By Amanda Hamilton, Chief Executive of the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP)
So, you have completed a law degree and the likelihood may have been that you were considering becoming a solicitor or barrister. What has changed your mind?
Maybe you have realised that it still remains quite a costly and time-consuming process to qualify via these routes (despite the fact that the new SQE has been introduced), and perhaps you want to gain some hands-on experience working as a paralegal?
Or maybe you have had second thoughts, and have noticed how the Paralegal Profession has gained momentum over the last few years?
You should learn about practice and procedure
Completing a degree would have given you a great foundation knowledge of academic law but in order to be a professional paralegal, you should learn about practice and procedure.
The NALP Level 7 Diploma in Paralegal Practice was developed specifically for law graduates to give a grounding in procedural law and complement what has been learned during the undergraduate degree programme. It contains 6 mandatory units of study. Each unit has an assignment which must be successfully completed and all 6 need to be passed to gain the Diploma.
You should learn the differences in working as a paralegal
You should also learn the differences in working as a professional paralegal as opposed to a solicitor or barrister. For example, becoming a NALP Member you have access to our Members Handbook outlining the differences in practising as a paralegal as opposed to a solicitor, the reserved activities that remain the monopoly of solicitors only, and therefore off limits to paralegals.
These include the ‘Right of Audience’ which is the right to present your client’s case to the court, and the right to conduct litigation.
Membership of NALP is free for the first year if you enrol for the NALP Level 7 Diploma and thereafter should be renewed on an annual basis in order to maintain your NALP benefits.
The next stage is to gain experience
Once you have gained your Level 7 Diploma, the next stage is to gain experience. This does not have to be in the legal sector as paralegals do not just work in solicitors’ firms. Paralegals work in a variety of organisations and in-house legal departments in industry, commerce, charities, the CPS, HMRC and in any sector you would care to imagine. These include premiership football clubs, fashion houses and car manufacturers.
Once you have gained three-years’ relevant legal experience, you can apply for a NALP Licence to Practise (subject to gaining professional Indemnity Insurance and fulfilling eligibility requirements) which means that you can set up your own paralegal firm and have your own clients! But you must be well versed in the ‘holding-out’ principles and the NALP Code of Conduct.
Author Amanda Hamilton is Chief Executive of the National Association of Licenced Paralegals (NALP), a non-profit membership body and the only paralegal body that is recognised as an awarding organisation by Ofqual (the regulator of qualifications in England).
Through its Centres around the country, accredited and recognised professional paralegal qualifications are offered for those looking for a career as a paralegal professional.