Oct 18, 2019

Written By David Carnes

Aspiring trainees: paralegal work and equivalent means

Oct 18, 2019

Written By David Carnes

Unless you embark on a solicitors apprenticeship, a university degree is required as the first step in becoming a qualified solicitor. An LLB law degree is one option; however, a non-law degree can lead to qualification as a solicitor, although the postgraduate qualification process will be extended (and therefore more expensive).

Since late 2014, however, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has introduced an alternative pathway by which individuals with a certain length and quality of legal experience can qualify as solicitors without either a university degree or a training contract. The road is anything but easy, however—it requires extensive documentation and quite a bit of cooperation from your employer.  

- SRA requirements for equivalent-means qualification as a solicitor

- To qualify as a solicitor under the equivalent means programme, you must: 

- Accumulate overall legal experience of more than two years, typically as a paralegal;  

- Gain significant legal experience in at least three distinct areas—education law, employment law and personal injury, for example;

- Compete an application form;

- Provide sufficient evidence of the merit of your application with your application package;

- Pay an application fee of £600;

- Wait several weeks for a reply, and correct any deficiencies in your application that the SRA demands that you correct (typically within two weeks);

- Complete the Professional Skills Course; and

- Pass a background investigation, including a criminal records check.

You can expect the entire process to take about six months, although more time may be required if problems arise.

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The evaluation process

Once you submit your application fee to the SRA, it will review your application package and forward it to an external assessor for a more extensive evaluation. Your application will be screened based on how well you have worked alongside qualified solicitors; the nature of the work you have undertaken; the level of supervision of your work; your feedback and appraisals and your interaction with clients.

 The evaluation will examine the similarity between your work and the work which would be done by someone on a training contract. In terms of your experience and performance, you will be expected to have demonstrated the same level of competence that is expected of a trainee. Simply “working as a paralegal” will not be enough.

Evidence to support your application

A typical successful application package could contain several hundred pages of information. This information should include:

- Evidence that you are paid at least the normal rate of the National Minimum Wage—payslips, for example.

- Evidence of practical experience in at least three different areas of English and Welsh law. If your firm does not offer this opportunity, you could consider arranging for a secondment that would allow you to gain the breadth of experience necessary to qualify. In fact, this may turn out to be the only option for some applicants.

- Evidence that you have developed the practical skills necessary for success in the legal profession, including sufficient skills in both contentious and non-contentious work to qualify under the SRA Practice Skills Standards.

- A training skills record verified by your supervisor. This record should be comprehensive and detailed.

- Evidence that you were closely supervised by qualified solicitors or other professionals with extensive experience in the law of England and Wales.

- Regular, extensive and positive feedback/appraisals from supervisors who are intimately familiar with your work. These appraisals should explain your performance in detail.

- Several references from superiors who have worked closely with you. At least some of these references should include some of your redacted work product.

- Copy of your employment contract(s).

- A job role description composed by your supervisor.

- Any other materials that will substantively testify to the merit of your application.

Treat your equivalent means application with the same care and attention-to-detail that you would apply to your first legal case, and advocate for yourself just as persuasively as you would for a valued client.

Next article: From paralegal to solicitor: can I change careers?

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