Paralegals are law professionals who work alongside solicitors and barristers in a supporting capacity.
Paralegals can find work at law firms, within the public sector and at non-profit organisations, the role can often be classed under a range of job titles such as; legal assistant, legal executive, clerk or caseworker.
Many paralegals eventually work towards becoming a solicitor or a senior paralegal in a specific area of law.
Do you need a degree to become a paralegal?
The quick answer is no, as there are various training paths an individual can follow in order to become a paralegal. However, like most industries a university degree can make you a more desirable candidate to some employers.
Becoming a paralegal in the United Kingdom does not have any specific entry requirements but a related degree, in addition to good GCSE and A-Level grades will stand you in good stead. Many paralegals have a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) or have completed a Legal Practice Course (LPC).
Training while working is also an option with the CILEx (Chartered Institute of Legal Executives), or qualifications offered by the National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP).
School and college students can also apply for an apprenticeship which allows a young person to train to be a paralegal without completing a university degree. Apprenticeships are seen as the traditional way to begin a career as a paralegal and as such, demand is high.
Applicants can also give themselves an edge by becoming certified in a legal database.
What experience do you need to be a paralegal in the UK?
Typically, employers are seeking candidates who have 6 months of work experience in the law sector.
Due to the highly competitive nature of the law industry it is important to show an eagerness to gain experience by completing a work placement or internship. Attending law events or open days can be of great help in terms of seeking out this sort of opportunity.
Volunteering and pro bono work also shows that a person is motivated and has used their initiative; volunteer positions can be found at Citizen Advice Centres and at local charities, for example. Experience of working with young, elderly and disadvantaged people can also strengthen your CV, particularly if you are applying to a law firm that specialises in discrimination, immigration or housing.
Part-time paralegal roles are available to law students, providing them valuable experience of working in law which will help them secure employment once they have graduated.
What are the costs involved?
Completing a professional qualification is considerably less expensive than the cost of a university degree. Paralegal qualifications can start from £250, for a single unit, rising to £1660 for a postgraduate diploma. Many providers also allow students to pay for their course in interest-free installments.
Level 3 – Paralegal Practice
Award – £450
Certificate – £770
Full Diploma – £1190
Single Unit – £250
Level 4 – Paralegal Studies
Part One – £750
Part Two – £750
Full Diploma – £1380
Single Unit – £250
Post graduate Diploma – £1660
Single Unit – £475
Figures are based on information provided by the National Association of Licensed Paralegals.
How long does it take to train to become a paralegal?
Paralegal qualifications can be completed while working in full-time employment via a distance learning course, however, this is dependent on the level of the qualification. Each course differs in terms of the time taken to complete it, course durations are as follows:
– Level 4 Diploma in Paralegal Studies Duration – 12 – 14 months
– Level 3 Award in Paralegal Practice Duration – 3 – 4 months
– Level 3 Certificate in Paralegal Practice Duration – 6 – 8 months
– Level 3 Diploma in Paralegal Practice Duration – 9 – 12 months
Where to gain employment as a paralegal?
Paralegal vacancies are available across the UK at a range of different organisations including; small, niche, mid and large sized law firms, commercial law firms and in-house legal teams at large firms.
Alternatively, if you are looking to start a career in the public sector then you can consider looking for vacancies at organisations such as; the Crown Prosecution Service, the Metropolitan Police, local councils and the national government.
Commercial and public sector jobs are generally found within the bigger cities, for example; London, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Leeds, Cardiff and Glasgow.
Applications should be accompanied by an up-to-date CV and a cover letter specific to that role.