Interview with new CILEx Chief Exec Mandie Lavin

The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) has announced that Mandie Lavin is to be appointed as its new Chief Executive, taking over the post on January 1 2015 upon the retirement of Diane Burleigh OBE.

In her first interview about her appointment at CILEx, Miss Lavin, currently director of regulation at the General Optical Council, talks to Today’s Conveyancer about her enthusiasm for the role and the challenges she thinks it will bring…..

Although your background is law, you’ve been working in a different sector for a few years. What’s drawn you back to the legal profession?

‘I’m fundamentally interested in the legal sector — obviously I’m a lawyer myself — and I love the evolving nature of the law and the way it shifts in line with changes in society. The opportunity with CILEx came along at precisely the right time — I’ve always been deeply committed to its principles and had worked with the CILEx team when I was at the Bar Standards Board. I appreciate the way people who might not otherwise be able to enter the legal profession can, through CILEx — that resonates with me as I didn’t become a lawyer through a traditional route and had an apprenticeship-type entry into the profession myself. I trained as a nurse initially and took a work-study career path — I studied for my law degree part-time at South Bank University while working full-time night duty as a nurse in a hospital in South London. My interest in the legal profession sparked through a boyfriend who was a solicitor — he talked about his work and I found it so interesting. Law wasn’t a path that would have ever occurred to me, even though I passed my 11-plus and went to an excellent girls’ grammar school in North London. But I didn’t have that wide a horizon — I’d never have believed I had the capacity to go off and train as a lawyer. I don’t come from a legal family or a medical family — my father worked in construction and my mother in a doctor’s surgery as a receptionist. So I didn’t have people around me who were engaged in professional life. To think I could enter it — well, it was quite a revelation and studying at South Bank was completely and utterly inspiring. Professor Mike Molan, Executive Dean, and his team generated this amazing vision and belief within me. Then the opportunity arose to study and become a barrister. So I really believe in what CILEx does. I’ve employed people who have CILEx qualifications and what they offer in terms of flexibility and accessibility is so important. The qualifications are not tied up with lots of red tape and gateways to entry. And we need Chartered Legal Executives from different backgrounds. Providing legal services to the public and upholding the rule of law is vitally important in society and it’s only right that it’s undertaken by a diverse legal profession.’

What, in your opinion, are the biggest challenges facing lawyers at the moment?

‘The whole of the legal landscape is shifting and changing in everything from the new types of legal services people require to the new delivery models and business structures lawyers are adopting. Clients are looking for legal services that are accessible and cost-effective and the need for lawyers to work cross-discipline is increasing dramatically. Then of course the change in government expenditure on legal services is having a fundamental impact. There are challenges but it’s an exciting time to be a legal professional too.’

What do you think are the major issues affecting conveyancing lawyers in particular?

‘Conveyancing is important to CILEx — in a recent survey 26% of its members stated that they specialised in conveyancing. And I want to see them all making a positive contribution to people’s experience of moving house! I moved house about a year ago and it’s an interesting reaction from people when you tell them you’ve put an offer in — a sympathetic look and: ‘Oh my goodness, you poor thing. How could you want to put yourself through that?’ But actually you’re buying a lovely house that you want to live in and that should be a happy experience. Then, when the sale’s gone through, there’s incredulity — I had people knocking my door and saying ‘You’ve done it! You’ve moved house!’ as if a miracle had occurred. It’s a strange reaction and one that I hope changes. I hope a time comes when people will say: ‘You’re buying a house — that’s so exciting and you’re going to be supported by legal professionals who work to a really high standard and will deliver an efficient and effective service.’ The requirements for people to stay up to date in their professional practise are always changing and that’s the same for any legal professional, whether they work in conveyancing or employment law. There’s always some new case law we should be reading or government proposals we have to be on top of. Staying up to date is a constant challenge. And the other major challenge for conveyancers, as it is for all legal professionals, is in achieving a balance right between the commercial focus and the service focus. We want to provide a service but we have to balance the books as well.’

Many Today’s Conveyancer readers believe there is too much red tape in the sector. Would you agree that the legal profession as a whole is being bound by increasing layers of bureaucracy?

‘I’m quite intrigued by this word bureaucracy and the negative reaction to it — because, to some extent, the whole foundation of law is bureaucracy and setting rules. There have to be safeguards and processes around our profession to ensure things are done properly. There has to be sound governance. It seems to me that the word bureaucracy has all these negative connotations but actually if you’re going to provide the right level of service to clients efficiently and effectively that has to be supported by systems and safeguards that are focused on quality. Of course, in our professional lives, we all see things that could be approached more flexibly but sometimes I think we are quite good at making matters more complex than they need to be. We have to see the challenge there and take pride in managing cases properly and professionally.’

Will you be quite hands on in your new role?

‘Yes, engaging with the membership is one of the fundamental reasons I want to be Chief Executive of CILEx — understanding what’s going on in our members working lives’ and finding out what CILEx can do to make things easier and help. We already assist through continuing education, training and development and systems of peer support and mentoring are all things I’m committed to. The whole value of having qualifications through CILEx and being a member is that the support doesn’t stop when you qualify — there’s always someone you can pick up the phone to and share your experience with. That, to me, is what CILEx is about. Part of being a true professional is realising that we don’t — can’t — know everything and that there are times when we need advice. We all have situations we haven’t faced before and being a professional is about talking to others in the industry who have faced that situation and learning. Members of CILEx are growing, thinking professionals and that has to be celebrated and encouraged.’

What are you most excited about with regards to your new role?

‘I’m looking forward to working in the countryside and with the fabulous team at CILEx — a fabulous team doing fabulous work. I believe I can make a difference and build on all the wonderful things that Diane has done. She is a phenomenally inspirational woman and it’s a privilege and an honour to be selected to replace her.’

So the next six months you’ll be preparing to take over as Chief Executive in January 2015?

‘Yes, I’ll do a lot of reading and, just as importantly, a lot of talking to people. It’s a time of consolidating what I’ve done at the General Optical Council and handing over to my successor there and focusing on what’s on the horizon and preparing myself in the best possible way for taking up the post. I’m going to a couple of conferences about legal education and looking at my own continuing development and training. Learning is what keeps the world of work exciting and stimulating and that’s what CILEx offers and why I’m so positive about starting there in January.’

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