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Paralegal Job Profile

1 March 2021
Student walking into building
BPPEditorial Team

Our Job Profile series explores what it's like to be a paralegal.

Paralegals are legal professionals who generally work in a support role alongside fully qualified solicitors or barristers. They enjoy a variety of responsibilities and have the opportunity to develop law skills that can benefit their future career in the legal sector.

Paralegals can work in several different capacities, from in-house at a law firm to in legal chambers or even public sector organisations. No matter where they work, though, paralegals are an important and integral part of any legal team.

If you’re thinking about becoming a paralegal, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the role and how it fits into a career in law.

What is a paralegal?

A paralegal is a member of a legal team that has broad knowledge of the law and legal sector duties but isn’t a qualified solicitor or barrister. They work alongside fully qualified solicitors and barristers in a support role, but that doesn’t mean their job is any less important.

Because the role of a paralegal is similar in nature to that of a trainee solicitor, it’s seen as a great way of building experience in the legal sector to kickstart a career that might involve gaining further qualifications. This is part of the reason that available paralegal roles are often highly competitive.

There are several other commonly used names for the paralegal job role, which you might see in job adverts, including clerks, legal assistants, and caseworkers.

Responsibilities

Your responsibilities as a paralegal will vary depending on where you’re employed and what level of experience you have. Despite this, almost all paralegals will have a broad role that involves some or all of the following responsibilities:

  • Collating and organising case files and litigation bundles

  • Writing and/or proofreading legal documents

  • Conducting research ahead of a case, sometimes including meeting witnesses and interviewing experts

  • Analysing and inputting relevant data and writing legal reports<>

  • Organising diaries for other members of the legal team

  • Carrying out general legal administration and office tasks

  • Building and managing a network of clients and other law professionals

Generally, the more experienced you become as a paralegal, the fewer menial administrative tasks you’ll be responsible for. Instead, you might progress into working more closely with qualified members of the legal team on casework.

Paralegal qualifications

There are no set qualifications that are absolutely required to become a paralegal, and GCSEs and A-Levels are technically sufficient. However, because of how competitive paralegal roles tend to be, you might find it difficult to break into a law career without further education.

Because there are no strict learning paths to becoming a paralegal, you have several options to consider to improve your chances of beginning a career in law as a paralegal.

Paralegal Level 3 Apprenticeship

This apprenticeship is the natural progression for prospective paralegals that have just completed their A-Levels. It combines classroom learning with hands-on experience, meaning after completion you’ll be prepared for the start of your legal career.

During your paralegal apprenticeship, you’ll get to choose two areas of law to specialise in and start to build foundational legal knowledge. You’ll also benefit from wider learning, including how to carry out legal research, act professionally and ethically in a legal setting, and work well with other legal professionals.

Law Conversion Course (PGDL)

Alternatively, if you already have an undergraduate degree but it’s in a non-law subject, the Law Conversion Course (or PGDL) is another first step into a legal career worth considering. The PGDL is a replacement for the now defunct Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) and it’s designed to provide students with a smooth transition into the legal sector.

You’ll develop your knowledge of legal matters, concepts, and principles, alongside delving into some of the most common specialisms, such as contract law, criminal law, and public law. PGDL graduates can then progress onto completing an LPC or BTC course, to become a qualified solicitor or barrister, respectively.

However, a PGDL doesn’t have to propel you on to further training and you can just as easily start applying for paralegal roles to build your experience instead.

Skills

There are a range of skills, both technical and soft, that are beneficial for paralegals. They include:

Legal knowledge

Pre-existing legal knowledge is a great advantage if you’re considering applying for a paralegal role. As you’ll be working in a team alongside other, more qualified legal professionals, knowing legal terminology and processes from the offset is invaluable.

Strong communication

Your responsibilities as a paralegal will involve significant amounts of both verbal and written communication with your team and external third parties. Clarity and thoroughness of communication are arguably more important in a legal profession than anywhere else, so strong all-round communication skills are imperative.

Teamwork

As a paralegal, your role will be almost entirely team focused. You might be working alongside other paralegals, qualified solicitors, or barristers, so strong teamwork abilities are a big advantage.

Research abilities and critical thought

Several of the key elements of your role as a paralegal are based around researching and dissecting information. That makes both basic research experience and a healthy amount of critical thought valuable qualities.

Attention to detail

Both attention to detail and the capacity to maintain focus over long periods of time are important paralegal skills. They’ll help to make sure you’re accurate and thorough when carrying out duties like proofreading documents or inputting data.

Additional languages

Although far from being essential, knowledge or proficiency in additional languages is a great benefit for aspiring paralegals looking to work for high-street law firms in ethnically diverse areas.

Salary and benefits

Paralegal salaries depend on the level of experience and seniority, but junior paralegals can expect to earn a salary somewhere in the range of £14,000-£25,000. As you develop within your role as a paralegal and progress into mid-weight and senior positions, this salary bracket can extend all the way up to £50,000+.

However, if you’re interested in furthering your career in law, you can complete further training after gaining experience as a paralegal and practice to become a solicitor or barrister, where your earnings will generally be much higher.

Career path

Work experience

Although there’s no specific work experience that’s required to become a paralegal, the competitiveness of the law sector means that anything you have will be valuable. Often, paralegal applicants will have work experience that they’ve gained through hands-on learning as part of a Paralegal Apprenticeship or similar qualification.

If you’re applying for paralegal roles without a relevant qualification, though, it’s even more important that you have experience. This can be gained through pro bono or volunteer work, and even community service experience working with youth groups or elderly citizens can be helpful.

Continuing professional development

Once you’ve secured a paralegal role, there are plenty of options for progression within the legal sector. The most obvious is that you’re able to continue to build experience and advance into more senior paralegal roles, taking on greater responsibilities as you go. The Institute of Paralegals provide qualifications that can help you to advance within your role.

>However, paralegal roles are often seen as a stepping-stone towards a more diverse career in law, utilised by prospective solicitors or barristers. In these cases, continuing professional development often involves returning to higher education and studying for additional qualifications, such as the LPC or BTC.