From paralegal to solicitor: Can I change careers?

  • Last updated 26-Jul-2016 10:00:25
  • Samuel Clague, Founder, The Stephen James Partnership

Working as a paralegal either in-house or within a law firm can provide law graduates with an excellent opportunity to see how the organisation works, and potentially put into practice some of the skills acquired from university/law school such as drafting and legal research. For some, working as a career paralegal is preferable to working as a solicitor, and many people choose this route for a variety of reasons including work-life balance and stability.

Moving on from paralegal work

Alternatively, there are also many people who work as paralegals as a way of building up valuable legal experience, with the ultimate aim of obtaining a training contract. Changing from working as a paralegal to a solicitor is possible; however this is certainly not an easy route, with competition for training contracts for those even with law degrees and GDL qualifications being exceptionally high.

Use your networks

If you are working as a paralegal and looking to progress at your current firm, you should in the first instance discern whether progression is possible by startingwith some research and networking. Firstly, find out if there are any solicitors with the firm who began their careers as paralegals. See if you can find out how they were able to progress: What steps did they take? How long did they work as a paralegal for? Were they involved in work for the firm outside of their core paralegal duties? Any advice they can provide will help to establish the steps you’ll need to take. Due to the nature of this type of progression, it can also be very hard to establish how long it may take to eventually secure a training contract.

Does my paralegal experience count?

If you have worked as a paralegal carrying out legal work, and you go on to secure a training contract, you are permitted to apply to have your paralegal experience to be recognised and count towards your time as a trainee solicitor. This is known as ’time to count’, and has to be both confirmed by the firm in which you undertook the paralegal work and accepted by any firm you join as a trainee. You are able to recoup up to half of the time you have worked, up to a maximum period of six months. For example, a four-month period would count for two months of your training contract. The only caveat is that in order for your time to count to be eligible, the time you spend as a paralegal must have been gained within a period three years prior to your application.

Experience gained working as a paralegal will show prospective employers that you are committed to the legal profession, regardless of if you are looking to work as a career paralegal or a solicitor. The road to a career as a solicitor when you are working as a paralegal can be very tough, and you will inevitably have set-backs along the way. However in the long-term, if you do progress to become a solicitor, spending a few extra years as a paralegal will not necessarily be to your detriment, but may actually make you a better lawyer.

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