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the suits

At 41, David Pipkin is the youngest-ever president of the Institute of Legal Executives (Ilex). But if he is at all fazed by this, he is not showing it. Instead he points out that Peter Goldsmith QC, chairman of the Bar Council, is also young and that, anyway, since he started at 16, after leaving school, he has 25 years' experience of the law.

In Mr Pipkin's view, this practical expertise is one of his organisation's greatest strengths. While the Law Society has gone ever further down the graduate route, Ilex continues to base a legal qualification on hard experience: it takes five years to attain the fellowship qualification, which Mr Pipkin insists is of degree standard.

In addition the institute has recently established a separate arm to run paralegal training courses. Mr Pipkin stresses that legal executives are different from mostpeople in law offices who are commonly termed paralegals and can just as commonly not be qualified. The idea is to give these people - particularly legal secretaries - the chance to add a qualification to the working knowledge they are picking up on a daily basis.

The new Ilex president caught the law bug early, having been recommended to "give it a go" by a careers teacher when he decided that he did not want to attend university. Almost immediately, he was hooked by litigation and soon specialised in personal injury work.

Initially, he worked on behalf of plaintiffs with various firms of trade union solicitors. But in recent years he has worked on the other side, chiefly for insurers, at the City firm of Davies Arnold Cooper. "I hope I appear sympathetic," he says of his switch of sides.

Acknowledging that representing the defendants is often viewed as a cynical calling, he stresses that the DAC philosophy is to "get the case settled, don't obstruct". Anything else just does not make sense, he adds.

Nevertheless he does believe that the introduction of no-win, no-fee and other plans may be putting too much pressure on parties to reach quick resolutions. Contributing to the debate on such issues is one of the key ways in which Mr Pipkin, who took office in July, is hoping to raise the profile of his organisation.

The legal executive is a US phenomenon and the institute itself grew out of the Association of Managing Clerks in 1963. Although the expansion of further education has meant that its numbers have not reached the levels they might have, it now has 22,500 members and a well-organised secretariat based near Bedford.

But while this represents good progress, Mr Pipkin believes his organisation is missing out in one sector of society: the disabled. With the Disability Discrimination Bill expected to become law later this year, he is making the promotion of opportunities for disabled people a special theme for his presidential year of office.