What is a Paralegal
Are you interested in finding out more about the role of a paralegal, what they earn and what qualifications you need to practice as a paralegal? Look no further! This page contains everything you need to find out more about the ins and outs of the paralegal world.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal undertakes a wide variety of administrative and legal work. They provide support to solicitors, barristers and/or chartered legal executives and are often Associate members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx). Their work may involve:
- Legal research
- Project management
- Document management
- Drafting basic legal documents
- Administrative support
- Client care and client progression
Typically, they are employed in law firms to work in a specialised department, for example:
- The property department – where they may be involved in tasks such as drafting straight forward property sale contracts and carrying out property related searches and enquiries.
- The dispute resolution department – where they may be involved in preparing legal arguments, applications, declarations and motions, for example.
Paralegals have usually undertaken some form of legal training, but are not generally qualified as either a solicitor, barrister or chartered legal executive.
Paralegals that have a qualifying law degree (or equivalent) and those who have completed their CILEx Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice are able to become Associate Members of The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives. This means that as a paralegal and Associate Member of CILEx they are recognised and regulated by their professional body and can use the designatory letters ACILEx after their name.
What Qualifications Do I Need to Practice as a Paralegal?
In such a competitive environment, it is beneficial if you have:
- Past legal experience in the area of law you wish to practise in (e.g. banking and finance, employment, litigation and so on)
- Studied these relevant areas of law and have shown an academic interest
Although there are no official qualifications as such, due to the popular nature of paralegal positions, most law firms require at a minimum a 2.2 (and sometimes even a 2:1) in a qualifying law degree, or a similar result in a non-law degree supplemented with a pass on a law conversion course such as the GDL.
Recently, an increasing number of law firms also require the LPC as a postgraduate qualification too. A legal background is a real advantage and so completing this is ideal to get ahead.
In light of this, paralegal work is becoming increasingly popular amongst LPC and BPTC graduates. This is in part due to the fact that there are an increasing number of students finishing LPC and BPTC courses who have not yet secured a training contract or pupillage respectively. Undertaking such work is a great way for such individuals to:
- Build legal experience
- Reinforce their CV / work experience credentials
- Keep in the ‘legal loop’
- Network from the ground making vital contacts which could eventually lead to further training opportunities, such as a training contract (some law firms even advertise on this basis)
As part of a new apprenticeship initiative, the Government have launched the ‘Trailblazer’ paralegal apprenticeship in collaboration with a consortium of high profile law firms. Launched in 2016, the scheme enables individuals to complete a 2 year paid paralegal apprenticeship which is completed in a law firm and is a blend of work-based learning and academic study.
These apprenticeships are aimed school leavers, upwards who have a strong set of A-Levels under their belt. Following a paralegal apprenticeship, depending on the sponsoring law firm, there may be further opportunities to progress onto a chartered executive or solicitor apprenticeship, thereby avoiding the rising costs associated with university study.
For more detailed information on law apprenticeships, visit our law apprenticeships page.
Entry level salaries for graduate paralegals tend to range from £14,000 to £25,000, rising to up to £40,000 with experience. Of course, the salary range differs with the area of practice and law firm concerned.
Step by Step Guide – How to Become a Paralegal
Step 1 – Qualifications
Ideally, you should have completed:
- A qualifying law degree (with 2:2 (hons) as a minimum); or
- A non-law degree (with 2:2 (hons) as a minimum) and a law conversion course such as the GDL
- Previous paralegal work/general law work experience (not always a prerequisite but preferred by law firms in many cases)
- A pass on the LPC (again, not always a prerequisite but preferred by law firms in many cases).
NB: Paralegals with a qualifying law degree (or equivalent) and those who have completed their CILEx Level 3 Professional Diploma in Law and Practice may become Associate Members of The Chartered Institute of Legal Executives to give them professional standing and recognition within the legal sector.
Step 2 – Applications
Apply to law firms and other organisations with vacancies, or apply through legal recruiting agencies – a simple internet search should reveal a variety of nationwide opportunities. The paralegal application process is actually very similar to that of the training contract application process. Therefore, for more general hints and application tips visit our training contract applications page.
Step 3 – Interviews
Again, the paralegal interview process is actually very similar to that of the training contract interview process. For more general hints and interview tips please therefore visit our training contract interviews page.
Step 4 – Begin your new career!
If you are successful in your applications – begin your new career.
Paralegal Case Study
We caught up with Amy, a paralegal in the dispute resolution department at Farrer & Co. Amy discusses the highs and the lows of the job along with some top tips for success.