What is a Paralegal?
Paralegals have extensive knowledge of the law and legal matters but are not qualified lawyers. Paralegals play a crucial part in the legal team as they undertake a wide variety of administrative and legal work. A paralegal's role is to support solicitors, barristers and/or chartered legal executives in their work. They can choose to specialise in a specific area of the law.
What does working as a Paralegal look like?
Working as a paralegal usually means that you have some basic legal qualifications and knowledge of the law; in most cases, you would work under a qualified legal professional who you would support in handling legal cases. Work can range from administrative and legal secretarial tasks to undertaking research and providing legal information to clients. It's important to note that as a paralegal, you could work in law firms, chambers, private, public sector, and not-for-profit organisations. In some cases, experienced paralegals will do a very similar role to a lawyer - in fact, becoming a paralegal is an excellent pathway into the industry without needing a degree!
What does a Paralegal do?
So now we know who they are, what does an average day look like? Duties will vary depending on the 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
To sum up: As a paralegal, you'll play an essential role within a legal team. Your tasks will often mirror the work of a trainee - or at times even a recently qualified solicitor. In fact, the position is sometimes used as preparation for qualifying as a solicitor.
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'll still want to have a good, hard think about what you want to study; the legal industry is competitive, so it's helpful to have:
- Experience in the area of law you wish to practise
- Studied relevant areas of the law and have shown an academic interest
- Good A-Level grades
Do you need a degree to become a Paralegal?
Although you do not technically need a degree, they are helpful, especially considering how competitive the industry is. The popularity of paralegal positions has skyrocketed in recent years and as a result, law firms can be quite picky with their entry criteria. Most law firms require a minimum of a 2:1 (and sometimes even a first) in a qualifying law degree.
What happens if you don't have a law degree?
Alternatively, candidates can complete a degree in a different subject (other than law) and then pass a law conversion course. An increasing number of law firms now require the LPC (legal practice course) as a postgraduate qualification too. Having a legal background is a real advantage as it shows you've acquired the skills needed to be successful, so it's ideal for getting ahead.
How much do Paralegal's earn?
Entry-level graduate salaries for paralegals range from £17,000 to £25,000, rising to £40,000 with experience. The salary range will differ depending on the area of practice and type of law firm. As a non-graduate entry-level paralegal, yearly salaries range from £14,000 to £22,000. At the graduate level, salaries range from £18,000 to £25,000. A paralegal with five years' experience can expect a salary in the region of £30,000 to £40,000. Those based in London and bigger cities will often earn more too.
What skills are needed to be a Paralegal?
- A flexible and adaptable approach to your work - client needs may change and so can the approach solicitors/barristers choose to take.
- The desire to develop your understanding of the law - you'll need to be curious and passionate about continuous learning.
- Commercial awareness, business acumen and an understanding of ever-changing clients' needs!
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills - you'll need to be able to explain and summarise difficult and complex cases clearly.
- Good attention to detail is needed to carefully analyse files and data - slight changes in wording can drastically change the meaning and terms.
- Strong organisational skills (the ability to multitask, manage tasks and caseloads). Paralegals are actually jugglers in disguise.
- Legal research skills - intense research isn't always the most interesting task so the ability to work by yourself and slog it out will stand you in good stead.
- The ability to work under pressure and meet tight deadlines - in the legal industry, files need to be submitted on time; if they aren't, it could mean a ruling goes against you.
- Team working and interpersonal skills when working with different departments to ensure tasks are completed. As a paralegal you'll work with a whole load of legal professionals and creating great relationships will make a difference in how much you enjoy your career.
What are legal apprenticeships?
Legal apprenticeships are routes into the legal profession that involve working and studying concurrently -earning while you learn if you will! Apprentices spend the majority of their time working in a law firm. Apprentices work on developing their skills, commercial awareness and legal knowledge in various areas of the law. This 'work-based learning' is blended with part-time legal study.
How do legal apprenticeships work?
Apprentices work with their employer (the law firm) and the educational institution (who delivers the qualification). Apprenticeships are typically split into two parts; four days a week are spent at their firm and one day a week is spent at their education provider to learn about the theory around the law. As a law apprentice, you will be involved in a variety of work for different clients. Daily tasks could include:
- Corresponding with clients
- Attending client meetings and writing up records
- Negotiating and drafting contracts and other legal documents
- Researching various aspects of the law
- Attending court proceedings
- Proofreading legal documents
- Admin tasks
As part of your law apprenticeship, you may also have to maintain an up-to-date portfolio of your work with examples of tasks you have carried out. This portfolio will ultimately be used as evidence of the work you have undertaken and the experience you have gained when it comes to qualification.
What are your next steps?
Interested in knowing more about roles within the legal industry? Why not check out our Law virtual work experience programme? There is a whole range of modules available like advocacy and client communication, contractual interpretation, and legal analysis and drafting, plus loads of information on career routes and how to enter the industry.