Becoming a paralegal was never my intention when I started university.
Like most law students, I had what now seem delusions of grandeur in that I wanted to work for the biggest law firms. Nothing less than magic circle firms would do although I would potentially have settled for a smaller City firm if I had to.
Following a stint working as a paralegal in the public sector I now find myself at one of Surrey’s largest law firms, Hart Brown. It has six offices throughout the region with one of those being in London and it offers a range of legal and financial investment services to both businesses and individuals. I’m working in the firm’s dispute resolution department, which encompasses a vast array of legal areas (including but not limited to employment matters, commercial property cases and PI and clinical negligence litigation). Moving back into private practice was exactly what I needed. The public sector is great but devoid of the ‘real life’ elements of being in a law firm – for example, time recording, billing and producing attendance notes on cases.
The kinds of jobs a trainee can expect to be given are well-documented, but what is the life of a paralegal like? Although each day can throw up any number of challenges, below are a number of tasks that I received in one particular day.
7.45am – While I don’t technically start until 9am, my commute to the office is around an hour by car and I like to get in with plenty of time to spare. This gives me an hour to catch up on any emails from the previous day, read the latest business/legal articles and it allows time to organise my time efficiently for the day ahead. Two of the partners from the department arrive at a similar time and dive straight into work too.
8.43am – One of the solicitors has received a bundle of medical records. These need to be collated, sorted, indexed and paginated. This is a common task to receive as a paralegal and being able to organise these should be a straightforward task.
10am – One of the solicitors has had difficulty contacting the County Court. He asks if I could attend the court in person and speak to the court office on his behalf. A case has been listed on an incorrect date and this needs to be changed. Before I leave I attempt to contact them via their enquiries line but there is no response.
11.02am – The head of department requires some bundles to be produced for Counsel. He has helpfully tabbed each of the pages that are required and already produced an index of documents. This makes the task much quicker as usually an index would be produced by me. These will be checked by the head of department before they are sent out later.
12.30pm – I am sat at my desk with headphones in as I am scheduled to listen to a LexisNexis webinar. These webinars give updates on the latest legislative information as well as provoke discussion on any new case law. It is important to stay up to date with any new developments – as you will hear many times while studying and applying for training contracts, commercial awareness is a big factor.
2.04pm – Following lunch, the switchboard calls me with a new client enquiry. I take the call and spend some time speaking to the prospective client. This is done so I can fact-find and establish enough detail so it can be forwarded onto one of the lawyers. In this case it was a potential client with a property dispute and before I pass it through to one of the lawyers I will do some research on the subject. This is a time-saving measure and may help the department when deciding on whether or not to take on the case.
2:31pm – I’ve been asked to conduct a legal research note on a specific point regarding remission of court fees. This means spending time reading the Civil Procedure Rules and the form guidance information to try and establish who it is that is financially assessed when it comes to applying to the court for fee remission, the claimant themselves or the litigation friend. Once I have read through the material I establish that this point is particularly clear and therefore phone through to the fees office at the court for clarification. Once I have spoken to them I am able to type up a research note and send it through to the requesting solicitor.
4pm – The final part of my day is spent producing attendance notes for all of the cases that I have worked on. This gives details of the work that was carried out and how many units were spent on each task. Once these have been produced I am able to go through and post my time using our computer system. The department head will generally review billing figures each week and then set targets based upon this.
Working for a medium/large sized regional firm was not something that I considered when I first thought about my legal career. I now cannot imagine being anywhere else because the tasks that I am able to perform and the level of responsibility is far greater than I would achieve in a large corporate. My intention is to start the Legal Practice Course (LPC) this year and I’m looking forward to working hard and hopefully progressing in the firm in the future.
Working as a paralegal is not always seen in a favourable light but it has set me up for what I hope will be a long and fruitful career as a lawyer.
John Aslett is a paralegal at Hart Brown