What does a paralegal do?
As the legal job market becomes increasingly competitive, more law graduates are opting to become paralegals—some preferring paralegal work to the long hours of solicitors and others in hopes of eventually securing a training contract. But what exactly does a paralegal do and what career prospects do paralegals have?
Although many law graduates are using paralegal work as a stepping stone to becoming solicitors, paralegals play an indispensable role in the legal field. The paralegal profession is highly stimulating and varied, and it can prove an excellent alternative to becoming a solicitor; it is by no means “below” the job of a solicitor.
Paralegals are law professionals that generally work in law firms or chambers, but they are often also found in the public and private sector, and not-for-profit organisations. While they are often described as lawyers’ assistants, their work will often be similar to that of a trainee or a newly-qualified solicitor depending on their level of expertise.
The tasks carried out by paralegals on a daily basis will vary depending on their area of specialisation (for example, crime, litigation or family law) and how much experience they have. However, paralegals can generally expect their daily activities to include preparing legal documents, conducting research and carrying out general office tasks (such as word processing or filing).
More experienced paralegals might interview clients and witnesses in criminal law cases, for instance, or provide clients with legal information. Increasingly, experienced paralegals are doing more of the work solicitors used to undertake, including billing clients. But regardless of how much experience you have, you’ll likely partake in many different activities and work with a wide range of people on a daily basis—it’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever be bored!
How do I become a paralegal?
There are no specific rules about the qualifications you need to become a paralegal, but you will be expected to have a good understanding of the legal system and a good standard of education. Additionally, some work experience in a legal setting—such as pro bono work, open days or insight events—will make you more attractive to employers.
Law graduates and those who have completed a GDL or LPC are often strong candidates for paralegal positions, but you can certainly become a paralegal without a degree. Legal apprenticeships are becoming an increasingly popular—and less expensive—route into the paralegal profession.
Many paralegals choose to continue building up experience in a specific area of law and work towards a senior paralegal position (which can pay as much as £50,000 a year!). The many options available to paralegals (such as working for charities or police forces) and the better work-life balance they generally have make this an extremely appealing career path.
Other paralegals eventually try to become solicitors. While this is by no means an easy path—competition for training contracts is exceptionally high—paralegal work experience is excellent preparation for the responsibilities of a solicitor.
Many paralegals have a distinct advantage when it comes to securing a training contract because they already have a foot in the door at a law firm. While this is not always the case, paralegals sometimes have the opportunity to progress within a law firm. Finding out if there are any solicitors at your firm who started off as paralegals and speaking to them might give you a good idea of what steps you should take and whether or not it’s possible to progress at your current firm.
Otherwise, many paralegals apply to training contracts and pupillages or study for their LPC part-time while they work. If you get a training contract, you can have your time as a paralegal count towards your time working as a trainee solicitor (up to a maximum of six months). While competition is fierce, paralegal work is highly respected among many employers and networking within your firm or organisation can increase your chances of success.
Paralegal work is both an incredibly diverse and stimulating professional field, and a great option for those wishing to progress. If you’re attracted by either its benefits or the career opportunities it opens up, then the paralegal profession might be for you!