Paralegals are employed by law firms or in-house corporate legal teams. The profession has grown in recent times, but is, as yet, unregulated to a certain extent. This means that no specific qualifications or other eligibility criteria are essential for entry to the profession at this present time.
Essentially, a paralegal is a legal professional without the formal qualifications required to practice as a lawyer. These guys carry out back-office management and clerical duties, such as filing, answering telephones and setting up client appointments.
Paralegals also undertake research and collate relevant material for the legal matters assigned to them. They prepare briefing notes and highlight valid case decisions and precedents to the practising solicitor(s) who are assigned to the case.
These people also prepare case documentation, such as court applications, as well as transcribing legal opinions, depositions and witness statements, and putting together case dockets with detailed indices and checklists.
Paralegals may also attend court proceedings, build contacts within the judicial system and the legal fraternity, and keep up to date on legislative, regulatory and industry-related developments, changes and trends. They will then compile related guidance notes for circulation amongst other paralegals and legal professionals.
Salary & benefits
Paralegal salaries are dependent on location and the size and type of employer. The area of practice may also have a bearing on the salary you can earn.
Typical salaries are between £12,000 and £30,000 for paralegals with less than five years’ work experience, and between £30,000 and £65,000 for paralegals with more than five years of work experience.
Paralegals employed in large, commercial law firms located in London or other metropolitan areas are typically paid higher salaries than paralegals in smaller regional firms that deal with different practice areas.
Paralegals are normally contracted to work the typical nine-to-five working hours. However, they may be required to work longer hours during busy periods.
Visiting clients, attending court proceedings or undertaking specialist research may mean that you have to travel around from time to time.
A diploma or degree in any discipline is welcome, but employment prospects are better for candidates with academic qualifications in law, accounting, finance, business and other related disciplines.
Relevant professional courses are also offered by professional associations, such as the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP), Institute of Paralegals (IOP) and Paralegal Distance Learning.
To thrive in these careers, you will need strong verbal and written communication skills, a creative, logical and analytical way of thinking, a positive attitude and the ability to work in teams. Knowledge of I.T. systems and applications that can be used for legal work can be an added bonus. Commercial acumen, the ability to multi-task and work under pressure can also be vital.
Training & progression
Paralegal trainees working for the larger law firms may receive ‘on-the-job’ training through a structured development programme. Other paralegals may simply undergo training through work shadowing and taking up assigned activities from day one.
Career progression is based on experience, qualifications and job performance. Paralegals can choose between continuing to work as paralegals and gaining specialist expertise in specific practice areas, or taking up additional learning to secure a training contract or pupillage and qualifying as a solicitor or a barrister. Some paralegals might even progress into a legal executive role.