Very early on in our legal careers, we are sold the classic route to qualification:
First Year = 2.1 + insight schemes
Second Year = vacation schemes
Third Year = training contract
One difficulty with this approach is its unforgiving rigidity. If you haven’t already aligned yourself with the 3-stage approach from the onset, your chances of securing a TC are increasingly less favourable. For many international students, the lack of a formal network and family connections in the UK makes getting any relevant work experience that much harder. This is something I have experienced in my own career and ever since, I have been making up for lost time. Or so it seemed. Everyone operates at a different pace and so when you don’t fit the fast track mold set upon you, you feel as if you need to catch up.
This is where the value of a paralegal role is added. It disrupts the traditional fast track approach and opens up a more realistic timeline for many budding solicitors. From my interactions with many training contract holders, it appears to be a key element in their formula of success. This post will explore the many misconceptions about the role with some practical insight from Larry Owereh who is currently working as a finance paralegal at a leading U.S firm in London.
Am I qualified to become a paralegal?
There is no single answer to this. A quick search in Linkedin Jobs will show you the vast range of qualifications and experience required for various paralegal roles. For many graduates, it is best to aim for entry-level positions. There are however two drawbacks to this. Firstly, the pay is less than what you would expect. Many entry paralegal roles range from £19,000 – £24,000 and that’s before tax! Secondly, as I found out myself, an increasing number of ‘entry-level’ roles are requiring the LPC. It is with these in mind that I would advise that you set your sights on a paralegal role following your LPC.
There are two main advantages to this. Firstly, in contrast to law at an undergraduate level, the LPC teaches you the practical side of the law. It leaves you with skills that you can apply in practice at a law firm. This year of extra study will equip you with basic drafting, practical research and commercial understanding to confidently work in your first legal job. As a paralegal, you will have the opportunity to put these into practice. This leads to my second point. Moving forward, when applying for training contracts, you will be able to demonstrate a real understanding of commercial law. By using examples of the work you have done and what you have learned, demonstrating an interest and competence in the field of commercial law becomes more natural.
What does a paralegal do? Some practical insight from Larry Owereh
The role of a paralegal will vary depending on the type of firm you join. Large City firms may have a lot of paralegals on a team, whilst others will have very few. In-house paralegal roles will give you commercial insight into a business with a wide range of legal tasks. Either way, it’s a chance for you to learn, network & excel. The type of work that you may be doing will range, from administrative to drafting loan agreements to researching on topical legal issues. Keep a notepad with you at all times to write down any information you need to remember. You’re not expected to know everything so asking questions is key! Learn from mistakes and be attentive to the work you’re involved in as it’ll ensure that you grow and develop to be a successful solicitor. Let people around you know your career ambitions. Someone may then want to treat you like a trainee, giving you trainee tasks whilst guiding you on your way to the golden ticket – Training Contract.
Don’t think that you’re above any tasks, no matter how boring or basic, and be open to assist. The more you do, the more people will be happy and willing to give you more challenging tasks or tasks you enjoy and want to do.
What being a paralegal can do for your future law career.
Firstly, it may provide for many an opportunity for a first full-time job. This alone will teach you how to operate within the professional world. Handling work during your studies and how work is handled in the workplace are two very different things!
Secondly, it can provide invaluable experience and exposure to the practical side of the law. Additionally, it may offer the opportunity to learn about a new field of law that you might have never considered. Having a wider understanding of practice areas will assist you during your choice of seats on the training contract. It may also steer you towards certain firms which specialise in a field of law you have come to find interesting and stimulating.
These views have been informed by my own experience with the legal profession. As many prospective solicitors might have identified, there is no mention of the SQE. Many of the issues raised in this article seem to be addressed with the new system. However, until a solid programme with firm-wide adoption takes place, this appears to be the more viable and practical route for the next few years.
For more information on the SQE and its implications on the legal sector check out Daniel’s post here: