The complete guide to training from paralegal to solicitor
There are now various routes that paralegals can consider if they wish to qualify as solicitors. Ask around at your firm to see if others have gone down this route and get their advice. We look at the paths you can follow to qualify as a solicitor after working as a paralegal.
Do I need a training contract?
Not necessarily. You can gain experience as a paralegal and then apply either within your own firm or to another firm for a training contract. Bear in mind that the competition for training contracts is fierce, but the firm will know your work and this can work in your favour over unknown applicants.
Paralegals can apply to have their work time recognised as “time to count” – both the firm where you worked as a paralegal and the firm where you’ll undertake your training contract must confirm this time. It’s possible to recoup up to six months, and this can be up to half the time you’ve worked (for example, if you worked for six months you can claim three months towards your training contract). There’s a time limit here – you must have completed your work as a paralegal within the last three years.
It’s possible to qualify directly from being a paralegal to solicitor without needing to complete a training contract. This is a relatively new route introduced by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in 2014, known as the “equivalent means” route. This recognises paralegals that have years of experience, which replaces what they would have learned doing a training contract. This is still a relatively unknown path and it can be hard to demonstrate that you’ve satisfied the relevant criteria, but those that do should definitely consider it.
What is the process to qualify for this route?
You need to complete the relevant application form and provide a portfolio of evidence that shows you’ve completed all the criteria you would have gained as a trainee. You must have worked in at least three distinct legal areas (each one lasting at least four months) and your overall experience must be at least two years. This brings your experience in line with the training-contract route. Your firm may not want you to move between departments in your role as a paralegal, so you may need to look for experience in other firms.
There are 45 legal-practice areas that your portfolio must show you’ve completed. These match the practice-skills standards such as advocacy, dispute resolution and negotiation. It can be quite laborious to satisfy, and you have to provide a lot of documentation including employment contracts, training logs, references and role descriptions. It’s still not very clear what work the SRA regards as work equivalent to a training contract, particularly since the work that trainees complete varies according to the firm.
There’s a fee (currently £600), and the SRA will initially assess the application to allow you to make any amendments they feel will be necessary before sending it to an external assessor. You will then hear from them if they feel there are any deficiencies. If you’re successful in going down this route, you’ll then need to complete the relevant academic qualifications if you haven’t already done this, including the Professional Skills Course.
It’s a rigorous and demanding route, but it’s definitely worth considering if you’re a paralegal with a breadth of experience over several years and you’re interested in progressing your career.