Aspiring trainees: paralegal work and equivalent means
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.
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?