Linda Ford

Linda Ford

Chief Operating Officer at CILEx

On the institute’s work, its focus, apprenticeships, diversity and more

Linda, when did you join CILEx and what does your role entail?
I joined CILEx at the end of 2015 as COO with responsibility for the day to day running of the professional membership association and awarding body. Since June 2016 I have also been fulfilling the responsibilities of chief executive.

A key challenge this year has been to improve the financial performance of the institute, through a combination of cost reduction and increased income generation. My focus is now on working with our members, our Council and the wider CILEx Executive to develop a new vision, strategy and business plan to ensure that we continue to meet the needs of our members, delivering improved customer service, new products and services and providing support as they progress throughout their careers.

Can you tell us a bit about CILEx Apprenticeships?
CILEx has offered legal services apprenticeships for several years, complementing our existing work-based professional qualifications that enable people to qualify as lawyers without the need for going to university. CILEx apprenticeships have given employers a great opportunity to train the workforce they need in an affordable way.

We are now entering an exciting time as we launch the new employer-led Trailblazer apprenticeships for paralegals and chartered legal executives. As the needs of legal employers change, with new technologies and changing consumer needs, we feel our new qualifications offers are fit for purpose and meet the needs of employers and their workforce.

What other initiatives has the organisation got going on?
For 2017 our focus is on positioning our organisation for future success. A lot is changing in the legal and education sectors, and our members expect a high-performing institute to represent their best interests. To achieve this we hope to launch our new strategic and business plans in November 2016, build on our long-standing success with reforms to our membership and qualification offers, and utilise expanding technologies including introducing e-assessment. Our future success will be best-enabled by a reformed organisation too, and we are conducting a governance review to ensure our structures and processes remain fit for purpose. CILEx has a history of remaining ahead of the game, and that remains our ambition.

How do you drive employer engagement & what challenges do you face?
We have worked closely with employers on a variety of projects, and employers continue to value the qualifications and opportunities CILEx offers. Engaging employers can sometimes present challenges because they are busy adapting to a rapidly changing environment, but our local branches and network of study centres have productive relationships with employers across the country that we help facilitate and support.

Diversity is a big issue in the legal profession so how does CILEx engage with different communities?
CILEx offers a genuinely accessible and affordable route to a career in law. Providing a non-university route means there are fewer barriers for people from diverse or disadvantaged backgrounds to becoming a lawyer through the CILEx route. Because of that, three-quarters of our lawyers are women, one third of our new students are from BAME backgrounds, and they are now able to progress and practice independently, establish their own law firms, or become a partner or judge.

Some barriers remain, including anomalies that we are working with the Government to overcome, but with the Lord Chancellor's focus on improving diversity and social mobility in the judiciary and legal profession, CILEx is offering a clear set of achievable changes that can really improve the diversity of the sector to ensure it better reflects the society it serves.

How is CILEx driving career development?
CILEx is continuing to open up career opportunities for our lawyers and paralegals. For many years CILEx lawyers were not able to conduct the full range of reserved legal activities independently, meaning that some were having their career opportunities inhibited. CILEx, along with our independent regulator CILEx Regulation, successfully campaigned for a change in the law and now chartered legal executives have the same practice rights opportunities as solicitors and can establish their own law firms delivering the full range of legal services.

New opportunities are around the corner, as we continue to push for extending judicial appointments, and as CILEx Regulation prepares its application to become a licensing authority for Alternative Business Structures (ABSs). CILEx members have never had so many potential career destinations, and there are more to come.

How is CILEx embracing new technologies?
Technology is a key area of interest for CILEx. Not only are we looking to technology to provide solutions to help us work more efficiently and effectively, but we are introducing more online services for members. For example, the first exams delivered using e-assessment will take place this November, we are providing responsive customer service assistance via social media with the hashtag #CILExhelp, and we are developing our websites to allow us to improve our membership engagement through online discussion forums, virtual specialist reference groups, webinars etc. Our members, and particular students, are using technology more than ever before, and we are expanding our service offers in new and exciting mediums.

In your view, what do chartered legal executives and paralegals of the future need to be?
A key strategic priority for the CILEx group is to develop professionals who can meet current and future market need. Technology is likely to play an increasing role in the delivery of legal services, we are already seeing digitisation of services, artificial intelligence and court service reforms with the introduction of online courts and electronic case files and our members will need the skills to embrace these new ways of working. Legal professionals also increasingly need to use wider business skills and we are looking at our qualifications to ensure they reflect this.

Employers tell us they want chartered legal executives and paralegals to be specialists in their fields, experienced on the job, and able to engage and support clients from diverse backgrounds. But more than that, CILEx members need to be ambitious and aim high - this is a profession whose time has come, and I know they have the ability and opportunity to achieve anything they set their minds to.