Paralegal

The Job and What's Involved

The term 'paralegal' refers to a person who does a substantial amount of legal work as part of his or her job and may have some legal training or experience, but is not a qualified lawyer.

Paralegal's work in law firms, as well as in a wide variety of other private and public sector organisations, and often have very different job titles, such as contracts assistant, case worker or property adviser. In law firms, paralegal's may be described as 'fee-earning, non-admitted' staff, as they earn income for the firm and have their own caseload of clients, but are not qualified solicitors.

The work of paralegal's varies according to their experience and which area of law they practice in. Duties are likely to include:

  • Researching legal information and cases.
  • Drafting letters and documents.
  • Organising case files.
  • Preparing court papers and assisting in court.
  • Taking statements and depositions.
  • Interviewing and advising clients and witnesses.

Paralegal's specialise in a particular area of law, such as property, family, contracts, criminal, Legal Aid or immigration. Depending on the specialism, their work may involve acting on behalf of a solicitor in:

  • Residential and commercial conveyancing.
  • Appeals and tribunals, such as immigration appeals.
  • Divorce proceedings.
  • Probate work.
  • Small money claims.
  • Personal injury and medical negligence.
  • Legal aid cases.

In some roles, paralegal's may undertake advocacy work, representing clients in tribunals or at interim or minor court hearings.

Paralegal's normally work 37 hours a week, although longer hours are quite common in some solicitors' firms and in more senior positions. Legal aid paralegal's may be on call to attend clients at police stations out of office hours. Prosecution caseworkers may have to work at weekends and bank holidays, if needed.

Paralegal's are mainly based in offices, but some occasional local traveling may be necessary if they deal directly with clients or are involved in court work.

A car and a driving licence are sometimes required. Part-time and temporary positions are often available and trained paralegal's may also work on a freelance basis.

Starting salaries for paralegal's range from £14,000 to £25,000 a year. Average salaries for experienced staff are between £25,000 and £40,000 a year.

Salaries for paralegal's working in-house tend to be higher than in solicitors' firms. There are also variations in salary between paralegal specialisms.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 500,000 paralegal's in the UK. About 150,000 of them work in specialised legal firms, including a growing number of specialised paralegal advisory firms (PAF's). Around 50,000 work for solicitors' firms. Paralegal's can be found in a wide variety of other areas including:

  • Courts.
  • The National Offender Management Service.
  • Local government departments, such as trading standards, environmental health, housing or planning.
  • Voluntary bodies, such as Citizens Advice, Equality and Human Rights Commission.
  • Government departments and agencies, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, Driving Vehicle Licensing Authority and Department of Work and Pensions.
  • Trade unions and professional bodies.
  • The uniformed services.
  • Legal departments of large companies.

Overall, opportunities for paralegal's are growing as their professional status becomes increasingly recognised. Legal aid work is expected to increase.

Entry-level paralegal appointments can be found in the local and national press and occasionally in the legal press and recruitment website's. Outside the public sector, the most successful method of applying is by approaching firms and organisations directly. Those with some relevant experience, either voluntary or paid, may have an advantage.

The Institute of Paralegal's can provide applicants with suggestions of firms to approach or applicants can consult the Law Society Directory of Firms at www.solicitors-online.com.

Education and Training

No specific qualifications are required to become a paralegal. However, many employers, particularly law firms, will prefer applicants with some relevant qualifications including:

- GCSE's (A*-C) or A levels in academic subjects
- BTEC qualifications in law or legal studies
- NVQ in business administration
- Foundation degree in law or legal studies

The Institute of Paralegal's website has a list of specialist paralegal training courses and qualifications, some of which are suitable for those wanting to enter the profession.

Some employers specify an HND or degree in law or legal studies or the postgraduate legal practice course (LPC). The more senior or specialised the position, the more likely it is that legal qualifications will be expected.

Non-law organisations that employ paralegal's in-house may take on unqualified staff and provide professional training. It may be possible to start in a clerical post in a legal office.

A paralegal career can be an option for law graduates who have not found a training contract to become a solicitor, as well as for lawyers from overseas.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most paralegal's train on the job under the supervision of more experienced colleagues. In addition, many employers will encourage their paralegal's to take relevant courses. A number of courses are available to paralegal's Details are available from:

- The National Association of Licensed Paralegal's (NALP)
- Institute of Paralegal's
- Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX)

Nationally recognised courses include:

  • BTEC Level 2 and 3 qualifications in law and legal work.
  • BTEC Level 3 National Award in applied law.
  • City & Guilds (C&G) Level 2 Award/Certificate/Diploma in legal studies.
  • C&G Level 3 Diploma in vocational paralegal studies.

Membership of the Institute of Paralegal's or the NALP offers the opportunity to work towards a degree-level qualification that gives recognition as a qualified paralegal. Members have to meet a combination of work experience and educational qualification requirements, and take part in continuing professional development (CPD).

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A paralegal should:

  • Be discreet with confidential information.
  • Be patient and understanding.
  • Pay careful attention to detail.
  • Be tactful and sympathetic.
  • Communicate well with clients and others.
  • Be able to absorb and analyse large amounts of information.
  • Have a good standard of written English.
  • Be computer literate.
  • Have good concentration.
  • Have a good memory.
  • Work well under pressure.
  • Be well organised.
  • Be able to work to deadlines.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most paralegal's develop their career by specialising and moving on to more responsible posts or a larger employer. Some paralegal's take on supervisory responsibility, e.g. leading a team of temporary staff recruited for a major project.

They can sometimes progress to become partners in solicitors' firms and opportunities to do so are increasing. Freelance work is also available.

Some paralegal's undertake further qualifications to become solicitors, barristers, licensed conveyancers or legal executives.

Others, not working in law firms, may take professional examinations in their specialism, e.g. trading standards, insurance or human resources.

Get Further Information

Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA),
Selborne House, 54 Victoria Street,
London SW1E 6QW
Tel: 020 7210 8500
Website: www.dca.gov.uk

HM Courts & Tribunals Service
Website: www.gov.uk

Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX),
Kempston Manor, Kempston, Bedford MK42 7AB
Tel: 01234 841000
Website: www.ilex.org.uk

Institute of Paralegal's, 2nd Floor,
Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square,
Mayfair, London W1J 6BD
Tel: 020 7887 1420
Website: www.instituteofparalegals.org

The Law Society, The Law Society's Hall,
113 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1PL
Tel: 020 7242 1222
Website: www.lawsociety.org.uk

The National Association of Licensed Paralegal's,
3.08 Canterbury Court, Kennington Business Park,
1-3 Brixton Road, London SW9 6DE
Tel: 020 3176 0900
Website: www.nationalparalegals.com

Skills for Justice, Centre Court,
Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 261 1499
Website: www.skillsforjustice.com

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