equivalent work experience. Barristers must have a degree.

As a result, these professions continue to operate with scant regard for the ambitions of government, as laid out in the recent skills white paper, that want to “put an end to the illusion that a degree is the only route to success and a good job”.

CILEX, the body that pioneered the non-university route into law, today announces a redesigned approach to on-the-job training that will marry legal knowledge with the practical skills, behaviours and commercial awareness needed by lawyers in the 2020s.

In a first for legal training in the UK, the CILEX Professional Qualification (CPQ) introduces mandatory training on legal technology, business skills and emotional intelligence.

Professor Chris Bones, the chair of CILEX, says: “One of the reasons the public distrusts lawyers – and why many talented people choose a different career – is that the profession does not reflect the society it serves and appears a closed shop reserved for a certain type of person.”

The Social Mobility Commission has recognised[1] how the privately educated still dominate the legal profession: around 21% of solicitors[2] and 34%[3] of barristers attended fee-paying schools, compared to 7% of the general population. More than half of them have parents with degree-level qualifications, compared to 19% in the general population. Two-thirds of the most senior judges in England and Wales were privately educated[4].

CILEX CEO Linda Ford says: “We must encourage students who may never have thought the law was for them to realise that there is an accessible and affordable route to qualification. By doing so, we can transform the provision of legal services and improve access to justice.”

CILEX believes that radical reform is needed – 3.6m people have an unmet legal need each year, while half of small businesses deal with legal issues without a lawyer, according to official estimates[5].

A report last November from the Legal Services Board, the legal sector’s oversight regulator, said “the pace of progress needs to rapidly accelerate to ensure that the legal profession at all levels reflects the diversity of the communities it serves”. There was, it found, “deep-seated inertia” hindering change[6].

For over 50 years CILEX has been the only route to qualifying as a lawyer without requiring a degree and, even in today’s Britain, it remains the case that there is a subtle – and at times not-so-subtle – level of discrimination against CILEX Lawyers in the legal profession because they did not go to university.

This is despite the fact that government changes introduced over the last decade mean that today CILEX Lawyers, like solicitors, are partners in law firms, appear in court as advocates, operate as legal counsel in the private and public sector, and sit as judges.

By not making a higher-education qualification or experience a pre-requisite, CPQ will be a substantially more affordable way for students to become lawyers than the new Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) coming into force this autumn – delivering on CILEX’s commitment to accessibility while not compromising standards.

To complete all three stages of the CPQ and qualify as a CILEX Lawyer over five to six years will cost a maximum of £12,500 – less for those who already have some kind of legal qualification. By comparison, to complete a degree and the SQE will cost around £40,000.


[5] Legal Services Board, State of Legal Services 2020:

[6] Ibid, p29

For further information, please contact:

Louise Eckersley, Black Letter Communications on 0203 567 1208  or email:

[email protected]

Kerry Jack, Black Letter Communications on 07525 756 599 or email:

[email protected]