How to become a paralegal

Fancy pursuing a career in the legal sector but really aren’t up for spending any more years in education? You probably want to know how you go about becoming a paralegal, right? Well, without further ado…


  • Last updated Oct 14, 2019 4:33:22 PM
  • By Billy Sexton

Paralegal apprenticeships

“But aren’t apprenticeships just for people wanting to work in the construction industry?” The long and short answer to that is simply “no.” Apprenticeships are available in a whole range of industries and the legal industry is by no means exempt!

Advanced and Higher Level Apprenticeships are available to school and college leavers. Those with GCSEs but no A Levels are suited better to the Advanced Apprenticeship, whereas college leavers with impressive A Level results might fancy their chances at a Higher Apprenticeship.

There are no set qualifications but most employers will want you to have good GCSE results, especially in maths and English. If you’re eyeing up a Higher Apprenticeship, you’re going to need impressive A Level results too. However, although there’s no set qualifications, larger City law firms will have very demanding requirements. For example, Slaughter and May have the following specification for their paralegals:

“A legal background is necessary and most of our paralegals have either a degree in law or a Graduate Diploma in Law qualification. We also usually require our paralegals to have completed the Legal Practice Course or the Bar Professional Training Course and to have obtained a training contract or pupillage.”

Not all firms will require their paralegals to be of this grade, and Slaughter and May’s demands are very much at the far end of the spectrum.

When considering your paralegal apprenticeship, it's worth knowing about a new kid on the block - the 2016 trailblazer paralegal apprenticeship. More on that here. 

What will I do as a paralegal apprentice?

You will undertake real legal work, specialising in business administration or secretarial services whilst working toward a nationally recognised qualification. If you’re undertaking an Advanced Apprenticeship, you can complete:

The Level 3 Award In Paralegal Practice. This gives you a knowledge of key areas of law along with the skills required for your job.

The Level 3 Certificate in Paralegal Practice is more extensive and allows you to gain a knowledge of Paralegal Practice. You’ll focus on the specific areas of law that are suitable for your job.

The Level 3 Diploma in Paralegal Practice is even more extensive and enables you to gain the key skills and competencies in order to become a top class paralegal. It’s widely regarded as the benchmark qualification and takes you a step nearer to becoming a professional paralegal.

If you do a Higher Apprenticeship you will undertake the Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship in Legal Services. This is designed for A Level students who don’t want to go to university or have recently completed an Advanced Apprenticeship. After you’ve done this, you have the opportunity to really step it up and progress to the CILEx Level 3 and 6 professional qualifications, with the level 6 qualification being equivalent to an undergraduate degree! Whit-whoo!

I don’t want to do an apprenticeship…

There’s nothing stopping you applying to be a paralegal without any related qualifications. We’re going to be honest though, you’re unlikely to be successful, even if you do have a good level of education, the law and the legal system, because there are so many apprentices and graduates (those who haven’t landed a training contract or pupillage) out there who have the qualifications at their back too.

Alternatively, apply for an admin role at a law firm and then study for your paralegal qualifications whilst working.

Becoming a paralegal is not a ‘soft’ way into the legal industry and is fiercely competitive and takes time, but is a great alternative for those not wishing to go to university. 

Next article: Paralegal qualifications 

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