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Becoming a paralegal is a good way to find out what being a lawyer involves without necessarily doing all of the training
You might also want to consider working as a paralegal on a temporary basis if you missed out on securing a training contract or pupillage. The benefit is that it will give you an excellent insight into a career in law and will look fantastic on your CV should you wish to train as a solicitor, barrister or legal executive.
Like solicitors, most paralegals specialise in particular practice areas. The tasks they are required to do are similar to those undertaken by trainee solicitors, including document management, proofreading, research, translating legal documents, due diligence and elements of discovery.
While the following is not an exhaustive list given the nature of the work, the departments most likely to recruit are litigation, corporate, commercial property and banking and finance. Other areas likely to hire paralegals are employment, insolvency, IT/e-commerce, media,construction, EU/competition and telecoms. In addition to law firms, paralegal opportunities are also available in-house, notably in the banking and financial services industry, local government and other public sector areas.
The exact type of work paralegals handle depends on the employer and department. Some firms employ paralegals in similar roles to those of trainee solicitors, while others will load paralegals with tasks most people find too boring to contemplate.
Paralegals tend to be employed on fixed-term contracts, although some positions are permanent. The length of a temporary role can vary significantly, with some lasting just a few days.
In theory, a paralegal does not need any legal qualifications. In practice, though, candidates are usually required to be law graduates (or those who converted to law), who have also completed the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC). Additionally, both the Institute of Paralegals and the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) run a number of courses. The NALP, for instance, runs diplomas that are open to school-leavers who have gained at least two A-levels.
Hannah Jackson, a senior recruitment consultant at employment agency Robert Walters, specialises in placing paralegals. She questions the need for such qualifications, especially for those who ultimately want to train as a solicitor or barrister.
“Hands-on experience far outweighs formal paralegal qualifications,” she argues. “I’ve never had a firm turn down a candidate because they haven’t got a certificate in paralegaling. The main elements employers look for are strong academics from the LLB (Bachelor of Law) and LPC and relevant legal experience.
“If students are wavering between the LPC and a paralegal qualification, I’d recommend the former, as it carries more weight with City firms.”
Paralegal salaries are fairly reasonable in London, and at larger City firms can start at £20,000 and go up to £27,000 within the first two years, although pay has remained fairly stagnant.
US firms still offer more favourable remuneration packages. A paralegal with up to two years’ experience can expect to pocket between £25,000 and £35,000 a year, while those with more than two years’ experience can command annual salaries of between £27,000 and £40,000. See the salary table.
If you are looking for a paralegal position, there are a number of options. First, it is worth registering with a couple of reputable recruitment consultants, as they should have teams dedicated to placing paralegals. They will also be able to advise you on how to polish up your CV.
Second, you can apply directly to firms. And finally, ask your family, friends and any other contacts who are working at law firms to let you know if any vacancies come up. There is no shame in asking them to recommend you.