There’s a popular saying in the cultural zeitgeist that not all heroes wear capes. There’s an addendum that should be added to that within the confines of the legal industry that not all heroes are qualified solicitors, Partners or industry leaders- in fact, arguably the largest contingent of unsung heroes are paralegals.

Paralegals often form part of the backbone of many private practice departments and are an invaluable asset in-house, and they offer a breadth of experience at the junior end of the spectrum with very tangible practical and commercial benefits to their employer from a costs and efficacy perspective.

Why is it then that paralegals can sometimes be left feeling undervalued and deprived of adequate professional opportunities to advance their careers? The answer to such a question is no doubt multi-faceted, but part of the reason may be due to the role of a paralegal being misunderstood both internally within their organisation and externally by the industry at large.

Paralegals, generally, do not perform a purely administrative function and are often heavily involved in fee-earning work and are a key resource pool that is tapped into as part of case management. Many paralegals are no strangers to working late hours and weekends, at a fraction of the financial remuneration received by their qualified counterparts.

Some paralegals work for the same employer, or for a series of firms, for years, gaining a wealth of commercial and legal knowledge that should make them prime candidates to take on the mantle of being the next generation of solicitors and future leaders of the profession. But many paralegals find themselves butting their heads against a glass ceiling, unable to secure a training contract or having to resort to self-funding the SQE or another route to qualification. It is therefore not surprising that this can build a simmering air of discontent for those who have worked as hard as their peers but may feel like they have had the proverbial carrot on a stick dangled in front of their faces.

My own personal paralegal journey took me from a high street firm to a magic circle firm, and then subsequently to another City firm through whom I was eventually given the opportunity to qualify as a solicitor through the Equivalent Means qualification route. Post-qualification I worked private practice before transitioning to in-house counsel, a culmination of years of feeling akin to a paralegaling journeyman.

Others are still on that journey. I regularly speak to paralegals and aspiring solicitors who recount their stories of being in the trenches and the frustration that some of them feel in the lack of opportunity given to them to progress, or there being no clear framework for them to follow. Some have managed to self-fund their route to qualification, and some have sadly left the profession altogether. There are others still who do not have the means to self-fund and find themselves in a perpetual cycle of being overlooked for a training contract or sponsorship.

There is help and guidance available to those who find themselves in such a position. As part of the independent Junior Lawyers Division, we offer support and practical guidance to aspiring solicitors and share our lived experiences to help foster a positive environment for paralegals and other juniors to prosper. Additionally, there are countless other stalwarts within our industry who work with paralegals and guide them through their legal journey. The Law Society’s Junior Solicitors Network also provides vital tools for individuals on their journey to qualification and beyond.

My open question to the industry is that is there more we should be doing to support the backbone of our profession? Paralegals are undeniably an invaluable asset to their employers and as such their voices should be heard, as they, alongside trainee solicitors and other juniors, should form the next generation of lawyers who shape the legal landscape in the years to follow.

Obaid Bin-Nasir is an in-house solicitor at ECA and an Executive Committee Member of the Junior Lawyers Division