05 February 2020 | Career Advice | Guest Author
Paralegals play a critical role in every law firm by supporting solicitors and barristers with their caseloads. Day-to-day you will carry out office administration such as billing, organise schedules and write the first drafts of legal documents, reports and undertake research. For many, it’s becoming an increasing popular route to use as a stepping stone to a career as a solicitor. Here, Helen Page, a paralegal in the family law team at Langleys Solicitors shares her advice for those looking to get involved in the sector.
Explore your options
While in the past it may have appeared that the only way to secure a training contract as a solicitor was through the LPC (Legal Practice Course) after graduation, this is no longer the case. If you don’t manage to get a training contract after university don’t panic, there are plenty of alternative routes that can help you get your foot in the door.
You can follow a similar path to me and start in an admin role and work your way up the ladder by gaining experience. After I graduated from Leeds Beckett University, I began working as a float secretary covering holiday across all departments in a legal practice, alongside my work experience. Eventually, I applied for a role as a legal secretary in the family team and after I had gained enough experience, asked my manager about how I could work towards becoming a paralegal. Following completion of the LPC in the summer of 2019, I am now working towards becoming a Chartered Legal Executive by February 2021, before ultimately cross-qualifying as a Solicitor.
There are plenty of other routes to gaining the right qualifications, such as the NALP Paralegal Practice Award or Legal Secretary Certificate from licensed courses.
What you need to be a success
A degree is essential, not only for the knowledge, but for the practical experience. At university, my lecturers were always keen to apply theory to practical work to help us understand how everything fits in the working world. Your undergraduate degree will help you get to grips with the essentials of law, allowing you to gain an understanding in a number of different areas – such as criminal, business and family law.
This should help you discover what interests you most, so you can narrow down your studies when you apply for a post-grad qualification. However, work experience is crucial before deciding on your specialism, as you will never know if it is really for you unless you experience real cases.
To be a successful paralegal, it is important to gain as much experience during your studies as possible. While your degree offers an excellent overview on the theory – with some elements of practical application – nothing compares to real world casework. Good work experience will kickstart your learning far more than you realise, as you begin to use the skills and knowledge you have gained in real situations.
Alongside education and professional experience, strong client care skills are also important. The ability to empathise with people and translate legal jargon, so they understand it, can take some time, but it is a skill to master early on.
A week in the life of a paralegal
Every week as a paralegal brings something new and often unexpected. In family law, your week may involve drafting a divorce petition or statement, writing letters of advice to clients or attending court with a Barrister.
You will never be thrown in the deep end as a paralegal. When I started, I didn’t have any cases of my own – it was all about developing my skills and knowledge so I could support the team. Eventually, you will start to take on smaller, more straightforward cases until you are confident enough, and have the experience, to handle your own cases. You will then be able to meet clients and support them from the initial meetings to the conclusion of their case.
The most important piece of advice I can offer you is to scout out any work experience you can, as early as possible. Being in a professional environment helps cement the knowledge you take on during your studies and will be a valuable asset when you look for a job.