An extraordinary partnership

CILEX Chair Chris Bones responds to the findings of CILEX’s membership survey and lays out plans to tackle the treatment of CILEX practitioners in the workplace

First and foremost, congratulations to all those of you who have passed your recent exams. This year the challenges were even greater than for your colleagues who have come before you and to have moved forward in your career in these circumstances is an impressive achievement.

For those who face another attempt, do not lose heart – take inspiration from the TeamGB athletes who at the Olympics and Paralympics fell or pulled out, and their determination to be back competing and winning at the next event. Our great staff team are here to help you get back on track and meet your goals.

This quarter the focus of my thoughts is the extraordinary partnership between you, our members, and the CILEX membership team that has generated the first-ever industry-wide report on the experience of CILEX members in the workplace. The detail is covered in the main feature, but it’s the story it tells and how we can use this to start to change attitudes and behaviours at work that I want to tell you about.

There are two big themes that come out of the data you provided:

The former is an inspirational story of achievement, often against all the odds, of having to work even harder than those around you to achieve professional standing and status.

The latter is an awful indictment of the culture of many law firms, local authorities and private companies and, in particular, of the attitudes displayed by some solicitors which are both disrespectful and discriminatory. It is a story of how many of our members work in a hostile environment, not one that nurtures, develops and rewards equally for work of equal value.

It is a story of how many of our members work in a hostile environment, not one that nurtures, develops and rewards equally for work of equal value

Up until now the board has not had the empirical evidence to begin to tackle the daily abuse faced by many members as a result of working in poor-quality environments. Your willingness to spend 20-30 minutes sharing your experiences means for the first time we have a solid and representative body of data that is very difficult to argue with. Thanks to the 2,000 members who invested their time and energy, we can now move forward and start to challenge some of the basic unfairness that is starkly brought into relief through the survey.

So, the question for us is what to do and how to get it done. We spent time over the summer as a board and in partnership with the Professional Board, working through your data and establishing priorities.

Reading your feedback (over 1,000 of you added comments into your responses) allowed us to establish an agenda from which we can build our strategy for the next two to three years. This centres around four key themes that came through your narratives loud and clear:

Make justice better

You want to make justice better for the communities you come from and which you serve as clients. We believe this comes from having a more diverse profession at every level and the rejection of the social, educational and professional snobbery that even today defines attitudes in many of those who operate in our sector.

To do this you want us to continue to address current inequities and prejudices in the law and the legal system. Key goals here include:

You also want us to keep enhancing CILEX as a recognised and respected source of thought leadership and advocacy for the law and for an efficient and effective legal system. Key goals here include:

Make ourselves better

You want to succeed and achieve your career goals. You want to have the recognition you deserve for the world-class non-traditional qualification route through which you have come. Key goals here include:

Make work better

You want a work environment that is qualification-route blind and appoints, promotes and rewards on talent. One where, regardless of qualification, there is opportunity to have employer-funded training and CPD and where study leave and time to participate in professional life is made available. Key goals here include:

Proud of CILEX

You are incredibly proud of CILEX and what it has enabled you to do.

We need to retain that commitment and support by ensuring we create a positive culture and an attractive and engaging brand. We have to exploit digital to transform the efficiency and effectiveness of service delivery.

We also want to grow the power of CILEX Lawyers through expanding the qualification outside England and Wales and continue to reform our governance so that every CILEX member gets a voice, not just Fellows. Key goals here include:

Your feedback has set a significant agenda for the board, the professional board and the CILEX organisation. It is one that excites us and reinforces the activity already underway. The big new focus is on employment and employers. There is much we can do here in support of you, your career futures and your professional standing and I look forward to reporting back in future Journals about progress on this very important goal.