What is a Paralegal? Is it Right for Me?
You may have heard of the role of a paralegal from famous TV series like Suits, but what is a paralegal? If you want to know more about the role, what qualifications you need to practice and what you could potentially earn? Look no further!
This page contains everything you need to find out more about the ins and outs of this fascinating career path.
What is a Paralegal?
A paralegal is a highly-valued member of a legal team that has extensive knowledge of the law and legal matters, but is not a qualified lawyer. Paralegals undertake a wide variety of administrative and legal work. They work with barristers and/or chartered legal executives and are often associate members of the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx).
A paralegal’s role is to support lawyers in their work and they can choose to specialise in a specific area of the law.
What does a Paralegal do?
Typically, paralegals are employed in law firms and work in a specific department. Duties will vary depending on department, but may involve some of the following tasks:
- Legal research
- Project management
- Document management
- Drafting basic legal documents
- Administrative support
- Client care and client progression
What Skills Should a Paralegal Demonstrate?
You need a wide range of skills to become a paralegal. Do the following skill-sets sound like you?
- Good organisation skills
- Good communication skills
- A passion for the law
- An eye for detail
- Research competency
- Analytical skills
- Ability to work effectively under pressure
What Areas Can A Paralegal Specialise in?
There are many areas that a paralegal can specialise in, but here are a few to get you started:
- Family law
- Criminal defence law
- Real estate law
- Corporate law
- Intellectual property law
- Estate planning and probate law
What Qualifications Are Needed?
Although there are no official qualifications needed to become a paralegal, you will want to consider carefully what you study.
In such a competitive environment, it is beneficial if you have:
- Past legal experience in the area of law you wish to practise
- Studied these relevant areas of law and have shown an academic interest
Do I need a degree?
Although you do not technically need a degree, it may be beneficial considering the competitive nature of the career path.
Due to the popularity of paralegal positions, most law firms require as a minimum a 2.2 (and sometimes even a 2:1) in a qualifying law degree if you have done a degree. Alternatively, a similar result in a non-law degree supplemented with a pass on a law conversion course such as the GDL is acceptable.
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, this kind of work is becoming increasingly popular amongst LPC and BPTC graduates. This is in part due to the fact that there is an increasing number of students finishing LPC and BPTC courses who have not yet secured a training contract or pupillage. 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
Find out about the steps to becoming a paralegal in our guide.
Another option is to enrol on a paralegal apprenticeship. These are for school leavers with good academic records and strong A-Levels who wish to complete paralegal training within a law firm rather than through a degree, GDL or LPC. The government Trailblazer scheme is one such option.
What are the Average Salaries?
Entry-level graduate salaries for paralegals tend to range from £17,000 to £25,000, rising to up to £40,000 with experience. Of course, the salary range differs depending on the area of practice and law firm concerned. Read our paralegal salaries page for more information.
Case Study – Life as a Paralegal
We caught up with Amy, a member of dispute resolution department at Farrer & Co, about her life as a paralegal. Amy discusses the highs and the lows of the job along with some top tips for success.
Read more about becoming a paralegal: