For many junior lawyers, completing a law degree or the Graduate Diploma in Law is just the beginning in what can be a long journey to qualification.
With over 5,000 students enrolled onto the Legal Practice Course (LPC) and thousands already LPC-qualified, it’s no surprise that there aren’t enough training contracts for those seeking one.
So what is the alternative? If, like me, you’ve invested six years of study and taken out £41,000 in student loans, you might say you’re already committed and it’s too late to turn back. And why should you? Although the view looks bleak, if you step back you might see the bigger picture.
Ultimately, the goal is qualification. I have spoken with a number of trainees: some sacrifice a decent wage or compromise where they want to qualify, all to be a solicitor. Obtaining that elusive training contract has not always been all it’s cracked up to be. While it might work for some, one size does not fit all and I want to talk about the alternative: the life of a paralegal.
Paralegals are being used more and more nowadays, as they can offer great value for law firms. Unlike trainees, paralegals do not move from seat to seat. Therefore, they can be more attractive to a business as they develop their expertise in a single field.
If you have completed the LPC but don’t have a training contract, the first thing you should be looking for is experience. This will set you aside from other candidates and a paralegal position is the perfect opportunity to gain the skills desired by an employer. The right kind of paralegal job will allow you to engage in legal work: drafting legal documents, liaising with clients and preparing and delivering sound legal advice. The right kind of role will develop and challenge you. Even those with training contracts often secure work as a paralegal before commencing their training contract and some paralegals go on to obtain training contracts. There is also another option in the form of equivalent means.
If qualification is the end goal, then equivalent means may be the option for you. As a paralegal you can qualify through experience. Provided you can show the requisite knowledge and skills expected of a solicitor, you can be admitted via this route. For anyone looking at qualifying in this way, keeping a detailed log of all the work you do as a paralegal is imperative, as this is your evidence to show the SRA.
You will need to gain experience in three distinct areas and may find you have to move firms to fulfill this criteria. Not to worry: you can build your experience at different places of employment. Any application has to be accompanied by a £600 fee: another cost to be added to the burdensome debt. However, if qualification is the end goal, it’s a price that unfortunately can’t be quibbled with.
If this route is starting to look attractive, the next question is, where to gain this paralegal experience? Most firms, high street or big City, will have opportunities. If private practice is not for you, paralegal positions within a company’s in-house legal department are more numerous than training contracts in the same organisations. Some companies have a big legal team; others are small. Regardless, you’ll probably work with more non-lawyers than in private practice.
If you’ve read this far, you might be able to see the big picture, which is that a training contract isn’t everything, qualifying is. How you do it and when you do it differs for everyone, but you can get there if you gain the relevant knowledge and skills. Remember, there isn’t just one route.
Charlotte Lakin is a paralegal and the student representative on the executive committee of the Junior Lawyers Division