Gemma Carter tells us how she used a legal secretary qualification as a starting point to a legal career

I first got into law after a discussion with school teachers in my final years of high school, and went on to study Legal Secretarial Skills for two years at college. Having got a job as a legal secretary, I heard about the CILEx route through a work colleague, and looked online about it and the next steps I can take in my career.

I started studying again at the age of 29, 11 years after starting work full time in law.

My personal circumstances while studying have been somewhat varied and challenging. I work full time whilst studying, and have had to overcome my mother being diagnosed with and fighting cancer and my boyfriend having a serious motorbike accident. The policy on supporting staff in their CILEx studies also changed in my firm, which took a bit of time to sort out before I could carry on with the Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice. This has now been sorted out and I am being funded to complete the Level 6 once I complete the Level 3 Diploma.

I am working in a law firm in London as a legal secretary in the conveyancing department. I am currently taking on more fee-earning duties, and my manager is in talks with HR about a more permanent fee-earning position in the future.

Generally, the CILEx route has been very helpful and good for me, as it allows me to study in my own time and lets me choose when I want to study and sit exams. It is flexible, and easy to plan around busy periods (ie Christmas, birthdays etc), and it is not a problem if you decide to go on holiday for 2 weeks or have a period of sickness. I completed the CILEx Level 3 Certificate in Law and Practice in six months, which included sitting three exams (Conveyancing, Land Law, and an Intro to Law and Practice) and two practice papers (Legal Research Skills and Client Care Skills). I have just sat three exams in January, thankfully because my employer entitled me to take study leave, and am sitting another two exams in June, so again I am completing the Level 3 Diploma in a shorter period of time than allocated (15 months).

In general, I would recommend studying to be a Chartered Legal Executive through distance learning to anyone wishing to push themselves further without having to go to university or take long periods of time off work. Discipline, planning ahead and a routine is needed, as is a decent computer, but my company allow me to work late in the evenings on my study exercises by using my work computer if I need to. I have had no hefty study fees as I am working full time, and it has definitely helped develop my current job role which is being recognised within my company also. My appraisal feedback at work has been fantastic because of my newfound understanding to the subjects I am studying. It has definitely given me more job satisfaction and progression in my company, and having the ability to get a student card and lots of discounts has been very rewarding also!